Poetry on wheels

In the 1970s, my parents went on their first overseas trip. I was living in the family home in Mosman. (They probably asked me to look after the place for them.) I was enjoying the freedom from parental oversight. I managed not get up to anything too terrible, except for damaging Dad’s car.

He had left me the key to his still pretty new HQ Holden. I was probably just supposed to take it out once a week to keep its battery charged. It was more fun to drive than whatever old bomb I owned at the time, so I may have interpreted my brief rather liberally. So it was Dad’s car that that I was driving home one night along Bridge Road in Glebe, when someone pulled out in front of me and scraped one of the Holden’s near side panels.  

I was a feckless university student in my early twenties, with only the vaguest idea of what to do. I pulled over and exchanged details with the other driver. Then I did nothing more. In my defense, insurance claims were a complete mystery to me. And of course I wasn’t the registered owner of the Holden, so I may not have been able to do much. But I somehow forgot to let Dad know what had happened. (I doubtless rationalised it as not wanting to spoil their trip).

He noticed the dent when I went to pick them up at the airport. When we got home, after they told me about their trip, I told him the story. What remained of his holiday mood must have evaporated fairly quickly. Dad must have loved me a great deal not to have torn a strip off me for general hopelessness. His forbearance continued over the years — he never once reminded me of the episode. I had only thought about it a few times until, forty-odd years later, I heard that Holden was finally withdrawing from the Australian car market.

Dad and I didn’t go to sporting matches or fish. Instead we bonded over music, chess, and cars. I can claim to have introduced him to Haydn, whom he came to love almost as much as Mozart. We played the occasional game of chess, although he was much the stronger player. (I did beat him once that I recall — quite an Oedipal moment.) We also spent quite a few hours fixing my various old bombs. At that stage of my life, I seem to have changed my car over about every two years. Dad was always involved in these purchases, and in working on them when they required some attention. They provided a handy source of problems to solve, something that Dad always loved. 

Dad was quite keen on cars too. In days of yore there had been a Pontiac with a crash gearbox. The first car that I remember of his was a tan and white FE station wagon. This was our car in Darwin. I have vague recollections of my parents talking about shipping it it on the train — presumably the Ghan — so they must have had it in Adelaide as well.

After we moved to Sydney, Dad was able to trade the FE in on a new car, his first company vehicle. I remember him or my mother joking that his employer was sick of looking at the old FE in the car park. He chose another Holden, a white HQ wagon with a V8 engine. (Yes, that was the one that I was driving that night.) After that, he owned a Falcon, and a Mazda 929. All these were station wagons.

I have owned a few cars in my time, but never a Holden. In Sydney, I had been the owner of four vehicles:

  • a 1957 Austin Lancer;
  • a Wolseley 24/80 (a rebadged Austin Freeway);
  • a Valiant station wagon; then
  • a 1968 Toyota Crown.

The Crown was fully imported, and my first Japanese car. It was an extremely solid vehicle, and far more refined than its Australian counterparts. After that I briefly owned a Volkswagen Passat, then a Mitsubishi Sigma wagon.

When I moved to Melbourne I brought the latter with me. Living in St Kilda and working in the city made it redundant. For the first time since turning eighteen, I had no car. Mum was concerned that this would inhibit my dating activities. Fortunately my beloved had her own wheels.

For most of our marriage we got by with only one car: initially her Corolla, then a Peugeot 405. The Peugeot was our only new car purchase, and our most exotic choice. It was reliable and great to drive, but spare parts became more expensive, especially as the years wore on. We reverted to Toyota for its replacement, a 2004 Camry Azura. Sixteen years and 150,000 kilometres later, it is still her daily drive. 

We became a two car couple about seven years ago when my beloved’s family gave us a 1990s model Ford Fairmont. I drove it for five years, during which time it proved extremely economical and reliable. (Local cars did improve out of sight, but the market had moved on.) It became surplus to requirements when I rather rashly bought a Toyota GT 86; a red one, no less. When I saw this car I thought — to quote Primo Levi — if not now, when?

At the age of 65, I enjoy having a sporty drive. Being low slung, it is a totally unsuitable car for an arthritic old fart. I don’t care; getting into and out of it keeps me a bit flexible. It is only taken out to get the shopping, drive to the train station, or to go out to coffee. Dad always bought cars on the basis of function, but I think he would have felt the touch of fairy dust this one sprinkles over the most routine trip. 

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