Old cars fuel memories of life in the slower lane

Thursday, July 5, 2018

THERE is something about the smell of an old car – a combination of steel, leather, oil and petrol.
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That is the overriding memory I have of cars growing up.

A big blue Valiant with a bench seat and column gears dominated our childhood road trips.

I learned to drive in a paddock in a brown Ford Falcon ute with rust holes you could fit your hands through.

The suspension took a battering from my bunny hopping with a load of chopped wood in the tray.

My first car was a lime-green 1976 Mazda Capella (my parents were wise enough not to spring for the RX-2 rotary version).

In hindsight, it was a bit of a bomb. The way that the Tsar Bomba, the world’s largest ever bomb, with an equivalent yield of 50,000,000 tonnes of TNT, was a bit of a bomb.

The gear knob fell off and rolled under the seat when you changed into second gear, the window handle would fall off, too, leaving the glass stuck open, and once the steering wheel threatened to fall off mid-corner.

But the bonnet opened forwards and it had a half-finished roll cage and tinted windows: everything a teenage boy needed.

It smelled of oil and petrol too; mostly because it was leaking it an every opportunity.

You don’t see many Capellas on the road these days. While there’s probably a good reason for that, when I do see one, I go all nostalgic and yearn for that first car.

After months of umming and aaahing, I recently bought an old car. It was built in 1966 and has all the beautiful aromas of steel, leather, oil and petrol.

I now fluctuate between absolute joy that I have secured a piece of motoring history and terror that I have no clue mechanically and have probably wasted a lot of money.

However, there is just something beautiful about classic motor cars that goes beyond simple transportation.

Not everyone feels that, but like a work of art, an iconic motor car is a something to be admired. Perhaps it is that feeling of a bygone, simpler time that is so evocative.

For me, that time is captured in a fading photo of my dad in front of what looks like a 1963 Falcon Futura.

He is shirtless and skinny and younger than I’ll ever be again in front of that striking red car. About to set off on a journey both literal and metaphorical.

The Australian car industry will soon cease making vehicles in Australia.

With that goes a very real part of Australian culture.

Some might sneer at that, but there is something true and everlasting about the time when people had the choice between a Ford or a Holden and that was it.

When my son is old enough to get his first car, I do not think it will be a hotted-up rustbucket with mag wheels that do not fit beneath the guards and an exhaust that sounds like a swarm of angry killer bees.

I will insist it is something slow and safe with a million airbags, then I’ll fill the rest of the interior up with Styrofoam just to be sure.

But if he yearns for something five metres long and 50 years old with a big engine and smell of history, it will be hard to argue with that.

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