This was my first car. Although not completely unusual for car fans like myself, I bought the car long before I got my license.
At the time I was working in Chelmsford and taking regular driving lessons, I had a test approaching and wanted to have a car that I could drive the very moment I passed. I looked around and for my requirements at the time the MK1 Ford Focus seemed to be suitable. They were:
- cheap to buy
- cheap to repair
- easy to repair
- plenty of good examples on the used market
- came in various trim levels
- surprisingly cheap to insure for a ‘large family car’
- offered diesel options for someone taking a long commute each day
- didn’t look too bad
I found my Focus for sale at a used car lot in Great Bentley, a village not too far from home. It was for sale for around 1500. The car ticked all the above boxes, was in good condition and came with your typical used car dealer bonuses (it was clean inside and out, short warranty, full MOT). I went down with my mum and as I still was without a license at the time she took it for its test drive. She said it was great and that she was happy for me to have it as my first car. A deposit was laid down, and the rest of the finances were settled later that week.
I was overjoyed – my first car, I actually owned a car. Shame I couldn’t drive it anywhere however. I would sit in it, fiddling with things in the interior imaging driving it around. I would sit my friends in it and they would see how excited I was about owning it. I even got so excited that within the week I had purchased a new bluetooth head unit (which I still have to this day) to replace the ageing OEM Ford cassette deck.
But I failed my test.
I was devastated and miserable. This wasn’t my first test and my theory was about to expire. I was fed up of the constant cost of lessons and seeing all of my friends driving around on their own. I was jealous. I was exhausted. I was fed up.
The Focus sat on the driveway for the best part of 6 months. It hadn’t moved, it hadn’t been started and I hadn’t even sat in it. Every morning I would come out of the house and be greeted by it. A constant reminder of my failure, as I came to terms that on this wet soggy morning I would have to once again take the stinking bus.
I don’t remember the exact turn of events but I recall over dinner my mother bringing up about selling the car. I was disgusted and offended by such a proposition. It was my car. One of the neighbours wanted to buy it. I told my mum that I couldn’t care less what the neighbours think, it was my damn car. I think I was hurt more than anything from this, my mother apologised for bringing it up but really I have to thank her. Over that coming week I pulled my shit together and decided that I was going to pass my test. On one condition, that I learn to drive in my damn car.
I had moved jobs and at this point I was earning double than what I was earning when I had bought the car. OK yes I was still paying off the bank loan for the car, and that was one of the main reasons that I didn’t want to sell it (that was one of my mums reasons why I should sell it). I managed to work out that if I stopped fucking around spending my money on shit that doesn’t matter; old video games, old computers, takeaway pizza and general other chaff; I would have enough money each month to buy provision insurance. With this I could drive the car as much as I wanted (so long as my mother was available to simply sit in the passenger seat) and all I had to pay was to put diesel in it.
It wasn’t that easy, it never really is that easy. Some people, often those who passed first time, will tell you that a driving test is easy. Well good for them, unfortunately I suck at tests and always seem to have the worst luck. I don’t remember many of the reasons for failing so many times, probably blocked a lot of it out so that I can focus on driving properly. It actually took nearly a year before I passed, and my plan had worked to a degree. I eventually stopped taking my lessons and tests in the Focus; I found a good instructor and took my test in his car. I still drove the Focus around every other month when I could afford it, but nearly £150 for provisional insurance on top of nearly £120 a month for lessons; I was finding it difficult some months.
The time came though and I did eventually pass my damn test. I raced home, I mean I came home in a very sensible manner (did I fuck, I probably spent way too long dancing around the front room) and got straight down to business; insurance. In the years of owning the car I have of course logically have aged. The thing with UK insurance for young men is that by +1 to your age your insurance is guaranteed to drop, at times quite considerably. My insurance premium for the year still hurts me inside (*cough* 1700 *cough*), but I didn’t care. If I had to sell some organs to get on the road, then here Dr. Nick take this scalpel and cut me up baby.
So here we are. I’ve already owned the car 2 years by this point and I can finally drive it around.
I drove my Focus everywhere. Well nearly everywhere, but it did give me the confidence to simply drive places. 2 days after passing my test, where should we go? THORPE PARK. Yes I am going to drive on a hot August summer day on the M25 through various London Boroughs after only being permitted to drive that week. My whole family thought I was bananas, but I thought no, you know what I have been waiting for this so long that I am not going to waste any time and I am going to do what I have wanted to do since I was a little lad, DRIVE.
I took the Focus to Thorpe Park, twice, to work (many times), to the dump, to junk shops and charity shops to buy more junk, to car boots, to the supermarket, to Norwich, down to Bournemouth, I took it to car shows (not for display, just to visit), I took it down to Dorset, I took it to the Malvern hills, I took it for adventures with my good friend who would get in and just be like Dan, drive me anywhere or point vaguely in a direction. I loved driving it. It was a good car.
I (ok, I got someone else to) installed a sub and amp in the boot, something I had always wanted to do. The kit (which again I still own) probably cost more than the car, but fuck it it was my car.
It was great. And I loved it for a serious amount of time, and by that I mean just over 1 year.
Yeah I know, 1 year isn’t that much you say – probably not but with what I had achieved with this car I knew it was time to move on soon. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, enough stories for the moment let’s talk about the car.
