When I was in primary school, I had a friend who I desperately wanted to be like. From my third party perspective, her life looked so blissful from the outside. Relatively athletic, very intelligent, kind and strong in her faith, raised by two great parents who were smart and accomplished themselves. I remember she’d frequently enter the Corinella colouring contests in the weekend Herald Sun newspaper. Unfortunately, at my house we only ever purchased The Age - the boring newspaper with no Corinella. I can only recall one time where my parents purchased the Herald Sun and allowed me to enter the Corinella contest for the week. One time! I began to accept the fact that a Herald Sun subscription would never eventuate in my house, something I am incomprehensibly grateful for now that I’m older.
Reading the newspaper was a weekend morning tradition, the broadsheet format sprawled out over our extendable dining table that could comfortably seat 16 people. The table was covered in a plastic wrapping (can’t damage the varnish!) that would end up with an inky residue left by the paper. I wanted to be a part of this family bonding time, and eventually discovered the automotive classifieds section in the boring Age paper. This was back before Carsales existed, when there’d be 1-2 full pages worth of car ads. I’d regularly flick through and look at the vehicles on sale, how much they were going for, how many kilometres mileage they had on them, etc. This became a special interest of mine that I kept up with over time. You could point at a car on the street and I’d be able to tell you what it was. You could point at a number plate and I’d be able to tell you the car’s year based off whatever combination of letters and numbers it was. I’m convinced I’ll probably be like this for the rest of my life.
Cars had always been a part of my family. I think European migrants hold their cars as badges of honour. I came to this country on a boat! I worked so hard! Look at the beautiful Ford Fairmont under my car port! Some of the most accomplished older relatives even imported Chevrolets from the US in the 1970s. I don’t blame them for splurging on a car, and I know I’m going to be exactly the same one day.
My approach to cars changed once I started driving on my own. Truthfully, automotive ownership has been a mediocre experience for me - far less enthralling than I’d imagine it to be when I was younger. I’ve driven Volvos, Fords, Subarus, Hyundais, Kias, a Mercedes SL500 (for 2 minutes). My first car was a 2006 Subaru Outback 3.0L H6 whose doors had been opened straight into concrete pillars and traffic poles. It was a beautiful car with lots of power but the fuel economy was poor and the head gaskets were notoriously bad in those models. I think we sold it at around 125,000km mileage before there’d be any serious problems that needed fixing. My next car was a direct substitute, a 2008 Subaru Liberty wagon. 2.0L, 4 cylinder. Slightly better fuel economy and a bit of a zippier drive thanks to the lower position on the road. I loved that car, but 2020 was an awfully boring year and I was sick of my old Subarus. Here enters my current daily driver, a 2011 Saab 9-3. The last 9-3 to be made at the tail end of their sales in Australia. The funny thing is that I remember looking at Saabs on and off over the years. Never seriously, always out of curiosity, marvelling at the price. I thought they looked good but I really hated the air vents. Funnily enough, I quite like them now.
The Saab is an interesting car. A turbo throttle indicator on the dashboard. Really crappy interior plastic wrapping on the inside of the door handles that’s prone to cracking. A key ignition well mounted near the gear shifter. Incredibly beautiful cream leather seats. Heavy doors! A refrigerated glove box for your chocolates, specifically mentioned in the owner’s manual. Heated seats as standard that come in handy if you have a sore lower back. The turbo makes it a fun drive, but the suspension is hard and not built for the pothole ridden roads in my city. There’s also a strange white dust lining the paint in some crevices around doors. For a second hand car, there are many indications that it was barely driven.
Maybe buying a car that doesn’t exist anymore was a dumb idea, but it was a good trade. 80% less kilometres and 3 years newer than my prior car, Swedish vs Japanese, and a cool profit from selling one and buying the other. Aside from the mechanics and the finances, there’s just something about it that makes me feel.. feelings. The strip daytime front lights. The ice block back lights. The long, sweeping front and shorter, fatter rear. The way it goes without effort when you put your foot down, and the sound it makes when doing so.
I remember walking through an outer suburban neighbourhood, notorious for lower-income hoons, and spotting modified Commodores in droves. My partner remarked that maybe, for these people who don’t have much and are told they’ll likely never amount to much, being able to purchase a car and modify it is a form of control. If you’ve always been told you’ll be at the bottom rung, sitting behind the steering wheel of a 200+ hp car probably gives you a sense of power and control over your life. I thought it was a good and fair observation, and after a year of being restricted to home or a 5km radius, what’s better than sitting behind the wheel and having the power to go whenever, wherever?
There’s more to this, but I’m aiming for consistency over quantity. Hopefully inspiration strikes again soon.