Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The tyranny of choice: a tale of two time machines.

You can only have so many cars, unless you’re Lindsay Fox or a bureaucracy. In my case, I once could fit two cars in the double garage, one on the front lawn and two more in the driveway. But that was years ago.

Then we moved, and there was no garage. Plus we had two more children, and children cost more than cars unless you run Alfa Romeos. So I was back to two cars. The Tangerine Dream for me, and the Volvo (English: “I roll”) 940 for Tracy.

But you can still window-shop. My favourite lunchtime reading became the online car classifieds, after giving up on online newspapers full of Z-grade celebrities and stories about overweight dogs or horses drinking in bars.

Read enough car ads and you develop a kind of sixth sense about the condition of a vehicle. ‘A couple of supermarket scratches’ means major bodywork; ‘long reg.’ mean two months; ‘recent full Selespeed service’ means the gearbox is rubbish; ‘near new Pirellis’ means ‘quite old Pirellis’; ‘quick sale’ means the vehicle has been stolen; and, if it’s a Mercedes Benz, ‘black paint’ means a Moonee Ponds gangster is selling his car.

Your car-ad-copy sixth sense lets you filter out the bad ads, drawing you to the good ones. A couple of weeks ago I came across the following description, which I have cut and pasted from the ad verbatim, including excessive ellipses and gratuitous capitalisation:
Now...take your time reading this....ONE OWNER....FULL SERVICE HISTORY.....The BEST Volvo we have ever seen.....This has been kept in a garage in Seymour and hardly ever driven...It is immaculate.....This is a Collectors vehicle....One you keep and stick away somewhere..... price is firm....FIRST TO SEE WILL BUY THIS...
It was a metallic-sky blue 1989 760 GLE, not the collector’s favourite. The pictures in the ad showed an unmarked vehicle. The interior looked like no one had sat in it, but since the odometer read 116,450 kilometres, I assume someone had been it at some stage. The model is rare in this condition. In pre-recession 1989, many top-of-the-line Eurobarges of this kind were leased to business types who wanted all the bells and whistles, drove them hard and sold them four years later to owners who might not have serviced them enough. (Incidentally, the 1989 Volvo 760 GLE sticker price of $90,000 would have bought you a house that would be worth around $1.1 million today. The Volvo is now worth $2,000. Choices!)

So here was a genuine one-owner, unmolested, completely original time-warp vehicle with a full service record that looked like it had rolled (Latin: “volverat”) off the Kalmar production line yesterday. You could drive it and imagine it was 1989.

Which was a problem.

Because the rule was we could have only two cars.

How could I get around the rule? Maybe I could buy the 760 and hide it. I wondered how I could secrete a 760 GLE into a dark corner of the backyard, or park it down the street, or pretend it belonged to my brother who lives in Alice Springs (really) and he would be coming to pick it up in a while, say 2015, and I could use it in the meantime.

But I knew, deep down, way down in my shoes, that I would have to choose between two cars. The 940 was out, of course, because that was Tracy’s daily car. That meant I had to choose between the 244 or the 760. Which was it to be? I hadn’t had this kind of dilemma since one day years ago when I was single and two women moved in next door and I ended up marrying one.

But which one? How do you choose these things? Lord, give me guidance.

Would I toss a coin? The orange 244, of course, had ridden, sounded and driven like a new car when I purchased it in 2007, so I could pretend it was 1976, when Malcolm Fraser was a Liberal Prime Minister (hard to believe, but true) and tune the AM radio to Magic 1278 and hear If You Leave Me Now by Chicago to add to the 1976 ambience. I like cars that make you think time travel exists, like in that movie, the name of which escapes me. One of the ones that is so popular everyone knows the plot even if they’ve never seen it.

In four years, I added 27,000 kilometres to the 244’s odometer, gave it a new set of Michelins, changed the starter motor, and serviced it religiously every 5,000 kilometres. At 67,000 kilometres, any Volvo is still a new car. The only thing that changed about the 244 in four years was that it started turning heads. A Volvo turning heads? 244s used to be everywhere, but are now a relative rarity, let alone in this condition. Being orange helped. It got particular notice in the inner suburbs where art and design people gather. Every time I parked it in Brunswick Street, people would run out of cafes, high on caffeine, and offer to buy it. The offers kept rising, like electricity bills. My car was no longer just an old Volvo. It was a “design icon”.

But the allure of a new (new for me, anyway) kind of Volvo – an old-school V6 – got the 760 over the line, by a nose, which is not insignificant when it comes to Volvos. The 760 had all the gear deemed necessary in the power-suited 1980s: cruise control, an innovation called climate control that heated your feet and froze your head, chrome everywhere, headlamp wipers, remote entry that bleeps, seat heating, a sunroof, a light around the front passenger’s visor mirror, and reading lamps for the back seat passengers. How cultivated! By contrast, today’s cars stick a television in the back of the front seat, so your children can stare vacantly at Yo Gabba Gabba while you drive along the Great Ocean Road:
- “Hey kids, take a look at that amazing sight! Loch Ard gorge! A clipper sank there in huge seas in 1878! The only two survivors were a young lady and a cabin boy who clung to a spar for five hours! They wrote a play about it called Eva and the Cabin Boy! The site is of massive historical and social interest!”

- Silence, apart from the idiotic TV soundtrack
That one feature puts 1989 at the turning point of civilisation, and here was the car to prove it. Reading lamps! I think it was the reading lamps that closed the deal. It’s the little things.

So next morning, I rang the dealer and bought the 760 over the phone, and the dealer trucked it home a day later, while I was at work, and left it under the carport. Alert readers will have realised that I had purchased a 22-year-old car without even having sat in it, let alone driven it.

The 760 waited patiently under the carport until the weekend. I came out early on a cold winter Saturday morning; walked around it once, clockwise; admired its ridiculously dated lines; opened the door – “bleep” - and got into the driver’s seat; and turned the key. Nothing happened.

Just kidding. The car started immediately, and the six cylinders chattered softly to themselves like polite children. I backed it out, turned its massive nose around with a gentle whine of power steering, and drove it. The engine was turbine-smooth, slow to rouse, and wound up like a dragon disturbed from sleep when pushed. The engine, of course, is the same PVR type fitted to the famous DeLorean DMC-12. Then it dawned on me.

I had purchased a DeLorean in disguise!


jo said...

Nothing like the first ride in a new toy. It sounds lovely.

Martin L Kennedy said...

You are worse than our dear old dad! I'm sounds fantastic

kitchen hand said...

Lots of fun things to discover, Jo, such as the eighties-style graphic equaliser on the cassette-radio.

It could be hereditary, Martin. listings that we did for Dad's cars.

jo said...

Speaking of time warps, I thought you could appreciate this.