For many, a car is just something you use from A to B. For others, cars are a hobby.
However, for some, cars are a lifeline.
Statistically, if you aren’t personally affected by mental illness, then someone you know is.
In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around one million Australian adults have depression, and over two million suffer from anxiety.
Suicide remains the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 44 years of age in Australia, with men taking their own lives at a rate three times that of women.
At CarAdvice we’ve become a supporter of Drive Against Depression, a charity aiming to raise awareness about mental health – particularly relating to depression and anxiety – and encouraging conversation through a shared love for motoring.
Our own Paul Maric is the charity’s ambassador, and after being introduced to the organisation last year, I’ve been an avid supporter.
For me personally, I’ve battled my own demons throughout life like so many others, so I know firsthand how hard it is to say that you’re not okay, to ask for help.
When I heard of charity founder, Adam Davis’ very personal struggle with mental illness, and how going for a drive with his mates helped him to have that hard conversation, it immediately struck a chord given our shared passion for cars and experience with mental illness. This was definitely a cause I could relate to.
“After that first drive with my mates, I felt human for the first time in months,” Davis says.
“It lit a light in my mind – driving facilitates conversation. It can start with car talk, but then it can move to something deeper. If driving can make someone suffering from mental illness feel alive, then why not spread the word?
“Being in the automotive industry I asked a few people to get together and raise money for Beyond Blue. To my amazement we raised over four figures and I was humbled by the support, as I told my story publicly for the first time.
“After another drive for The Black Dog Institute, my wife Sarah and I talked about the mental benefits I was experiencing, and felt that we could create our own charity that could focus on people who loved cars and the scene specifically.”
On Sunday 19 June, 2019, Drive Against Depression held a special charity drive in partnership with Berwick Ford. Usually, the organisation has quarterly drives throughout the year, along with additional events like participating in the Australian Tarmac Rally (you can about read Paul Maric’s recent tarmac rally experience here).
I scored the keys to the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt, with its (slightly) more powerful V8, Dark Highland Green finish (very JWo indeed), and special touches that hark back to Steve McQueen’s movie car from half-a-century ago.
Scott’s car, meanwhile, started life as a ‘standard’ manual Mustang GT Fastback, and then equipped with a range of motorsport-inspired parts and enhancements to make it look like a Ford Performance Supercar – it even has racing driver Scott McLaughlin’s name on it.
Goodies include a roll cage in place of the back seats, racing harnesses, the Ford Performance short-throw kit for the manual transmission, the Ford Performance lowering springs, 19-inch forged alloys in white, a rear wing, and of course the eye-catching Ford Performance livery inspired by the Supercar racer.
We arrived at Berwick Ford nice and early at 9am, and were met by the Drive Against Depression team as well as Paul Webb, sales executive at Berwick Ford and one of the driving forces behind the event.
In addition to the organisers, there were over 40 cars in attendance. The ratio of Ford vehicles was a little higher than usual, as you’d expect from a Ford-themed event, with numerous Mustangs and performance Focus hatchbacks parked up – including plenty of bright blue Focus RSs from the Focus RS Owners Victoria club, along with a couple of Bullitts.
Other metal included some British and Japanese classics, along with more modern stuff like a very yellow Lexus LC500.
As with all DAD drives, the day starts off with a welcome briefing, where the team details the drive route and gives a brief rundown about what the charity is about.
Today we would be heading down to Inverloch via a scenic route, with a morning tea stop at Kongwak in Victoria’s south east and then lunch at the Inlet Hotel in Inverloch.
Once we had topped up our morning coffee reserves (thanks to the coffee van, who also donated 10 per cent of proceeds to DAD), we set off on our journey as the sun broke through the clouds.
The drive route took us on a two-hour journey between Berwick and Inverloch, passing through several towns in Victoria’s south east including Tynong, Jam Jerrup, Kongwak, and Wonthaggi.
Firing up the 5.0-litre V8, and switching the quad-tipped active exhaust to its loudest setting, I headed for the hills in the green machine.
After an initial stint on the Monash Freeway, we took the winding roads from Tynong southbound towards Inverloch.
