Well-known faces tell how their first cars opened up a whole new world of adventure
New drivers are no longer making do with old bangers, according to a study by GoCompare Car Insurance, which reveals that they are now splashing out nearly £4,300 on their first car. Linda Stewart talks to four well-known people with fond memories of the first car they ever bought.
‘I got real value out of it ... I was very sad to say goodbye’
Cool FM breakfast show presenter Paulo Ross (28), from Ardglass, says his first car brings back memories of his late grandad who bought it for him.
It was a red Renault Clio from around 1995/6 and it cost a very reasonable £395.
"My granddad bought me my first car for my 17th birthday. A couple of weeks beforehand, he had driven me to Downpatrick and surprised me that this was going to be my present," he says.
"It was my granddad who taught me how to drive too. He sat on the passenger's side when I had my provisional licence and we racked up a couple of hundred hours of driving lessons. He was a lovely man.
"We would have had a couple of fallouts about parallel parking and three-point turns, but I have fond memories of it."
Paulo says his grandad had been a mechanic and was well up to speed with what a secondhand car should be like.
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"It was in great condition. I thought I would have it for a couple of months and it ended up lasting me two and a half years - I definitely got the value out of it! I was very sad to have to say goodbye to it.
"I did my test in Downpatrick and I can always remember grandad's face, almost in tears in the test centre. It was a really proud, proud moment. I thought I'd failed because I stalled during the emergency stop, so I treated the rest of it as a driving lesson - but eventually I ended up passing.
"My grandad was a very sensible man and he had all these wee sayings, like 'Where there's a ball, watch out for a child' - and that's true to this day. And another was 'Treat every corner as if there is something coming round it'. We used to poke fun at all his sayings but they were true and very sensible."
That red car took Paulo on some adventures after he passed his test.
"Especially when you are growing up in a rural area like Ardglass, it opened up a whole new world to me," he says.
One memorable trip was to the Oxygen festival at Punchestown Racecourse. Earlier that day Paulo had taken his grandad out for an ice-cream and he noticed that the car was riding low at the back. He was concerned that the car wasn't driving right and asked if there was something heavy in the boot.
Paulo explains: "I played dumb, but it was all of our beer to head down the road!
"My dad didn't want me to driving to Oxegen as I'd just passed my test six months previously, so a couple of my friends got on the bus to Oxegen and I drove with my cousin in the car.
"But as I was driving down the motorway, the bus had gone on fire on the motorway - and my car was the vehicle that got us to Dublin!"
'I passed my test at the fourth attempt, I'm a nervous driver'
Writer Maura McElhone (35), who is originally from Portstewart, is married to farmer Sean and has just published her first book, Falling For A Farmer (Mercier Press, £12.49). She says she was terrified about learning how to drive.
"When I was old enough to have a bit of freedom to go into Coleraine or go to the university, we would have used public transport then.
"I was definitely an older beginner driver. I actually did my test four times and passed it the fourth time, when I was 23. I viewed it as a necessary evil - this is something I am going to need in my life at some point.
"I appreciate that it is a handy thing to be able to do but still to this day I don't necessarily enjoy it. I am a very nervous driver."
It wasn't until Maura moved to California and got a job as editorial assistant at a music magazine that she splashed out on her first car.
"I got a job and my commute was about a 30-minute drive.
"In San Francisco, there's the Bay Area Rapid Transit system but outside of the bigger cities people don't use public transport at all," she says.
"To get to work, I would have had to get two buses with a lot of questionable characters! The bus depot was the drop-off for prisoners being released from San Quentin, so I had the choice between hanging round there every morning and getting a car - so I made the choice to invest in a car."
Maura went for a 1999 blue VW Beetle, which she christened Blueberry.
"It was just the cutest wee car. It was definitely a very aesthetically driven choice on my part! It cost more than I thought I would spend on buying a secondhand car in the States."
The car cost between $4,500 and $5,000, but had low mileage and a surprising amount of space.
"It was so cute - the colour was gorgeous," Maura remembers. "It felt very spacious for the size of it and the fact that it was an automatic car was great."
Maura has even immortalised her beloved Blueberry in her book, Falling for a Farmer, saying it failed to start more often than not, but "as my first significant purchase in the US, was still an immense source of pride and for me, a symbol of accomplishment".
"Mostly it was just commuting. To this day I am a very functional driver - I go from A to B. If I go on a road trip I am not the one driving!" she says.
"I refused point blank to ever drive into San Francisco.
"I would park the car and take the ferry or bus onto the Golden Gate bridge.
"It was the kind of roads you'd imagine - big wide freeways. In theory they should be nice roads to drive on, but there was so much traffic on those roads and the steering wheel is on the wrong side or you're on the wrong side of the road!"
