by Syd Peck
I always wanted to own a car, even as a kid. Men all over the world often talk about cars − especially new cars − as if they were sexy young women. “If I fill her tank she’ll go all the way without stopping… I give her a waxing twice a week.” Some of their remarks are not-so-subtly suggestive of affaires de coeur.
In retrospect, two of my love affairs with second-hand cars were doomed. The first was in Newcastle. I was driving an Audi 100 LS. It looked very good at first. Just like a girl’s dress and perfume auspiciously proclaim her charms, the ads for the Audi were impressive. But my 100 LS developed problems with her door panels. She was an illegal immigrant of sorts. I later learned that she had been imported on a ship which had sunk outside the harbor, and was eventually raised six months later. The cargo of cars was then dried out and sold − but the salt had corroded the doors from inside out. After a year with me she died a slow and terrible death in a junkyard near the Tyne, with cancerous rust bursting through all her panels. I later surmised that the 100 LS probably meant 100 days “lost at sea” or “loads of salt”.
When we lived in Blaydon, our kids had started college. As usual we were short of money. We’d bought an old Cortina for very little cash down. Her dodgy brakes were soon apparent. We decided to get our money back from the dealer. It was like returning the bride in some tribal ritual and demanding back what the Zulus call“lobola”, the bride price of six cows. We got a refund. This time we bought a slightly better Cortina on credit. But the cost was just too much for us, and we soon began to miss payments. Then baseball-bat types of guys from Liverpool knocked at our door one night to repossess the bride. That car lived on without me, free of door cancer, in the hands of men with knuckles tattooed “love/hate”, whose voices had heavy Scouse accents.
Like men all over the world I have finally come to value the concept of personal commitment − one man and one car for life. Now we have a Volkswagen which my wife has taken to calling Lucia. When Lucia won’t start on winter mornings, instead of me cursing and getting a jump-start from the neighbours, my wife turns the key again with, “Oh come on Lucia − please…” And the odd thing is, this usually works for her. And little emotive pictures and décor have been inserted − photos of places we’ve been, and labels saying “Paris”, etc. It starts me thinking it’s very like our daughter’s diplomas and my wife’s photos on the mantelpiece. Mine is a story of maturing, and treating cars more like living beings rather than simply machines. I’m a convert. Nowadays I’m finding myself saying, “She has a new gear box,” and it doesn’t feel too different from talking about my wife, “She has a lovely new handbag.”