CCFS's Calum Brown is on a mission, even if it was agreed after numerous pints in the pub. Can you purchase a car cheaper than a train ticket, and beat it to your destination?
Words: Calum Brown
Photography: Stephanie Graham and Richard Gunn
No one likes taking the train. They’re clearly lying if they say otherwise. Or on mind-altering drugs. Besides suffering the aggravation of shouty, spoilt children, the nose-curling stench of cheap cleaning products and being subjected to cackling groups of yobbos discussing post-watershed topics, your journey is dictated by a time schedule as vague as Nicolas Cage’s face.
This perception caused some friction, however, in a drunken argument I recently had in my local – can a car beat a train? I agreed to take on the challenge.
The chosen route was CCW’s hometown of Peterborough to Stranraer in Scotland. The rules were simple: I had to buy a car and cover the insurance and fuel for the return journey with the money left over from the ticket price. The amount I had to play with totalled a paltry £243.
Searching the classifieds yielded a ropey-looking Peugeot 406 1.9 diesel for £160. Legendary for using little to no fuel, it felt like a winner. Day insurance cover robbed £30 from my budget, leaving £53 for diesel funds to cover 800 miles. Boy, fuel was going to tight.
Setting off from Peterborough station at 08:16 – at the same time as the train – Team Peugeot battled out of rush hour Peterborough in search of the A1, only for a plume of steam to billow out from under the bonnet. Investigation revealed that the connecting pipes at the base of the radiator had split.
Relieving a nearby petrol station of all of its two-litre bottles of water, I plugged on regardless. Half an hour had elapsed by the time my giant kettle had rejoined the A1, but the mood inside was still calm and collected – because the ageing 406 had a trump card. The train had to commute via Glasgow and Ayr, but the Pug could cut cross the A66 before turning off the M74 towards Dumfries – cutting a whopping 90 miles off the train’s journey. Game on.
The coolant warning light blared red – despite having covered it with masking tape to distract myself from the issue – whenever the radiator divested itself of water, but luckily, the fuel consumption rate wasn’t as ferocious – roughly 50mpg at a steady 55mph.
Passing the Scottish border and pushing on into Dumfries and Galloway, the fuel gauge wasn’t budging and the mileage towards Stranraer was shrinking with every passing road sign.
Then with just half a mile to go, I spotted the railway line – and saw that there was a train on it. In the ensuing panicked rush to the finish, the Peugeot hit the first of several speed humps so hard that it landed with a crash violent enough to cause the boot to fly open and fire my tools out onto the ground.
With the ABS refusing to work on the soaking wet road, I slid the 406 to a halt and legged it towards the platform in the lashing rain, slipping on the pavement and cutting myself open on the railings in the process – only to discover, holding my arm to stop myself leaving a trail of blood behind me, that the train I’d spotted wasn’t, in fact, the one I was racing – that one was still a good hour and a half away.
I couldn’t help but relish the victory – right up to the point when the radiator burst completely. Spraying coolant onto the ground as though someone was emptying a bucket. But it didn’t matter – a Franco-Scottish alliance of man and machine had just beaten the might of the railway network.
Then I remembered that I had to make it home again to win the bet...
With water seeping out of radiator pipes at an alarming rate despite refilling the beast with fluid - including some blood - and only a third of a tank left in the half-dead 406 1.9TD GLX, the journey back from Stranraer to Peterborough did not appear an attractive prospect.
So far, although the Pug had been behaving itself, the experience had been just the other side of pleasant. Now, despite beating the train in the pub bet from hell, the return journey was before me. With no radio, a boot that kept opening over bumps, electric windows pursuing a life of their own, overheating issues and an intense smell of smoke and despair, thanks mainly to the previous chain-smoking owner, the £160 Pug 406 could tick all the boxes to define dung on wheels. Except, on a molecular level, excrement is usually fizzling with energy.
In essence, to win my drunkenly accepted train verses car challenge, I only had £35 in diesel left to complete the return journey, some 398 miles. Up to this point, the Peugeot had seemed to enjoy gulping down coolant more than it did diesel, but its rate of fuel consumption was still an unknown.
Upon leaving the Glasgow South Western Line terminus, team Peugeot had eight hours to reach Peterborough, and despite my complaints around the vehicle’s maladies, the car ran sweet as a nut. And, without a radio, it gave me time to contemplate exactly why buying a cheap car beats paying handover- fist for a train ticket.
Besides not having to tackle the chaos of railway stations and the miserable, heart stopping experience of getting from one platform to the other in order to catch a connection, I also had my own space and the chance to lap up the countryside train passengers never get to relish.
The money saved also bought me a meal – a big, inexpensive one, seeing as I had some blood loss to make up for.
As Peterborough station came into view, the relief that the bet was won overwhelmed me. I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested for screeching to a halt outside the main entrance and dancing a jig bellowing ‘Ya Dancer!’ into the air.
While my 406 may have been mostly ruined, it was still a better option than taking public transport. Coming in at £10 cheaper overall and five hours quicker, I can now sell the Pug to reclaim even more cash. Anyone fancy a bloodstained, smokey, leaky Peugeot 406 1.9TD GLX?
What do you mean, no?