To Geneva in The Svenerator

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Sign up for the Automotive Journalism MA at Coventry and you can see the world… possibly from behind the wheel of a slightly battered old car. MARTIN TILBROOK decided to buy a very cheap vehicle and drive to the Geneva Motor Show for one of his assignments. Here’s an edited extract from his blog.

tilbrook at geneva 350

Martin Tilbrook at the Geneva Motor Show

There were many cars available on Gumtree and Autotrader, but did I want to drive 1,600 miles in a Rover 75 finished in Old Man Gold? No, I did not. How about a banana yellow Micra with florid orange seats? Again, no. This wasn’t supposed to be an exercise in masochism.

Even presentable stuff like a Mondeo estate with full service history just didn’t want to make me spend my £500. So most of the sensible criteria were discarded. Instead, I promised myself at least 150 bhp, along with some comfort and style (of a sort, anyway). 

The great thing about buying at this level is that a big luxurious barge costing £20,000-plus new is now worth about the same as an econo-box hatchback of a similar age. For me, it was a no-brainer, and to hell with the insurance and road tax.

Martin’s searches turned up a 2002 S60 2.0T automatic with 120,000 miles from an independent Mercedes specialist for £700…

This was a really odd car. It looked like someone had thoroughly and repeatedly cleaned the silver paint with a scourer and then used it as a target on a driving range – there were long and deep scratches on the bonnet and dents all over the roof.

Out of desperation, I looked at a 2002 Rover 75 CDT. Fortunately, the owner was mad, making the decision not to buy his clattery old-school diesel an easy one.

So I somehow found myself on a remote farm on top of a hill near Bradford on a Sunday afternoon. I was there to look at a 2001 S80 2.4 automatic with 119000 miles for £670. This farm is possibly the windiest place on earth. I had to hold the bonnet open against the gale while poking around for any oil leaks. But this was The Car.

 Just before I handed over the deposit, the trader said: “If you get a problem, don’t call me.” Fair enough. We agreed on £600. This was the cheapest car I’d ever bought, by a long way, and I was insanely excited.

Martin called his car The Svenerator (it’s Swedish). You can follow the trip in pictures on Martin’s blog (link below) as he and his co-driver – handily, also called Martin – travel via the Chunnel to Dijon, on to the motor show, then back via Lausanne and Arras. 

tilbrook day 1 snow tadcaster 660

Driving through falling snow – and they hadn’t even left England

... and this was it

… and this was what they’d come for. The cars here were a bit smarter

Home again via Lac Léman, Lausanne

Home again via Lac Léman, Lausanne

Once home, the original plan was to sell the car. But Martin enjoyed driving through the snow-capped mountains so much that he’s now planning another adventure in The Svenerator: and this time, it’ll be more challenging. 

It’s not a bad way to get a masters degree. 

Read the blog:
York to the Geneva Motor Show (and back, probably) in a £600 Volvo S80

See also: 
Antibes, Monaco… we felt like James Bond

Simon Pipe is a former print and BBC journalist, now a member of the Journalism teaching team at Coventry University. He also runs an experimental website, St Helena Online, about one of the world's most remote inhabited islands, at On Twitter, when he has something to say, he is @simonpipe

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