This week the CAR team shared sympathetic smiles at each others misfortunes as we compared stories of our most embarrassing moments. While some were reluctant to give away their most embarrassing incidents, including one member of the team who actually rear-ended his girlfriend while driving in convoy in early morning traffic, we think you’ll enjoy the other stories of “wish we could take that back” moments.
My most embarrassing automotive moment involved my Mom’s cherished ’94 model Honda Civic, an unlit country road, an unlocked farmer’s gate and a the closest the West York Police have ever come to opening a case of bovine vehicular manslaughter.
I was driving said Civic back from drinks in town to our house in the sticks – usually an uneventful schlep along a B-road and then some windy, hedge-bordered country lanes. I’d just left a traffic circle and was cresting a small rise on an unlit country road when it happened. The first thought that went through my head, before my eyes sprung out of my skull Rodger Rabbit-style, was that the white legs (which was all I could see in my headlamps on that otherwise pitch-black stretch of road) I was barreling towards belonged to a wayward pedestrian…I was wrong. My recall of the actual event is patchy; a bone-crunching impact, a large brown eye sailing towards the cracked windshield and being bundled into the driver’s footwell as 600-odd kilos of bewildered Friesian bull that had escaped through a carelessly attended pasture gate landed on the roof of my Mom’s Civic. In that bizarre calm that one goes through after a big crash, I remembered reaching up to switch off the tape deck (a novel sensation), grabbing my wallet and cellphone from the now-far-closer-to-the-roof glovebox and kicking the driver’s door open. I trudged to the side of the road, turned around, regarded a car that was now compacted to a height similar to that of a Ford GT40 and promptly threw up behind a tree.
The Police who attended the scene were very jovial and informed me that despite leaving a good deal of blood and bowel contents on the car, the bull was alive and wandering around a neighbouring village – I was too shaken to laugh when I overheard the officer radioing one of his colleagues to take a red cape with him and fetch the wandering bovine. My father, whom I expected to be incandescent with rage at the fact his uninsured son had just parked his wife’s car into half a ton of hamburger meat, was totally relaxed about the whole thing and took great delight in telling all and sundry about my “altercation with a cow”. My Mom, who loved that Civic dearly, took a bit longer to forgive me… Gareth Dean
It happened with my Alfa Giulia Super (still my favourite car out of all 12 I have owned over 35 years). This car had the brake master cylinder under the car where it gathered dirt and water even with a protection plate. The piston started to seize up and, while ascending Edinburgh drive, I jabbed the pedal to try to free it. It didn’t work, did it? It locked and I just managed to pull over into the very fortunately located parking bays for houses on the left. Here I had to ring a doorbell to phone a friend. But I had forgotten to do something! With the car sitting solidly, I had not applied the handbrake or left it in gear. When I came out of the house again I got the shock of my life – the car was gone! The brakes had eased off and the car rolled backwards and then across the two lanes of traffic. Miraculously unsuspecting motorists had managed to miss my pride and joy and it landed on the centre island, with a bigger than normal curb, too. I managed to drive it off and back out of harm’s way and amazingly, the aluminium rear diff was also undamaged. Lesson learned! – Peter Palm
My most embarrassing motoring moment actually isn’t all THAT embarrassing really, but it’s the best one that I could think of. It occurred a few weeks after I got my license. I was driving home from a friend’s house and I wasn’t too sure of the route home because I hadn’t had to drive it alone before. I made a right-turn and saw someone I knew in an oncoming car. I waved at him and wondered why he looked less than pleased to see me. And then people started hooting at me. I soon realised that I had gone the wrong way up a one-way street. Instead of turning around, I decided that I could make it out the other end without anyone noticing. Not so. I turned out of the road and hit another car. Luckily, it wasn’t really a huge accident. There was no damage to either car except that I had some of the other driver’s paint on my bumper – Kelly Lodewyks
At my first job as a motoring journalist, I had a week with the very memorable Ford Fiesta ST. Now, few people know that these cars came with an optional ESP (electronic stability control) system. As it happened, I forgot to check if the test unit had this option.
There were still three-quarters of a tank left, and it was due back the following day. I buckled up with two specific mountain passes in mind.
I still remember it to this day, going through the sixth corner of the first pass. Turning in, at speed, I realised I might be going a little too fast, so I eased off the throttle. Big mistake. The rear swung around, I countered (too much, as it turned out), it swung the other way, I countered, again too much, and finally the car came to a screeching halt, the nose pointing at the armco, but fortunately not touching it.
With my heart in my throat, I selected first gear and finished the rest of my planned route. I learned a valuable lesson that day, don’t lift! - Wilhelm Lutjeharms
I once got in trouble in England for driving too fast around a traffic circle (“reckless driving” according to the unimpressed police officer) in a VW Polo rental car and was pulled over by the police. As the traffic officer spotted that I was a foreigner he asked for my license and told me to be careful on UK roads. When I bought my first car in the UK (Vauxhall Corsa 1,4) I knew that I had to be careful as playing the foreign visitor card will not get me off the hook next time. A year later I was visiting my girlfriend (now wife) in London. On the way home I picked up two of my friends (one being Wilhelm Lutjeharms) and, all of us being petrolheads, I thought I would show them the art of traffic circle cornering. Approaching a large “roundabout” I decided to floor it and hold on. The Corsa responded nicely and we made it through with a little tyre squeal for added effect. Elated I shouted: “Waar is die polisie nou!”. My words had scarcely left my mouth when the sirens blared behind me… What are the chances?! Anyway, I was pulled over again and had to sit on the pavement explaining my bad deed to the cops. After what felt like an eternity, they luckily let me off with only a stern warning! – Nicol Louw
While some might assume that the day I crashed a Ferrari would make it onto this list, I was actually more embarrassed the day I planted a brand new Mini Cooper JCW into the side of a mountain while attending the car’s local launch. To make matters worse, BMW had flown John Cooper’s son (now head of the company) out to oversee the launch.
The launch route took us through the Valley of 1 000 Hills in Durban and I had already successfully completed the tight and twisty road once when my co-driver explained that he had been in an accident the week before, so wasn’t keen to hop into the driver’s seat when the time came to do the loop again. “No problem”, I said, “I’ll drive the route again”, but this time we would just take it easy and enjoy the view. I was obviously enjoying the view a bit too much because suddenly, about half way down the pass, I realised too late that the approaching right-hand sweep was a bit tighter than I had anticipated. The words, “Shit, I’m sorry” had barely escaped my lips before we understeered off the road and into the side of the mountain. In the end, we didn’t hit that hard as neither of the airbags deployed, but after the initial impact the car spun sideways and came to rest side-on between the road and the mountain. This final pivot all-but destroyed the cars suspension, wheels and tyres.
Because there was no cellphone reception, I had to catch a lift to the top of the pass and make that call to the BMW representative.
The final part of the launch involved all the launch cars taking to the street circuit in Durban as part of the curtain-raiser to another race, but because I no longer had a car, I had to sit and watch from the marquee – seated alongside Mr Cooper! - Ian McLaren