IAN RANKIN vividly remembers the first car he drove. The Scottish author of more than 20 bestselling crime novels was permitted to get behind the wheel of his aunt’s rather grand-looking 1960s saloon. Still in his teens, he chauffeured her on various errands.
“She had a Vanden Plas Princess, which was really a bog-standard car that had been pimped up with lots of leather, wood and chrome,” laughs Rankin, 57. “I did eventually crash it and it was written off. She then got a Renault 5. She was very forgiving and let me borrow that after I passed my test.”
It is 30 years since Rankin published his first Inspector Rebus novel and his books have been translated into 22 languages, picking up awards around the world. Still, for all his success and his self-confessed love of cars, Rankin’s motoring life has been mostly understated. “I got my licence in 1978, just before I turned 18,” he says. “I remember my test — it was snowing heavily so they went easy on me. I was the first and last test that day. We couldn’t even do an emergency stop — there were 2in of snow on the road by then.”
Rankin studied literature at Edinburgh University and worked as a “grape picker, swineherd, taxman and journalist on a hi-fi magazine” before beginning to write novels (while supposedly studying for a doctorate).
He married Miranda Harvey, his university sweetheart, in 1986, and in 1987 — the year he published his second novel (the first starring Rebus) — the couple got their own car. “Miranda came home with a brand new red-and-white Citroën 2CV. It looked like a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. I liked virtually nothing about it.
“One day it just wouldn’t start. When the breakdown guy showed up, he diplomatically said that someone had nicked the battery. How I missed that I don’t know. You couldn’t lock the bonnet, so we got a bike chain and wrapped it round the bumper.”
In 1990 Rankin and Miranda moved to France so he could focus on his writing and the 2CV was replaced, following the birth of their eldest son, Jack, by a Peugeot 405 estate.
When Jack was three months old, Rankin won the Chandler Fulbright award, a $20,000 prize for detective fiction (funded by the estate of Raymond Chandler), which paid for him to go to America for six months. “I bought a 1971 VW Camper and drove 14,000 miles around America in 1992. It was a great adventure. We ended up in Boston and I sold the van for exactly the same as we’d bought it for — $2,000.”
After six years in France, Rankin and Miranda moved back to Edinburgh with Jack and their second son Kit, buying a Volvo V70. “When you’ve got two young kids you want a car that, if you crash, nobody’s going to die.”
Kit has Angelman syndrome, a neuro-genetic disorder, and cannot walk or talk. “[Later] we got a Volvo XC90 because it was the only car with a big enough boot to put a full-size wheelchair in, without having to fold it up. We still have it because it’s a real workhorse and, although Kit no longer lives at home, he does still come on holiday with us.”
After years of buying practical family cars, in 2015 Rankin decided he needed “a midlife crisis car”. “I’ve got a Jaguar XJ. I got a Meridian top-of-the-line sound system put in and it’s got massage seats. It’s great on long drives when we’re heading up to our wee house in Cromarty, past Inverness. It doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve gone full circle back to auntie’s walnut and chrome.”
RebusFest: Celebrating 30 Years of the Iconic Detective takes place at various locations in Edinburgh from June 30 to July 2
Ian Rankin: my life in cars
- 1977 Vanden Plas Princess
- 1978 Renault 5
- 1987 Citroën 2CV
- 1992 1970s VW Camper
- 1999 Volvo XC90
- 2015 Jaguar XJ
- My dream car Aston Martin DB5: “If it’s good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for me”