Maura still remembers the day she drove up the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic after turning the wrong way at an intersection.
"I'm so lucky it was a quieter junction! Where there would have been oncoming traffic, there was a stoplight so the other cars saw me in time and I was able to make a U-turn," she says.
She also remembers the battery dying while she was stranded in a car park, leaving her and her friend desperately YouTubing videos on how to jumpstart a car. "Overall, I've fond memories of it - I only had it for less than two years, but it will always have a place in my heart. I would go back to an automatic in a heartbeat," she says.
'I had freedom to go wherever I wanted - like trips to the sea'
Presenter on Q Radio, Ryan A (32), who lives in Bangor with his partner Jenny (27) and their daughter Sophia (2), says his dad always had a souped up car and he has inherited that passion.
"That is where I got the love of doing that as well, always having a sporty sort of car. You never cared if nobody got into the back as long as you had your sound system in there!" he says.
"My mum would ask me to take her to the shops and I used to say 'as long as you can get the shopping fitted around all the speakers in there'."
Ryan passed his test when he was just 18, having done lessons from the age of 17.
"I already had the car sitting in the driveway, taxed and insured," he says.
It was a blue Citroen Saxo which he bought secondhand for £3,000. As soon as he returned home from the test centre from his instructor, he remembers getting straight into his own car and flipping the L plates over.
"I bought it off a female owner from Dundonald who was into her cars too," he says.
"I bought an air freshener the other day that reminded me of my first car. That new car scent - the magic trees all had the same scent.
"Because I was the oldest out of the my group of friends, I passed the test first and I was Ryan's taxis after that. All of a sudden, out of all of us I got the first car and it was great. No-one had to walk anywhere - just having that freedom of getting into the car and knowing my distance was no longer just to the shops.
"It opened up a whole new world - you were able to go wherever you want. When I got my first car, I went as far as Millisle and Donaghadee and went to the sea.
"It was nice to be able to get into the car and drive to Portrush or Portstewart - I had never really had that opportunity apart from on the train. It was nice to do day trips out."
But the cost was prohibitive, he admits.
"Just getting the insurance was terrible - I think it was the guts of £3,000. I think it was because of the type of car - it was quite sporty. But I managed to do it and every year it seemed to drop lower and lower. I don't know how people do it nowadays."
‘My first car, a Bluebird, was only £1k ... but then I drove it into a tree’
Comedian Nuala McKeever (54), who is single and lives in Belfast, didn't buy her first car until after she was married.
She remembers her dad having an old Austin Cambridge when she was young: "There were nine of us in the car. My brother sat on my mother's knee, I sat in the footwell and the other seven were in the back - can you imagine trying to do that now?
"My sister and brother-in-law taught me to drive but I think I was a student when I did the test. All the girls in the flat learned with this guy and I learned from him, too. I got the test the first time round at the age of 23."
Nuala says that when she got married they didn't have a car, so they hired one to go on honeymoon to Donegal - and it came back with a few dinges from going over a humpback bridge too fast.
"I finally bought a car off my sister and brother-in-law. It was a very old car - a white Nissan Bluebird, a big square, boxy thing. I probably got it in 1996 and it was probably eight or nine years old then.
"I paid £1,000 and it was great, except I reversed it into a tree outside their house and then I shot forward into another tree. I had three minor prangs within the first few weeks and then, touch wood, nothing for years."
At the time, the Hole In The Wall gang were becoming successful and it was an exciting time.
"Your first car is always very exciting - to think you are mobile and on wheels.
"We had just started Give My Head Peace and I was driving to rehearsals on sunny autumn mornings in my car, thinking the world was my oyster and the only way was up.
The car met a terrifying end when Nuala was ferrying some friends from a hotel to her house the day after Boxing Day.
There were three adults, a four-year-old and a new baby in the car when she was driving along the Sydenham bypass and the axle broke - just weeks after passing the MOT. "There was no control, and it took a moment for it to register - 'Why is that car driving sideways on the motorway' - but it was us. I do remember time slowing down and me thinking what a stupid way to die," she says. "We were driving sideways at that point. The whole thing took seconds but it went on and on and on.
"We hit the central reservation and then spun and then hit it again and spun - we spun three times and ended up facing the wrong way on the fast lane. It was a very scary moment."
Thankfully, everyone managed to get to safety, but the car was badly damaged after it was hit by a BMW.
"It was towed by the cops and I went to say goodbye to it at the Woodstock Link, took my bits and pieces out of it and shed a little tear," Nuala says.
"It wasn't a sexy car in any shape or form, but it was a great old workhorse.
"I'm not a petrol head - I don't express my personality in my car - but I would love a non-fossil fuel one.
"But not until they come down in price. I could always cycle, but I am too lazy!"