To look at me, you would never assume that I have a thing for cars, but I do. It’s strange, this fascination of mine, but it goes back a very long way–back to the early 1970s and a highly unlikely Christmas present under the tree.
As a child, I was what you would call today a “girly girl”. My mother would dress me in finery – matching coats and hats, satin-sheened dresses and gloves, black patten-leather shoes and spic and span Buster Browns. Despite once being caught next to a trash can in the act of creating a home-cooked meal with a piece of stale bread in one hand and a near-empty bottle of Heinz ketchup in the other, I was to all intents and purposes, the model little girl and rarely did I get all grimy in the sporting arena. Being petite, I was uncoordinated and gangly and had no aptitude for athletics of any kind, save folk dancing.
I have always had a good memory for numbers and things. I still know my old student number from university by heart, I remember my best friend from grade school’s phone number, and I can tell you all the best picture Oscar-winning movies from 1960 to the present day. I can recognize just about every breed of dog, and I can point out different cars on the road.
Why would a “girly girl” care about cars?
Thank Santa Claus and Red Line “Hot Wheels” and the miles of orange track with its loop-the-loops all lain out in the front hallway of the bungalow on Pyramid Crescent. My sister, Nancy and I would spend hours running our Camaros, Firebirds, Corvettes and even a Ferrari down those plastic tracks. We’d watch, mesmerized as they flew down the raceway and wound round the bends. Our cat, Fourchu was fascinated as the tiny cars ripped along and often created a major roadblock in the path of oncoming vehicles.
Although I know my dad owned a 1958 Mercury Monarch, the first real car I remember was my parents’ aquamarine Ford Galaxie 500. It was all square edges, bench seats and a huge trunk we often used to carry my toboggan in winter. We made trips to Nova Scotia in that car and I recall sleeping on the long back-seat with my pillow under my head, my orange and white teddy-bear tucked under my arm. We had that car right through my childhood until 1975 when my dad came home one day with a brand new Midnight Blue Chevrolet Impala. That was a car! It was monstrous, really and could fit our family plus the family next door if we all scootched a bit.
I learned to drive in that behemoth. It took me until I was 21 because my dad insisted on teaching me and our lessons were fraught with frustration on the part of my father at my not following his instructions, and fright on my part as I dreaded going on the highway.
One grey day, we were out for a lesson when my dad insisted that I head to the on-ramp for the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). I balked. Like a mule, I blatantly refused to do it. We were on the service road that flanked the highway and my dad told me to stop the car. He made a fatal error when he got out on his side to come round and chastise me on my own. I saw my chance and I took it. I tore off in the car and left him standing at the roadside where it had now started to rain. I drove to our church. (I’d heard it was a good place of refuge). The priest eventually convinced me to go home where I ran in and promptly locked myself in the bathroom. An enraged father on the other side of the door didn’t convince me to come out for quite some time, but when at last I did, he had calmed down considerably.
The sheer bulk of the Impala was amazing. One night in 1986, while driving home from a club with my friend Marianne, we were stopped at an intersection on a back road. Suddenly, we heard a bit of a bang. I said, “Did you hear that?” Marianne replied, “I think it was behind us.” We turned around to find that a Chevette had actually ploughed into the back of the Impala. When we got out to inspect the damage, there was none–to us, but the Chevette was a mess.
I’ve driven other vehicles. In 1979, I was at a party with a new family just moved in to the neighbourhood from Argentina. Their daughter was my friend and she had two gorgeous brothers with whom I got on well. One of them let me take a spin in his deep purple Mustang. That was wild! Then I ran up on somebody’s boulevard and almost took out a hedge.
I drove a boxy, pedestrian Reliant, K-Car home from another party in Etobicoke under the watchful eye of my boyfriend. The car belonged to his mother, who was none-the-wiser. It took me back to the “Galaxie” days.
On another occasion, in 1989 (with yet another boyfriend) I drove a Subaru station-wagon back from Toronto because said boyfriend and his buddy were too drunk – they spent the drive home on the highway, chucking cassette tapes out the back window! Our relationship didn’t last much longer after that.
I didn’t get my “own” car until just a few years ago. Technically, it belonged to both my husband and me, but I did the majority of the driving and he took the bus to work, so I considered it mine. It was a black, Toyota Echo Hatchback. I loved that car! It had no power steering, but was automatic. It took might and brute force to make turns, but I loved the feel of the wheel and the sense of being part of the car. The only problem with it was the climate controls. More than once, I ended up at the side of a snowy-road with a windshield fogged on both sides.
My girlfriend Lynn once purchased an ancient Italian Fiat. It was a sexy car, if ever there was one. We drove north to cottage-country one summer weekend, with the top down and the wind blowing our hair into mats. Driving a car like that is a real guy-magnet. It’s the equivalent of a man walking a cute dog that’s irresistible to young women.
Rudy, (one of my last boyfriends before I met my husband), drove a white low-slung Mazda with bucket seats. He was Italian and rather an aesthete (he always had fresh flowers in his apartment and a colour co-ordinated closet). He also wore leather driving-gloves, fancying himself Mario Andretti or something. My mother got a great kick out of those gloves. It was a great little car though.
I’m a big fan of the show, “Top Gear” on BBC. I can look at those cars for ages and dream about what it would be like to drive a vintage Jaguar like Inspector Morse or even a Peugeot like Columbo. Truth is though, if I won a packet of dough, I’d be at the nearest “Porsche” dealership to pick out my “911 Carrera” as fast as my Versa would take me.
I have some consolation, however; my husband just purchased a silver “Mini Cooper”(from Mr. Goldie in London, Ontario) with black racing stripes and chrome-appointed interior. I’d be content with that–if I could ever get him out of the driver’s seat!
To think it’s all down to “Hot Wheels”