Articles

A Matter of a Pinion: Coping with a Crash

by Sam Skelton
28 August 2017 3 min read
A Matter of a Pinion: Coping with a Crash
Skelton's Montego after the crash

CRUNCH. That moment no enthusiast wants to hear. That moment when the impact happens. It’s not your fault. There was nothing you could do. And there’s no coming back from it. Your pride and joy is dead.

It’s a situation that no classic car fan wants to happen to them, and yet statistically it is going to affect several of us at some point in our lives. And I can now add myself to that list. My beloved Montego is dead, and it’s never coming back.

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Of my fleet of twelve cars, this was the one which mattered most – and would have been the last possession I would ever sell. And that list includes my kidneys. It was the only car that really mattered to me. It was my first car, it was a near concours example with every single piece of paper and virtually every fill-up documented from new, it was a car that summed me up and suited me well. It was my baby – and I have joked to past girlfriends that if they ever made me choose between them or E225CMV they should pack their bags. And now it’s gone.

A car turned across my path in a gap that didn’t exist, and I hadn’t got the distance to stop from an indicated 40mph. I could see it happening and yet I couldn’t stop it. A feeling of helplessness abounded – I braked and attempted to steer, but when you have a wet surface and no ABS the conclusion is foregone. It’s unpleasant too- there’s a dull crunch of metal, rapid deceleration, and in my case, the g-forces of the car spinning. That moment where you come to rest and it’s all over – it doesn’t seem real. You pinch yourself and ask what just happened until something makes you snap out of it. In my case, the screams of my passenger, who it later transpired had sustained three broken bones in her foot.

That’s when autopilot kicks in. The rest of the time at the scene is adrenalin-powered and mechanical, and the facts don’t sink in for a few days. And this is the point at which an accident in a much-cherished classic can become dangerous.

Since the crash, I’ve felt irrationally guilty about the injuries sustained by my passenger – I was at the wheel and I couldn’t prevent them. I’ve also felt guilt that I managed to emerge relatively unscathed, and guilt that we could both have been killed in a car I was controlling. And that’s before we get to how I feel about the car. There was no saving CMV. The engine and gearbox mountings on the nearside moved. The wing folded in about 7 directions. The impact bent the floor, twisted the windscreen frame and bent the roof above the B-post. It’s like I am mourning the death of an old friend – someone who has been so very special at so many important points in life, and who will no longer be in his favourite seat beside the bar. I cried. It hurt. And you grieve. People never talk about the mental effects of a car accident because to most, a car is just a tool. It’s different to those of us who see our old cars as our mates, our companions, our first true loves.

It is easy to see the physical damage. The broken arm, the fractured foot, the sprained neck, or worse. But mental damage is harder to see, and you certainly can’t see it from the outside unless you know it’s there inside you. It’s also difficult to talk about, and when you decide to get help you worry if you’re actually bad enough to need it or if you’re some kind of fraud. I feel better than I have since the accident for several reasons, but mainly because through taking action the cloud has begun to lift. Without phoning my doctor and taking steps to combat my depression, I might still be at the point where waking up could be considered an achievement. Take my advice as someone who is living the pain of losing a cherished classic right now, and living the pain of the circumstances around it. If you feel overwhelmed by the loss it’s important to seek help. Otherwise it will never go away.

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Comments

  • The Deep South says:

    Sorry to read about this and I have to say I know what you mean. Thankfully with my two “big” accidents the cars have been repairable – although most folk probably wouldn’t have bothered. I was ok immediately after my last one as I was running on adrenaline and working out how to get back home from an obscure railway station near Oxford to the south coast. This along with planning how I could recover my pride and joy from the officially sanctioned compound. The next morning I rang in sick as I needed a day to recover and it was at that point it all kicked in – cue overwhelming emotions while trying to make sense on the phone. Thankfully those around understood and I was personally able to “deal with it”, joke about it even. It took a while to fully come to terms with it though.

  • France....for the nexr few weeks... says:

    I remember sitting stationary in a traffic jam on the Paris Périphérique, in my 1982 Lotus Esprit Turbo, when it was churlishly smote from behind by a French White Van Man. I shall never forget the crunch of splintering fibre glass as the rear bumper, on which I had lavished hours and hours of work during the respray, gave way to the onslaught of sevral tons of misdirected metal. We pulled off the road and exchanged details; I could scarcely speak… Being en route to my place in France I carried on. They way in which my previous insurance company dealt with this was the reason why I am now with Hagerty. There was no damage to any people, and in the end I did mot of the repairs myself…I think this prevented any resulting depression, as I had the accomplishment of the end result to offset the lingering recollections of the accident itself. Fortunately, I had spare paint kept from the respray!!

  • Gloucestershire says:

    In 1981, I wrote off my MGC GT in a head-on at 50mph. From the windscreen back, it looked undamaged, but the engine was pushed back, the rear axle had been bent by the propshaft, it was totally wrecked. It took me five weeks to get back to work, and despite seatbelts I had injuries from which I have never fully recovered. Nevertheless, as soon as possible I bought another classic, and I am still running a classis – indeed two classics – today. Am I not tempted by air bags, side impact bars, abs, crumple zones and all the other nannying safety paraphernalia of the modern car? Not at all. If one loves the unique experience of driving cars that actually need to be driven, cars that just go, steer and stop, it never goes away. Not even after a head-on at 50mph. But having had my 1934 Lanchester rear-ended by a green grocers’ lorry in 1973, I well recall the aggravation of getting it repaired, and if the worst happens again, I’m sure I’ll be glad I insured through Hagerty.

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