Our Subaru

We bought our blue Subaru Forester in May 2004 from a man called Bjorn at Scuderia Veloce Motors in Lindfield, Sydney. Perhaps Bjorn’s non-English name was a sign of the adventures we would have with the car. However these were not normal adventures!

Between 2004 and 2007 the car was used for trips to the Sydney beaches, driving around Sydney and a few trips around New South Wales. In 2007 we loaded the car into a container and it was shipped to the UK.

The car needed adaptations to be driven in the UK. These included a rear fog light, because there is no fog in Australia according to the Road and Traffic Authority of NSW. We somehow adjusted the speedometer to miles. The Subaru Forester 2.5litre X automatic variant was not sold in the UK, and this posed a challenge to the insurance companies. We were told about a company which insures motorbikes, and they insured it. The car was fitted with UK registration plates and we kept the ones from Australia as a souvenir. We collected the car from a warehouse near Newport Pagnell.

The fog light fell off a few times, and the switch to operate it wasn’t great. The steering wheel was on the right, because the Australians followed the lead of their colonial masters.

After Christmas 2009 we packed up the Subaru and drove to Paris. We loaded the car onto an Autotrain and spent the night at the Novotel in Bercy. Next morning we took the TGV to Nice and collected the Subaru. The contents of the roof box were removed from the passenger seating area and we put it back on. As with all Brits driving on the continent, or in Europe as the Daily Mail calls it, we attached the stickers to the headlights to deflect the beam the right way.

We drove the car for over a year with UK plates. We found a French insurer to insure the car. The Subaru carried us to cross-country skiing in the Alpes Maritimes, to the beaches and to the Vanoise National Park. We took it to Milan, the Cinque Terre and St Tropez. I took the car to the Subaru dealer in Cannes for its Contrôle Technique. They recommended I ditch the headlamp stickers, and install ones appropriate for driving on the right; we did this. We thought we would probably stay in France, so it was time to register the Subaru in France.

I researched the process for doing this on the Internet, and learnt many new French words. I needed to take the car to a place for inspection. This place about 100 kilometres from where we lived, along the A8 towards Marseille: an enjoyable drive. I needed a special metal plate describe the vehicle and found a place to make it. I also needed other information, which I had to get from Subaru in Japan, because the French office did not know the answer, or could not understand my French. We needed to move the foglamp from the right to the left, for reasons you will now understand. Miles converted to Kilometres. I thought that, with these modifications done, I would be able to go the préfecture in Grasse and complete the registration.

Shortly thereafter I received a letter inviting me to bring the Subaru to a place near Paris. This was where any  vehicle type or variant new to France must be tested and approved for compliance. The Forester 2.5X automatic was not a variant sold in France. I protested, but there was no choice but to travel to the suburbs of Paris.

I was working at Sophia Antipolis, north of Antibes. I left my desk at 1pm and drove the 850 kilometres along the A8 and the Autoroute du Soleil. I passed many Foresters on the way. A man at a service station told me that my tyres were worn. Worried that this may mean a fail, I paid what was a large sum of money for new tyres. My hotel, reached at around 10pm, was one where the front door was opened by the credit card used for payment. I saw a staff member the next morning at breakfast.

My heart was beating fast the next morning, because the Subaru had to pass. The testing centre was a former military base and there were still some tanks driving around. In the reception I met a guy who had imported a four wheel drive from Canada; he did not use complimentary language when describing the testing process, because this was not his first visit. A couple has rebuilt a Landcruiser and were taking it on a trip to South America.

We waited for three hours in a room. The Subaru passed; the Canadian vehicle did not. With paper in hand and with our net wealth down €1,500, I hit the road and put away another 850 kilometres.

Next stop Préfecture de Grasse. Early arrival to ensure it does not take all day. Registration done. Next stop, number plate maker over the road; UK number plates removed and French ones (Alpes-Maritimes 06) added. 

We left France eight months later.

Another December drive, along a snow-covered Autoroute towards Calais. Back in the UK, old headlamps re-installed, foglamp swapped to the right. UK vehicle licensing contacted, old number plates re-installed, insurance re-arranged. The car was used in the Kings Langley area, the UK, and of course we took it twice to the French Alps, with stickers purchased from Halfords to adjust the headlamp direction.

The Subaru is still in daily use, has 90,000 kilometres on the clock, or is it miles? The speedometer is in kilometres so we have become used to estimating whether we are within the speed limit. The car is great for kids to enjoy the 1970s tradition of riding in the boot (it is a station wagon/estate). 

The car is now helpful because its height off the ground means it is easier to get in and out of. Let’s see what adventures await us and the Subaru in the next eleven years.

Andrew Knowlman

I am a 50-year old father of two children, married to Jane. I live in Hertfordshire, UK. I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in April 2015.

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