An Interview with Rod Ashley, recently-elected Chair of SBGAM


RM:  How long have you been a member of the IAM?

RA: Since 1986. I took the test soon after moving to Swansea and most of the test took place around the Port Talbot and Bridgend areas – which I had never previously visited, so it was new territory to me.


RM: Was anything memorable about the test?

RA:  Yes, the gear lever of my Volvo 360 came away in my hand. Fortunately, I was able to pull in safely to a lay-by to fix it back in place. Every time I pass that lay-by by Margam Park I picture the episode.


RM: What made you want to join the IAM?

RA: I’ve always been interested in cars and in driving. I liked to think that I was a good driver and I wanted something that would encourage me to set the highest standards. Last year I had an extended, observed drive with Darren and Ian (respectively the group’s Vice-Chair and Secretary) and that was a very fulfilling and illuminating experience. I was aware of several habits I’d slipped into and it was a very valuable opportunity to re-assess my skill levels.


RM: What car do you drive?

RA: For the last two years I’ve had a Mazda 5 automatic. Several years ago I had a hip operation and I needed a taller car to avoid folding up my 6ft 1 inch frame into a low vehicle. It suits my purposes fine for now and the auto means I’ll wear out my left hip less quickly. I’ve had autos before (several Mercedes) and, given the reliability, longevity and flexibility of the manual over-rides on most autos, I can’t see the point of manual gearboxes these days. After all, who changes from an automatic washing machine back to a twin-tub?


RM: What is the best car you’ve ever owned? 

RA: In terms of engineering refinement and poise on the road, I’d say the Audi 90. Its 5 cylinder engine had the smoothness of a 6 but the economy of a 4 cylinder.


RM: And the worst?

RA: A Renault 14 in the early 1980s. Newest car I’d ever had, thinking that it would be fine for our impending first child. On two occasions it sprang a water leak in the aluminium engine, which had to be removed to carry out the repair. I can still see the bills – 80p to repair the leak, £80 labour to remove/re-fit the engine. The Service Manager told me in no uncertain terms the sell the car as it would keep recurring.


RM: Which poor driving habits irritate you?

RA: Two things really irritate me– apart from the using mobile phones whilst driving. Firstly, drivers who sit at traffic lights holding the car on the footbrake, and dazzling everyone else with their brake lights. It’s ever more noticeable with high-position brake lights these days, particularly in the dark. Charitably, I just try to think that they couldn’t afford to have handbrakes fitted to their car. Secondly, the increasing use of personal headsets by drivers. On several occasions I have seen emergency vehicles blaring behind a driver who is so wrapped up in his music that he (and it usually is a male) is oblivious to other traffic and the needs of others. Like mobile phones, I think their use should be outlawed because it makes the driver’s space a personal concert hall rather than being aware of the road outside.


RM: As a motorist have you ever been stopped by the police?

RA: Yes, twice. Once as a student many years ago driving my old Ford Anglia. A police car had been following me for a mile or so and then I was waved over. In fact, the officer simply stated that he’d been observing my road positioning and handling and wanted to ….. compliment me. I was rather taken aback.  Secondly, in France along the Route des Vins in Alsace, I was breathalysed along with everyone else on the road at that time. Even though I had not had anything to drink it was an unnerving experience and made me even more aware of the need to avoid drink when driving. I still feel that there is an inappropriate attitude in the UK that ‘just one small drink’ won’t matter.


RM: What are your hopes for the Swansea Bay Group of the IAM in 2014?

RA:  I’d love to see more drivers becoming members of the IAM and more attending our events. We’re working on a programme of events to attract people as well as continuing our regular activities.  When I first became a Member years ago I didn’t know that there was a local group and it would have been so useful to have attended to share interests and good practice. We’ve got a good, committed committee and with a new website developed (thanks to you Rhodri), I hope that we can gradually expand activities.

Interviewer: Rhodri Maunder, webmaster.