Posted by: joevanderfluit | July 25, 2015

Regarding the Dents

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I feel that, this evening, I have some explaining to do. I’ve had to do it for more than two years now, and I think I’ve finally collected my thoughts on the matter to sufficiently justify – if to no one else but me – why most prized possession still bears the scars of Alberta’s meteorological scourge. On the afternoon of July 6, 2013 my lovely Miata lost a battle against a storm cell. Considering the size of the hail that fell that day, it fared pretty well. The glass was fine; and any steel body panels were strong and springy enough to take the hits. The aluminum hood and trunk lid, not so much. There were dents.

And even today, they’re still there. And I’m totally fine with it. Which, of course I realize, sounds odd. I am a Car Guy; and one would expect I’d have been on top of that sort of thing. Except, I’ve come to realize that there are as many ways to be a Car Guy as there are cars…to…guy? I’ve ruminated over the issue long enough over enough late nights that I think I know which kind I am. I’m that kind that feels really weird at car shows and museums, and I know exactly when the epiphany happened, or at least started to happen. There was a Calgary Miata owners’ club cruise that included a stop in Lethbridge when I still lived there, so I popped by. And I really didn’t fit in. There was a beautiful, older first-generation car in immaculate British Racing Green; amazing custom tan leather interior; polished wire wheels; the works. It had clocked less than 30,000 kilometers in 20 years. Another lady had a nicely upgraded third-generation car with much improved suspension bits and upgraded intake and exhaust. She commutes in Calgary with a heavy-duty pickup. They all looked at me with a strange expression of wonder and disgust when I said mine was my only car and I drive it all winter. That’s when I had to take one giant mental step back and figure out where I belonged in cardom. I knew from day one, when it was on the lot, that my car wasn’t a show car. Deep scars tore across both mirrors and the paint was worn everywhere. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. I’m not the kind of guy that enjoys lovingly washing and waxing and primping and polishing my car on a nice Sunday. I’m the guy that takes his car through the Co-Op car wash and then drives the wheels off of it every day I can, season be damned.

The strongest memories I have of this car were all made when I was in it: Streaking down a snow-covered road in the early morning on the way to Castle Mountain; there is a Subaru Forester in front. He is going too slow in his all-wheel-drive safetymobile; so I make a move. Down a gear, onto the throttle. The rear predictably slides out but I steer into the slide and do not lift. I pass on the outside in a full Juan-Miguel Fangio four-wheel drift. The driver double-takes at the purple roadster that seems so happy to be so out of its element. December, after work. It is already very dark and the snow is falling hard and heavy. The highway is decent, Metis Trail is not. The right lane is gone. A minivan is buried nose-in up to the sliding door. “Don’t stop, keep momentum, have faith in your tires”. The wheel ruts are getting deeper and they’re too wide. “Do. Not. Slow”. Now a 4Runner is buried in the right lane. Snow is scraping the entire underside of the car. Burly trucks are fighting to keep moving; family cars are in the ditch. And yet the Miata, the most wrong car to be in this evening, won’t quit. The wheels spin but I can feel where traction is and isn’t. 90 minutes into a 25 minute commute I get home safe and warm. Slowly winding up Going to the Sun Road, Glacier Park. Traffic bunches up through intermittent rain as we ascend into the low clouds. The pass peaks, every car in front turns into the visitor centre. I carry on, immediately drop out of the cloud and the ribbon of road is completely empty ahead. 45 miles an hour feels like 145, with a jagged wall on one side and a thousand-foot drop on the other. The car comes alive; hunkers down under power around every bend, “Sacrilege” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs piped in through the iPod. Eastbound on Alberta 1A, just past Exshaw. The road becomes bendy and cambered; the yellow signs say 65 or 55 above the arrows. That means 90. Two sportbikes come up from behind. There are no passing lanes, no turnouts. I don’t want to ruin their run, and I’ve got nowhere to go but faster. Again, the car just comes alive. It wants this. I want this. 55 now means 100. Now almost 120. This is zen. This is what nirvana feels like.  I exit towards Morley when the road straightens, the bikers pass, both flash a nod and thumbs-up and u-turn, and I affectionately pat the car on the dash. “Good girl”.

That. That is why I love cars. I love to drive. I love to hear and feel. This is why I love my car. The joy I get from it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on how it looks. The very, very last Car Guy I ever want to be is the kind with something beautiful sealed away in a climate-controlled garage for fear of dirt or damage. I just hate that. That’s why I feel some strange breed of personal pride in the dents and dings and scuffs and scrapes my car has accumulated. I want to drive it onto the grass at a Show N’ Shine and rip some donuts, get out and shout that this is my dream; I’ve taken it through heaven and hell, loved every second of it and who cares if it looks like it does?

The Ferrari F40 is much lauded as one of the best driver’s cars of all time. A truly analog animal, it has string for door handles and cheap felt for interior upholstery, along with a fire breathing twin-turbo V8 and no electronics to dilute any of it. Their value continues to creep ever more skyward; three quarters of a million dollars US is now the norm. I’ve seen one in person, up close, in a private collection I am not at liberty to discuss. It was a magical experience to see this legend in the flesh; but what gave me the most joy was the front end: rock chips. Rock chips everywhere. To know that this masterpiece wasn’t sealed in a sheik’s vault but out spitting fire in anger like it was meant to, was to know that there is still good in this world.

There is still much good in this world. Last summer I was invited to a Saturday night meet and it was the one time I felt I met my people. I pulled in next to a work-in-progress Honda Del Sol. Next to that was an even more work-in-progress Mazda RX-7. Then a gorgeous Buick Grand National pulled in beside that. A devastatingly fast Nissan Skyline, non-essential parts rattily held together with baling wire, zip ties, and tape drew a crowd while I drooled over a daily-driven Mitsubishi Evo 4. And everyone had nothing but good words for everyone else. It was after dark; perfect paint didn’t matter. What mattered was that every car drove down there; and everyone loved driving their car there.

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These words from Jezza, Patron Saint of Petrolheads, are truly words I live by. My car isn’t an investment or a show of wealth. She’s just my buddy. A faithful companion. I’ll always fix the mechanical bits as they wear out and break, because that matters. Body dents? Nah. Those there are stories. Every mark means one more time I was out in the best car ever instead of keeping it safe, too afraid to enjoy the thing I enjoy for the reason it was meant to be enjoyed.

Cars are for driving. Sometimes they get beat up. Some people want theirs fixed; I don’t. It’s my way of making a statement; of rebelling against that notion that the only thing good is that which is shiny and new. I want to say that I like mechanical linkages and manual transmissions and not stupid electronic shit that breaks. I want to hear and feel and smell and experience. I want to say I have an old, busted-up Millennium Falcon hunk of junk that’s got it where it counts: the drive. And that’s what I have. Rocker rust that’s held at bay with Flex Seal (as seen on TV!); a top with rips closed with Gorilla Tape; “custom” $10 IKEA shag rug floor mats; and yet with top-shelf synthetic in the engine, 94 octane in the tank, and (for half the year) the second-best snow tires money can buy. She makes me feel like Han Solo and that, friends, is a good way to feel.

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