Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Growing up with a Car Dad. In retrospect I'm glad I grew up with a Car Dad, even though at times my mother has been very angry to have married a Car Man. When you have a Car Dad, you don't go to car dealerships to get your next family car. One just mysteriously shows up in your driveway. Then after a while it vanishes, and another one shows up in its place.

Actually, when the film The Castle came out with that line about moving the Camira, the Torana and the Commodore around in the driveway, we laughed in recognition. Except, rather than Holdens, ours were mostly European and mostly old. How many non-French kids know how "Renault" and "Citroën" are pronounced?

Let me see if I can remember all the cars we had. There was the little yellow Renault that had been my dad's sister's car (I think it was a Renault 7). The khaki Suzuki with the soft top that looked just like an army jeep, and which crashed once, scarily, because its wheelbase was so narrow it didn't handle sharp turns very well. The dark red Citroën with the vinyl seats (maybe a GS, or perhaps it was another Renault 7). The egg-yolk yellow hatchback that could have been a Renault 16 or a Triumph 2000.

Dad has always loved Triumphs; when I was a baby apparently the only time I would stop crying was when he would drive me around in his cherry-red Stag. I am sure we had more than one 1500 or 2000/2500 – I distinctly remember a bright red one, and perhaps I am imagining this, but there might have been either a white or a silver one too.

Then it was onto the Volvo era, because with four kids we could no longer all fit into a sedan. First we had a white 200-series Volvo station wagon with jump seats in the boot. These seats were very hard and there was a lot of squabbling about who had to sit there on long car trips. I often drew the short straw because I didn't get carsick travelling backwards.

It was very hot in there too. I don't remember if the white Volvo or the subsequent silver Volvo had the little fan mounted in the back corner. Maybe they both did. The silver Volvo had slightly more comfortable jump seats. More importantly, it had a hilarious number plate that began with FKQ. My mother didn't get the joke until someone at her work filled her in.

By this stage I was learning to drive, and the car I drove first was also a 200-series Volvo. My friends will recall it as "the Volvo that didn't go backwards". The transmission was busted, so reverse only worked when the engine was cold. But that car was my first bit of freedom. I used to drive to my exploitative job at Carousel Ice Cream in South Yarra and tool along Alexandra Avenue playing my "Top 96 of '96" cassette that I'd taped off the radio, singing along with 'Sexy Eyes' by Whigfield or 'Break My Stride' by Unique II.

Sometimes I also drove the silver Volvo, which by then had shrieking brakes. In that car, I was pulled up by the cops on Valentine's Day 1997 and told my driving was "ordinary". I don't know if I've ever told that story on the blog, but basically someone else had driven off in the red Volvo with my P-plates in it, so to appease my parents I had made my own P-plates using paper and a hot-pink texta.

But anyway. There were more cars on top of this. Recently when I was looking through some old photo albums, I found a picture of my brother miT sitting in the driver's seat of a sporty little black convertible that looks more than a little like KITT from Knight Rider. I think it was actually a kit car. (There were certainly many, many issues of Kit Car, Unique Cars and other such magazines cluttering the house. These were a frequent bone of contention between my parents.)

But the one I was most excited about was an old-fashioned-looking cream-coloured car from perhaps the 1940s. I can't remember the make. I remember being quite awed at how glamorous it was, and imagining how great it would be to be driven places in it. But it never became our family car. For a fair while it was parked in the middle of the back yard and miT used to leap off the roof onto the trampoline.

Once my other brother Lina, who was just a baby, was sitting on the trampoline during one of miT's epic jumps and bounced right off it, landing on the ground and breaking his wrist. He was just at crawling age, so rather than crawling he developed a technique of dragging himself along on his arse using his good arm.

The reason I am even reminiscing about this stuff is that today I saw an old van turn the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition Streets and I noticed it was the sort with sliding doors, and the driver was driving with the doors slid open. I instantly remembered one of our cars that I hadn't thought about for years – the campervan.

Us kids were all thrilled by the campervan, imagining all the awesome holidays we would go on. We loved when Dad drove us in it with the doors open, the road rushing past our feet and the wind blowing in. We didn't have it for long, though, and I was bitterly disappointed when it vanished. I can't remember if we ever took it on holiday.

Today when I saw the van, all I could think was that it must be so illegal to drive around with the doors open like that.

I have consulted with my Car Dad about this, and it turns out:

– The dark-red car wasn't a Citroën; it was a Renault 10. It was really my grandmother's car.
– The egg-yolk yellow car was a Renault 16.
– The red Triumph was a 2500 and we definitely also had a white one.
– The old-school cream-coloured car was a Rover from c1950. Dad insists it was already in the backyard when we moved into our house, but this suggestion made my mother extremely angry.
– The Volvo that didn't go backwards was a V8. Vrrrmmm!
– The campervan was a Ford Transit. Dad says he'd had to sell it in order to pay some bill or other at the time.
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