I remember it distinctly. It was a bright Friday’s morning as I marched towards the ServiceSA centre. I entered the building, brandishing my successful driving test as if it were a search warrant on the hit TV show, COPS. Sixteen-year-old me was disappointed to find that, upon entry, I had to “take a ticket” and “wait in line”, like the peasantry with their lesser concerns. As I waited for another uninspired paper pusher to call my number, I began asking myself the big, existential questions. Beef or Chicken Schnitzel? Is it an AB or Halal Snack Pack? Do I prefer BMW or Mercedes? Anything to offer reprieve from the misery of waiting for that damned number. Some time and one terrible photo later, I was back out the door and one licence closer to sweet, sweet freedom. To my surprise, in the car park I was greeted by my dad, who wore a sheepish grin. He leaned on his red, rusted-out Holden as if he were Burt Reynolds with his Pontiac Firebird sports car. “Congratulations, my son!” he remarked. “I think now’s as good a time as any… I want you to have her.”
He placed in my hands a freshly-cut key and motioned to the door of his 1983 Holden Camira SL/X. I thanked him, not fully comprehending the fact that a Turkish prison with a 7-foot, 140kg roommate would likely have been more bearable than the ‘gift’ he had just given me. This Holden, which would later become known to my friends and family as the ‘Bomb-e Alaska’, had in no way stood the test of time.
Perhaps in the 1980s, it was stylish and tactful; in the era of long mullets, fluoro spandex and Paul Hogan’s chest. However, this artefact was now nothing more than a relic of a bygone age. On the topic of style, the visual appearance of the car was surprisingly one of its redeeming characteristics. Its styling presented as modest and stood out as being more contemporary than other parts of the vehicle. Exterior rust was a less favourable aesthetic ‘feature’ of this automobile – but added to the car’s subtle charm and modest vintage character. If I had a dollar for every can of filler smudged around windows and doors, I could have bought a nicer car to begin with.
They say, however, that it’s what’s on the inside that truly counts.
Boasting a 4-cylinder engine producing 64kW, I never expected a great deal of gusto from ‘Big Red’… but the car was even slower than you might expect. Flooring the car yielded no response, and one could comfortably sit a game of chess in the passenger seat without fear of the pieces falling over and ruining your perfect checkmate. Of course, the positive side of this was that one could work the pedals like Daniel Ricciardo and never come close to a speeding ticket. Thus, the car could only be described as cumbersome to drive, with weak brakes and no power steering. These flaws, indicative of the vehicle’s age more than anything, led to inadequate stopping and disappointing handling – characteristics which are somewhat typical for land yachts of the time.
Looking beyond the mechanics of the car, boot space is good. However, it means that seating people in the back has been impossible for as long as I can remember. Despite four doors, I like to pretend that the car is a coupe going through rehab and trying to put the pieces of its life back together. I am also sad to report that the situation for front-seaters is not much better. No air conditioning and poor ventilation means that drivers are left with one option: hand crank windows that get stuck one-third of the way down. I must admit that part of this is my own doing. After seeing a spider in the air vents in 2018, I resorted to chemical warfare tactics on the cabin intake in an attempt to smoke them out. The vents have since remained shut, and my friends tell me the spider and its family are in witness protection.
Despite the clear interest from creepy crawlies, my Camira was ailed by an equal and opposite disinterest from the fairer sex. I certainly won’t miss the phrase “it has… character” – the weapon of choice for girls whom I would pick up in the car. Their words towards the Camira, my Camira, would forever deflate my burgeoning sense of masculinity. Yet despite the blatant attacks on my pride, I grew oddly attached to my ‘piece of junk’. As I look back and say goodbye to the ‘Bomb-e Alaska’, I choose to remember its more charming quirks. Against all logic, I miss its grandma-couch seats, lack of air conditioning and the hand-crank windows which made road rage maddeningly difficult. Over 20,000km of sailing on land and four years of life’s ups and downs, ‘Big Red’ was there for me whenever I needed. That’s something it should be proud of.