Between the various towns we passed through along the way, there were stunning views of green fields, rolling hills, and colourful autumn leaves.
The weather was perfect, too, with the sun shining and blue skies, made even better by the glorious, burbling sound of the Mustang’s V8 engine.
It had been quite a while since I had last driven a Mustang. In fact, I had barely spent any time behind the wheel of the facelifted model.
The variety of roads and conditions really reiterated the all-round capabilities of Ford’s pony car, which is just as enjoyable on the open road as it is on twisty country roads.
You’re never wanting for power, thanks to the Bullitt’s beefy 345kW and 556Nm outputs (6kW more than Collie’s ‘Stang), with plenty of low-down shove and a sonorous engine note regardless of the exhaust mode.
The experience is that little more engaging thanks to the six-speed manual, the sole transmission choice on the Bullitt (a 10-speed auto is optional on the wider Mustang range) which is accessed via a white cue-ball shifter in the green machine, an homage to the original movie car.
Part of the upgrades for the mid-life facelift included a rev-matching function for manual models, which is great for stick-shift noobs like myself, along with a beefier twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel. It certainly feels better than the previous model.
The shift action is much more accurate, and more satisfying as you row through each cog. Having rev-matching allows for simpler and smoother progress when tackling successive bends, and also makes you feel like a hero every time you hear the engine sing on each downshift.
For a big heavy coupe, the Mustang handles pretty well. The steering is nice and direct and offers good feel, with quick turn-in and nice weighting regardless of the speed.
Despite patchy road quality and varying degrees of curves, the Bullitt never lost its composure or felt cumbersome despite its near 1.8-tonne kerb weight. It’s surprisingly nimble and balanced through corners, while also being quite comfortable for a sports coupe, even with the leather Recaro bucket seats that are standard in the Bullitt.
You’ll remember earlier that DAD aims to get a conversation started, and on the second half of the drive between Kongwak and Inverloch I actually had a chance to find out what that’s really about.
My best mate came along with his cousin, and I had him ride shotgun with me for the latter half of the drive. What started as a regular conversation getting to know each other and our favourite cars (this was the first time we’d met), became a really honest and enlightening chat about things we had both struggled with in recent times.
Without going into too much detail, we talked about the difficulties of transitioning from teenage years to adulthood, and how tough it can be trying to find a career direction in the hotly-contested landscape young people are faced with today.
It really speaks to the power of just ‘having a chat’. You can learn a lot about others and also about yourself.
Following the second half of the drive program we arrived at the Inlet Hotel in Inverloch, for a lovely pub lunch overlooking the beautiful shoreline.
We had a chat with Paul Webb, new vehicle sales consultant for Berwick Ford who was a driving force for the special event, about why he decided to join the cause.
“I decided to become involved because I personally went through a lot of different emotions when I moved to Australia in 2013, and struggled to cope with how much life had changed,” he says.
“I didn’t have many friends in Australia, so there was no one to talk to about how I was struggling to cope. It was made worse when my wife and I separated in 2015. I’ve found myself getting more involved with social media and car events to help me get by, so I have a bit of an understanding of how people with mental health problems feel.
“I hadn’t heard about DAD until the drive day last year when we drove from You Yangs to Queenscliff. DAD got in touch with me as they had seen the posts I’d put on social media, and asked if my work would be interested in hosting/sponsoring a drive day.
“It took a lot of work behind the scenes to get going, but thankfully it turned out to be an amazing day.”
From left: James Wong, Paul Webb, Scott Collie and Adam Davis
Beyond the regular drive days, Drive Against Depression is pushing towards establishing a Mental Wellness Network, which will assist people in finding the healthcare solution right for them.
The organisation is already in discussions with several practitioners that will offer tailored care to the community, and also start attending community drives to not only support the events but to also keynote speak about mental health.
If you’d like to know more about Drive Against Depression or make a donation, you can check out its website.
You can also join some of the CarAdvice team at the Winter Drive Day on Sunday, June 30. Register for that here before 5:00pm, Friday June 28.
Click on the photos tab for more images by James Wong, Jack Thiessen, Paul Webb, and Vidic Images
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 (age 5-25 years)
Lifeline – 13 11 14