The Focus was a diesel, fitted with a traditional TDDi engine from Ford that sounded like a tractor. The car was soon known as being a bit of a tractor. When I took the car to a mechanic they were always pleased with it having the older TDDi engine over the newer TDCi engine as apparently they’re built like tanks. What I can do to prove that I don’t know, it was a good engine while I owned it.
Being a diesel it was heavy but torque-y. It had literally no top end performance meaning you’re sitting in the slow lane on the motorway. It also was pretty good on fuel, maybe one of the best cars for economy I have owned; but as we all know now that DIESELS ARE BAD. OK they probably are, and the Focus’ party trick was dumping a load of old black carbon out onto the unsuspecting driver behind me when joining a dual-carriageway but I just haven’t really achieved economy like that since.
It was also a Ghia spec model, which mean it had nice comfy seats – which were great for long trips. It had air conditioning, another creature comfort that I think we all love. Electric windows (front only). It also had a CD changer under the passenger seat that I only found a few months before selling it. It had some chrome accents on the body. Was it luxurious? Eh not really, I mean for a Focus it was but I wasn’t fooling anyone, definitely not myself.
It handled like a boat, it wasn’t a performance car of any kind so I had no desire to modify in it anyway. People suggested lowering it some, and various other things but really I thought to myself, why?
All I cared for with the car was beginning to learn how to perform simple service jobs at home. The Focus was the first car I performed an oil change on, and a filter change on. It was the first car I learnt how to jack up properly. These all seem like very minor things, even to me now – but at the time I thought they were groundbreaking.
So why did I get rid of it if it was such a good car.
You see I am impatient and fickle. If I was the Monopoly man or Bill Gates or someone else abhorrently rich, I would probably own all of the cars in my toy box from my childhood and more. I am a realistic man who tries to not spend too much time in fantasyland, so I realised that if I want to drive other cars that I find interesting; well there’s no time like the present. I wanted something different really. I did want something faster. I also wanted something cooler. It was at this time I rekindled my long lost passion for looking for cars to buy. Something I haven’t been able to shake since.
Cars that I wanted after the Focus (most of these I still want):
- Mercedes Benz 190E
- Lexus GS300 (1st or 2nd Gen)
- Lexus IS200 (1st Gen only)
- BMW 5 Series E39
- BMW 7 Series E38
- Volkswagen Golf GTi MK4
- Audi A3 (Gen 1, pre-facelift)
- Honda Prelude
So I think you can see a common pattern, either something sporty or something luxurious or something that is a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I ended up buying a Golf GTi MK4 – the story for that is for another post. I could have (and nearly did) bought something worse in regards to maintenance costs and general pain in arse-ness than the Golf but hey as soon as I sat in those comfy leather seats and went for a test drive I was no longer wanting to drive the Focus.
I sold the Focus to a friend who’s Yaris had been hit with a vague ’emissions fault’ from the MOT test center. I sold it in exchange for a return plane trip to Japan we were embarking on (which happened earlier this year, 2018). Since he has owned it, it has provided another years worth of service to him – however, the cracks are starting to show. It’s an old car which has done a lot in its little life. The time it sat on my drive not being driven didn’t do it much good in the long run, and various little issues have begun to rear their heads. The new owner, my friend, is not as heavy footed as I am – nor does he take it on long trips like I did. This isn’t great for an old tractor like the Focus. At the time of writing this post he is considering selling the old girl, I’ve asked him to please sell the car and not scrap it. Sentimental issues to be honest. I would probably buy it back from him if I didn’t already have two cars. I just don’t want to see what was a good car to me go and be made into tin cans or whatever they do with scrap cars these days. I have a feeling that with the right owner the old girl can continue on and provide someone with a few more years of service.
I highly recommend the Focus model to people. Definitely the MK1. I think Ford were onto a winner there with their replacement for the legendary Escort. It is a great family car, but not only that a great first car. OK, it’s not small so those who want a small car are probably better with another good car the K11 Micra. But what it is, is comfortable, reliable (for me at least), I think the styling holds up well both inside and out. There are many examples still out there, but like with any popular Ford they are being used and abused. Many Focus’ are for sale around the £500 mark these days with their fair share of dings and scrapes. Many more of them are finding their way to the scrap yards. They will probably go the way of the Escorts, Fiestas, Orions, Granadas, Capris and Mondeo’s of yore; but we have to go through the painful process of destroying as many of them as possible before we can start to see enthusiasts appreciating them for what they were.
I am no automotive journalist, and I usually hold my tongue as I will often get things wrong but I genuinely think the first Ford Focus was a special car. It comes from a period of automobiles that I genuinely love; a time where all manufacturers were trying to guess what came next before all the EV and hybrid stuff started to come along. At the moment you can guess what car every manufacturer will be trying to make in the coming years, I was only 7 years old when my Focus was made so I don’t think I would have even been able to think about such a concept but I do think there was still an air of mystery to it all back then; what did the future hold? There was certainly more experimentation than simply taking a beloved model name and putting it on stilts and selling it as a capable SUV.
I’m digressing. The Focus is a good car. It was a good car to me. I would probably own one again but right now there are so many other cars I want to own that I feel my time would be wasted if I simply drove Focus’ for the rest of my life.