Emma's first car, Bessie the Banger

Ben Cooper
Written by: Ben Cooper
Posted on: 30 March 2016

As part of our mission to reunite someone with their first ever car, we’ve been asking people to share their memories of their first cars with us.

Now Emma Iannarilli, who blogs at fashion-mommy.com, recounts how Bessie the Banger changed her summer of 1985 and eventually became a family heirloom.

I’ll set the scene for you. It’s the summer of 1985. Sister Sledge are number one with the song ‘Frankie’, Margaret Thatcher is the Prime Minister and Live Aid is about to rock the world with one unbelievable day of music.

I was 11 years old, obsessed with Madonna and pretty happy with my life in general. And then an event happened that changed that summer completely. We got our first family car - a car destined to be my very own ‘first’ car one day.

It was a surprise to say the least. I wasn’t even aware that my dad had been taking driving lessons, let alone that he’d passed his test. And yet, there he was, parked outside school in what was to be a much loved member of our family, the soon to be named Bessie the Banger.

Bessie was a tan Vauxhall Viva. I couldn’t be sure of the registration number of the car, or its specific age, but it was safe to say that the car must’ve been 15 years old even then. My dad had purchased it through a local mechanic friend called Ted who owned a (rather dodgy if truth be told) garage that was on our street, and Ted became a good friend to Bessie over the years.

The car cost a grand total of £175, and on that day, as dad informed us he would be driving us home from school for the first time, you could see that Bessie had already become his pride and joy.

So, what was Bessie like? Well the tan metallic paintwork was pretty decent, and in terms of reliability, I honestly can’t remember her ever breaking down. But the interior left a lot to be desired.

The back seat was a very 70s faux leather, with a rip down the centre of one of the seats that left sponge exposed. As kids we always tried to avoid sitting in the rip, fearing we might actually fall through and end up in the road.

The back window winders were temperamental. Sometimes they opened, but other times they didn’t and you’d just sweat in the summer heat. The car mats were pretty pungent, and had to be replaced rather quickly.

The previous owner had put a decorative knob on the gearstick, which contained an ornamental cannon. It was eye-catching for an eleven year old and I loved it. Unfortunately, someone else must’ve loved it too, because Bessie was broken into at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich Albion’s ground, on match day, and the only thing taken was the cannon gear knob. We were all pretty upset, and fairly insulted too – wasn’t our Bessie worth stealing?

Fast forward six years and it was my turn to get behind the wheel and start driving. Driving lessons were expensive enough, without the expense of getting a car. My dad had a great solution – I could have Bessie and he would get something newer. Bessie was part of the family, and would now become like a family heirloom, being passed on to the next generation.

And so Bessie became mine. Wheels and independence, the idea was intoxicating, but the reality was anything but. Bessie really was a grand old lady by then, she’d seen better days and broke down on a regular basis – a trip to Stourport being a real highlight when a Bank Holiday was spent waiting for the breakdown van

The smell had never been great, but now it needed a whole host of air fresheners to make it bearable for any long period of time. And Bessie felt big, too big for a young girl, I could never park it without difficulty and just felt lost behind the wheel. And then there was that tan colour – brown felt so 1970s, and it was the 1990s now, I needed something less ‘retro.’

After a few months a solution arose when my grandad said he was getting a new car and I could have his old one, a pretty blue Fiesta that was much nicer, cleaner and newer than Bessie, and frankly, a lot better for my street cred, especially with Bessie being described as a ‘tank’ on a regular basis (OK so I didn’t really have any street cred but that’s not the point). Bessie had lasted longer than most cars, but was now sadly consigned to the great scrapyard in the sky.

But even now, over 30 years later, we still all talk about Bessie the Banger with love and fondness - because ultimately, you never forget your first car.

If you’ve ever thought about reuniting with your first car, enter First car, first love and if your story wins, we’ll track it down.

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