Coping with a 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.

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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