A manual baptism for a petrolhead.

One of the most important rituals for a car enthusiast is to earn their driving license & buy their frist car. Especially after they’re old enough to drive a car! Not only they have acquired a lot of knowledge about cars in forums, TV programs, Magazines, videogames… everything the car enthusiast learned gets put into practice when it comes to understand the fine art of driving and safely operating a vehicle.

In my case, driving was something I had seen my parents do thousands of times before. Maybe my own grandpa had given me that vein of wanting to drive fast even if I really didn’t need to drive fast anywhere. My first day at driving school was between books, intensive 30 question tests and lots of classes with seemingly meaningless questions which the instructor was a bit unhappy to answer.

So… here’s the story of how I went through the most important rite of passage for a petrolhead.

(warning, long text post!)

Learning manual gearbox

I was driven to a small and old car park in front of the Azalea UPV. The car in question was a rather underpowered Peugeot 208, not only it was diesel and barely pushed 80hp to the front wheels… as well the black color only worsened how hot it got during the summer days, certainly a car I don’t miss! Even then that manual transmission did quite a good work on showing me the ropes!

It was quite a hard lesson to say the least, I stalled more than 3 times trying to get it rolling from a standstill before I found the sweet spot for that worn down clutch on that car. Got scolded by the instructor for resting my left foot on the clutch & my hand on the stickshift… it only took 10 minutes for me to improve my shifting without overreving it past 2.5k, but it wasn’t over yet… I was challenged to get the car back to the driving school and so I took it head on.

Staying centered in the lane was one thing, but the other? Trying to avoid getting in a fender bender with the army of SUVs and minivans populating the large roundabouts of Valencia, and trying not to say of what disease the driver cutting me off should die of.

But safe to say that after 15 Lessons of both highway and city driving, including the theorical test in a classroom in the middle of … I was ready for the driving test, ready to demonstrate to the instructor and my examiner that I knew everything and was ready to hit the streets on my own.

The driving test slaughterhouse.

Let’s just say that it was both saddening and disheartening, failing your driving test the first try because an inconsiderate muppet on a minivan was cutting you off, as icing on the cake you got an oversized Audi SUV riding your ass at 25mph on the roundabout… no other option left but to escape into a bus lane to avoid a side collision and immediately failing the test with a screeching beep and a brake slam. Out of 32 people that took the test that day… no one managed to get their driving license.

Second attempt went far more smooth, large ample avenues and little to no traffic in the morning… problem however came when I was asked by the examiner to do a U turn and stop on a hill. Then resume driving again right? Well let’s just say that there was an unseen force that sent an old lady on a walker RIGHT in front of my car when I was trying to get it rolling, quickly brake and overrev a little… and the 2nd time I try to roll? A speeding cyclist rolls in front of my car forcing me to brake slam.

Third attempt to get it rolling… nervous wanting not to stall, but I managed to get out of that steep hill with that 1.4L engine howling at 2k, barely going past 15mph as I got back on the avenue. Bit my lip hard enough hearing the examiner’s snarky remark “Those hill starts need a little improvement hun!”- But that was it! I passed the test! I was 1 out of the 2 madlads who made it! 

(Did I mention I dared to drink a coke cola on the stoplights as I took the test?)

The first depressing years of driving license.

Let’s just say I was excited, feeling happier than ever seeing that temporary permit on my desk and the bright green “L” sign that told other drivers I was a learner driver. I remembered having a slice of chocolate cake, fresh coke cola and browsing the classifieds eager with Gran Turismo 4 music from GT mode playing on the background as I still couldn’t believe I had finally made it.

Showing every possible car to them? It didn’t matter if I even tried to abide by their conditions of it having a range of 120-150hp max, for them it had to be a diesel and less than 86k km on the odometer, manual gearbox… I could show them thousands of cars that complied with the requisites and it would be an excuse of “too expensive, too old, we will just go to a dealership/car saloon…” year after year. (Yeah… why I would pay 16k€ for a car with 80k km on the odometer?)

