“I was about 13 years old when I got my first job, in a local pharmacy, earning £12 a week doing a couple of hours after school. I always saved, but I didn’t really know what I was saving it for until I decided that I was going to use my pot of money to buy myself a silver Mk3 Golf for my 21st birthday.
I didn’t come from a background where mummy and daddy would just buy you nice things, so not only was it a way to get from A to B with my uni mates, it was a symbol of what hard work can get you. Having said that, my mum and dad did buy me a personalised number plate, N7CKS, which I thought was the coolest. I’m now undecided as to whether I think personalised number plates are actually really hideous…
None of my girlfriends were particularly bothered about what they drove, so typically I would chat more with the boys, and of course my dad and brother, about what cars they had their eye on. My dad also owned a VW Golf GTI Mk2 when I was a little girl, so it’s probably where I took my inspiration from. I have very fond memories of him spending hours at the weekend cleaning and polishing it. It was my job to keep filling up the bucket of water!
I spent months scrolling on Auto Trader (our favourite app in the Shields family, although back then it was only the website) to find my Golf and I remember them being quite excited for me as well. My first impression when I saw it? Obviously I was keen, well, I 100 per cent wanted it, but that’s not how you should buy a car. Before signing on the dotted line, I needed to make sure it was okay, so my dad, a hobbyist automotive expert who pays close attention to detail, took me through what needed to be checked. We took it for a test drive and he was happy. It was in good condition, and I think it had about 60,000 miles on the clock. I paid £2000 quid for it to be mine, in cash.
The Golf wasn’t my first car, though. My first car was a red 1.0-litre Nissan Micra, the epitome of what a grandmother would drive, so to have a car that I was proud of felt really special. I thought I looked pretty good in it too, but this was the mid-noughties and when I look back at photographs, oh, it’s so embarrassing; the fashion was horrendous! I wore baggy Jack Wills tracksuit bottoms, with a belt, a tight vest top and cardigan. It was an interesting look, but I swear everyone else was doing it, too.
In upgrading to a 1.6-litre engine from a 1.0-litre, I was like, wow, this is powerful. That little VW’s acceleration was great! I enjoyed pushing it to its limits, taking the revs up to the highest point before changing up through the gears and getting that slight kick in the back of the neck. I used to think you’re not a petrolhead if you drive automatic, but that’s not really the case anymore though. The Golf was relatively light and handled well through corners, and taking it into fields to do handbrake turns was really good fun.
I took the Golf with me to university in Bristol, and despite the fact it should have been a lovely leisurely half-hour walk into town for lectures, my best friend, Steph Barton, and I were always late so we had to drive. It would be a panicked scramble to jump in the car, and parking was really tricky, but we discovered two spaces right outside the building that were reserved for lecturers – but they were never used – so we started parking in one of those! We never got a ticket. We used the Golf to go on adventures, too. It was such a great time because we had no responsibilities. We just had to make a decision about where we should go next.
My friends and I were typical students getting up to all sorts of mischief. On one occasion when I was in a lecture and parked outside, they somehow lifted the Golf up and moved it at a rotation of 90 degrees so that it was sticking out into the middle of the road; it was very funny to come back to. One of my favourite memories is taking part in an annual student rally. It went from campus, stopped at a pub, and finished at someone’s house in Somerset. The fastest car to get there would win. But this was a rally with a bit of twist… Well, let’s call it sabotage.
There were approximately 20 vehicles involved, and you were allowed to use certain weapons of choice to slow each other down – talk about completely reckless! We’d be driving along throwing eggs at each other’s cars, or even worse, put oil on the windscreen wipers… followed by flour. You can imagine the state of the cars by the end, and it was obviously totally irresponsible. I didn’t come first, but I didn’t come last, either. I don’t think winning really mattered.
At the end of term, Steph and I would drive home together to Hampton. We’d talk about what had happened that year and plan our summer holiday; it was a nice reflective couple of hours. We’d have the radio on or connect a portable mini disc player to the cassette deck using a cable and adaptor.
The Golf was a five-door, silver with a little bit of black trim – very snazzy – but it didn’t have go-fast stripes or anything like that. I really liked the light grey interior. It felt more feminine than black, more light and fresh. I think the Mk3 is a model that’s really stood the test of time. How would I describe its personality? I’d say it was sporty, young and fun with a bit of an edge; maybe that was like me!
After graduation, I moved to London and took the Golf with me. I used it for the first few years but then I met a boy, Mark, who later became my husband. At the time, we had two cars and only needed one, and because his Audi A3 was slightly newer and nicer, mine was the one that got dumped. By that point I think it had done about 90,000 miles, and we sold it to a chap for not very much. It did feel sad, because that car was like a piece of me and it was like right, now we’re sharing a car. Luckily, I still got to do most of the driving.
I would love to know if my Golf is still out there. I wouldn’t buy it back because I don’t have a driveway for it to live on, and I imagine by now there’s lots of things going wrong with it, but I would hope that whoever is driving it is making memories they can treasure forever like I did.”