I have a good friend who I have known for over thirty years. He has the same slight mental deficiency that afflicts many of my friends. They have little or no interest in cars believing them to be merely a warm expensive umbrella that they can sit in. I don’t hold this against them. It’s absolutely their prerogative not to have any interest in these mobile art forms that occupy the minds of people who know what’s truly important. Their loss. However Greg often calls me when he is changing cars, looking for a little advice and maybe just for a chat. He may even call a second or third time to check on some finer details of a particular model he is looking at. Greg then ignores all advice received and proceeds to buy something so terrible that I can’t even bear to write about it here.
The reason I am writing about Greg is that we were recently talking about cars and this blog. The very first thing that came to his mind was the car his father had when he was a kid growing up. His father (a bank manager in rural Ireland) owned a pink Hillman Avenger! A car even more inappropriately named than the dreary Mitsubishi Carisma. I would love to know what the customers thought about their local bank manager driving around in a pink car giving a friendly wave to all and sundry.
Greg has loads of memories of that car and he too wonders what the locals felt of their eccentric bank manager. While we were chatting it struck me that even Greg who had no real interest in cars still felt very strongly about this mobile eyesore (obviously terrible car choices run in his family’s genes) and the memories it evoked. It struck me that even people who initially claim to have no interest in cars will often have strong feelings towards a particular car. You just need to scratch the surface and absolutely everyone has a story about a car. Often it will be the car they remember growing up with or learning to drive in but it could easily be the car that brought them somewhere important or they got their first speeding ticket in. I guarantee if you can find the right angle you can get anyone talking enthusiastically about cars. The family car will be found in loads of holiday photos and must have felt like one of the family to many people. Such a car will be immediately recognisable and will evoke powerful memories in even the least car loving among us. I still occasionally get into a mark 1 Golf and the memories of childhood come flooding back to floor me – the chunky switchgear (all 2 switches), the almost square speedo and the instantly recognizable gearshift. My dad bought one in 1981 and kept it for over 16 years. Personally I would feel more attachment to this car than any other car I have driven over the years (including the first car I drove, my mum’s old Renault 4). It’s an incredibly evocative, and emotional feeling I get every time I sit into Giugiaro’s iconic wedge.
Everyone has their own memories of the cars they grew up with. Are they always positive no matter how crappy the car? Maybe nostalgia’s rose tinted spectacles just aren’t strong enough to block out the unreliability, poor heating systems or just downright absence of performance. You would think that push starting cars on cold wet mornings, constantly finessing the choke till the engine warms up and brakes that required written notice before reluctantly bringing the vehicle to a halt might lead to less than positive feelings towards that car. However I’m not so sure. The passage of time seems to soften the downsides and makes us focus on the real or perceived good times we had with that family car. We remember squeezing three kids into the boot, nobody wearing seatbelts and picnics in the back seats while it lashed rain outside. One thing is for sure – I would love to hear from anyone had a more distinctive car growing up than Greg with his dad’s Pink Avenger.