Dare to protest? “don’t you have friends with cars? Ask them to drive you places!” and even the low blow of “why you want a car if you got no job/Why you want a job if you got no car?” pretty much sinking me into depression. To make matters worse, I had to keep myself from forgetting how to drive in the worst environment possible in a car I hated to drive with EVERY fiber of my being.

Remember the movie Speed? The one where a bus driver had to keep a bus above 30mph or a bomb would go off? That was how it felt having my father sitting on the copilot seat of his car. going too slow? YELL going too fast? YELL, hesitating for a moment on pulling out? YELL, stall the car? YELL. That was my father… Not only the old Volvo S60 2.4D I had to drive gave me little to no sensory feedback and felt very loose like a bar of wet soap in turns, at that point every opportunity I had to drive I willingly refused it. As long driving with a screaming old chimp on the copilot seat was on the menu.

Safe to say I preferred to drag my family jewels over a trail of broken glass and rusted metals for 5 km than having to drive with my father sitting on the copilot seat, and to this day I still prefer that.

Finally got my happy ending?

So, I survived some rough stuff, fights, arguments with my family which I REALLY wished to be rid of… I was already 23yrs old, 5 years after I had my license and little to no experience on driving & driving tense like a contestant of squid game. Depresed out of my mind seeing how everyone I knew was moving on, getting their own cars and going to events, night meets… while I the “special needs” kid with Aspergers had to beg for rides (usually turned down) or rely on the unreliable Spanish public transport and a heavily worn down bicycle that tended to chew through its rusted chains. In order to get to job interviews and meet up with friends at the capital.

By some whim of fate, my family jailers liked the Diesel Opel Astra GTC that I showed them in the classifieds. It was a 2007 Opel Astra, the GTC model to be exact… It seemed cheap to them, it didn’t have many kilometers or suspiciously few for its age, it was not very powerful and the only downside for them was that it “looked like a boy racer‘s car” but I still got the final go-ahead.

The negotiations that I expected to end in usual disappointment… were successful in the end, of the 6.5k€ they asked for, I only ended up with a final price of 5k€. and it was hard for me to believe that this car was finally parked in the garage, I couldn’t help but cry a lot because I had wasted a lot of my youth fighting tooth and nail to get a car… but finally there was one! I would no longer have to fight to be able to go places with my friends! I would no longer have to beg my old man to take me from home to the train station or to job interviews! I would no longer have to get wet on rainy days on a battered bicycle to be able to move wherever I wanted! the nightmare was over!

And so… The first memories

And the ones I have yet to live with it…

The first months were tense, specially with that PTSD looming over me even when I was driving on my own. Much less I knew how to overtake because I wasn’t taught and much less would be allowed to overtake when he sat on the copilot seat with the “don’t overtake, we’re in no rush!” But little by little I would get rid of those fears and learned more advanced maneuvers on my own as I kept racking up km on my practice runs around my hometown.

My car wasn’t in the best of conditions when I bought it. Skinny front tires, rear brakes worn, suspension on the rear nearly blown… not to mention that the oil was also past its changing point and the cabin filter with the human smell of a crowded Indian train carriage at rush hour. All of those repairs easily costed 1.362€ but in the end… I certainly wouldn’t drive anything else than my car.

I’ve done quite crazy things with my car since then, but I think it would be fine if I waited to tell all of those stories in other driving stories . After all… Its better not to waste all the stories I have yet to tell!

So… how your first driving experiences began? Leave it on the comments below or make a post replying to this one! Im eager to hear! 

Published in Car Stories

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David Olsen-Fabian
1 year ago

Excellent article! Great to read about this experience. Glad it went well. Most males do not get their license the first try. Just a thing. Happy for you!!! Welcome to the roads. Now, stay out of my way!!!!!!!!!

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