My parents still live in the house I grew up in. They own a two-acre, rectangular lot on the outskirts of a rural community. When I was young we had a few horses, a pony, and about a dozen chickens running around. Now, the old barn just houses mice, life-size dust bunnies and cobwebs so thick, I swear they hold the building together as much as the timber.
I haven’t lived at home for a number of years so I haven’t set foot in the building for the better part of a decade. Not that I cared, but my mother told me a neighbour rents out some of the space to store his boats in the winter and his snowmobiles and ice fishing hut during the summer.
One warm summer day, my wife and kids and I were visiting and enjoying the yard. Naturally, my overly curious two-year-old son soon found his way to the barn. However, while retrieving him, I found something that piqued my interest.
Tucked away in a dark corner, partially covered by a filthy tarp, I thought I saw what appeared to be the headlight of a car. My own curiosity overwhelmed me. I ordered my son to stay put and not touch anything while I went to confirm my theory. He didn’t, but I was too distracted by my possible discovery to notice.
Reaching my destination, I was able to confirm that indeed it was an automobile; or at least it was at one time or other. Unable to contain my curiosity any further (yes, I’m aware where my son gets it from), I started to peel back its dirty covering.
I had only partially unveiled the front portion of the car before I began to recognize what it was. My heart began racing. Here, before my eyes, tucked away in a dark corner of my parent’s old barn, was an original Austin Mini.
I’ve adored these cars since I was a child. I can still picture Mr. Bean driving his yellow Mini while sitting in an over-stuffed armchair on the roof. That scene still makes me smile. Also, my father grew up in England so I’m sure my fondness for the Mini is in my blood.
With my excitement growing, I threw back the tarp to reveal the rest of the front end. To be honest, it wasn’t in good condition. I couldn’t tell what colour it used to be, but now it was mostly dusty gray with darker rust patches. The hood was crooked and the other headlamp was missing.
I gingerly lifted the hood to discover an empty hole where the engine should have been. Nonetheless, my excitement did not wane. I pushed on uncovering more of the beautiful artifact I was fortunate enough to discover.
Walking along the driver side of the car, I poked my head through the windowless door and into the barren cabin. There was nothing to speak of except a cobweb covered steering wheel. However, that was the single most exciting aspect of this discovery. Behind where the driver seat should have been, was a metal wall.
This was very unusual. I pushed the remaining tarp off the car and realized it was not a car at all. It was a pickup truck!
I didn’t even know Austin made a pickup version of their tiny people carrier. After some research, I learned Austin did indeed make a Mini Pickup, but very few, and even fewer made it to Canada.
And one can see why. When compared to domestic pickup trucks, the shoebox of a truck bed looks comical. Add in the tiny cabin and microscopic wheels and you’re looking at quite the odd car. But I find it endearing.
Now my mind was off to the races. How could the owner of this masterpiece leave it in such disrepair? If I owned her, I would spend every moment I could spare fixing her up. When done, I will drive her as much as possible. When I own her, she will be British Racing Green with matching steel wheels and chrome hubcaps. The interior will be restored back to original as much as possible with a few modern upgrades. The original Austin engine won’t produce much power, but it will be great on gas.
I could already feel the wood of the steering wheel under my fingertips when my wife stepped in. I don’t own the truck. We don’t have money to buy it. And even if we did, fixing it up would be quite a bit more.
I conceded; I knew the truth, but I just couldn’t help myself. I realized that I hadn’t had such a strong attraction to a car since my love affair with another rare car. I named her Old Redder.
Old Redder was a 1991 Mitsubishi Galant VR4. She was an old rally car and very few were sold in Canada. Being an older car she would break down from time to time. When I fixed her, I always felt like I was strengthening our bond. I learned something new about her every moment we were together. I also learned about myself too. She instilled in me the confidence that I could handle any problem life throws at me.
When I financially could not continue the relationship anymore, I sold her to a dealer for pennies. To this day, every time I think about that day I feel a deep sense of sadness.
It’s funny how human beings can develop such strong emotional attachments to inanimate objects. We go so far as to attribute genders to them, give them names and imagine these objects having feelings. I love cars; others love clothes; some electronics. Whatever one’s fix may be, just about everyone has some emotional attachment to something that cannot return the love.
For me, I think part of the reason I love cars is because the relationship is simple. When something goes wrong, I know how to fix it.
With human relationships, I don’t always know how to make things right; there’s never one right answer.
When I’m having problems in my “real” relationships, I go to my car, like an old friend. We just go for a drive. There’s no need to talk. There’s no guilt because I haven’t been around enough or haven’t called. It doesn’t care how I look. Anytime of day, the car doesn’t care.
The car does not judge me nor tell me I’m the problem. It just lets me think and reach that conclusion on my own, in my own time.
After spending some time together, everything in life seems simpler. This time driving helps me make sense of my life.
While a car may not love me back, it lets me use it, anytime I need it, without expecting anything in return. So, as long as this continues to hold true, I will continue to love my cars without shame, even though I know, logically, it is completely irrational.