I don't know about you, but I love flicking through the used car section of the trading post, checking out all the varying pros and cons of a myriad of vehicles using magazines and the internet. Every bloke is an expert on cars. This doesn't mean we have to be mechanics or engineers, but we must know a lot about them. It's a rite of passage when you can identify the make, model and year of a car simply by catching a glimpse of the tail-light as it turns a corner ahead of you and all your mates nod in agreement.
Often the relationship between blokes and their chosen mode of transport is one of love and hate. We will all involve ourselves in huge arguments to determine why "my vehicle is better than yours", but deep down we all know our cars' faults; and they all have them, not that we'll readily admit it. Cars can be as unique as we are and everyone has differing expectations and needs for their vehicle. This is the warts and all story of my own.
It was with great anticipation that I began my hunt for a new set of wheels... well, actually a used set of wheels but new for me... you know what I mean. The homeland Minister for Finance (also known as 'she who must be obeyed') had approved a budget of $5000 so it was off to grab the trading post and start hunting through the online classifieds. I really had no idea what I wanted, only that I wanted something.
The ensuing couple of weeks saw me considering all manner of vehicles from Mini Coopers to old Land Cruisers. I was forced to start thinking about what I wanted to use the car for and what I needed it to do. The Mini would have been a hoot to drive as I had owned a great little 1974 clubman several years ago and have always maintained that I'd love to own another. I doubt there is another car on the planet that corners as well as the 'flying brick.'
On the other hand, a 4WD was looking very appealing due to our family's love of camping. I love to get waaay off the beaten track, due in no small part to my time in the army and living in outback Australia as a kid. Ok, so looking at it objectively the 4WD was going to be the option that we'd get the most use out of. The Mini was just going to have to wait for another time (damn!).
I wanted something reasonably comfortable for long journeys but something that also exuded a brilliant ability off the beaten track. Undoubtedly this meant one of the original Range Rovers from the '80s as these things are utterly peerless off-road. My time in the military saw me rack up a ridiculous number of miles of off-road driving in some incredibly inhospitable places where often there had been no roads before. The legendary Landrover 110 was the weapon of choice for all that time, and it was fantastic, but the original Range Rovers were still superior. More power, comfort, mod-cons... in the end it was a no-brainer.
To my delight there was a reasonable amount of choice in 20-ish year old Rangies for around the $5000 mark, so the hunting started in earnest. After a few weeks of searching, a great specimen came up for sale only a few blocks down the road from our house, an impressive 1986 Range Rover Vogue. It had been converted to dual fuel which meant the 'thirst like an alcoholic' fuel consumption wasn't going to break the bank and it had the original smaller donk replaced with the 4.0l V8 from a 1993 Discovery. Those newer motors are fantastic engines I thought and the test drive and inspection went without a hitch... I was sold, and soon the car was as well.
Now, Range Rovers have a reputation for being cantankerous old things and this is not without warrant. There are often dramas with the peripheral items breaking off and such but mechanically they are sound and given that almost the whole vehicle is aluminium, rust is largely a thing other people have to worry about. I entered into this new love affair with my eyes wide open, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come...
Stay tuned for Part 2 - The drive home
Part 2 – The drive home (a.k.a. the day the world turned black)
Turning the key for the first time in your newest set of wheels is quite a heady feeling. The test drive doesn't count, because at that point you are still in the purchase assessment phase. Prior experiences with the same type of vehicle also do not count. It's difficult to beat that ecstatic buzz as you drive away in your newly purchased machine. To paraphrase a shit-house Hollywood abomination; I was on top of the world, secure in the knowledge that all my homework had been done. All the research had culminated in what was surely the best deal ever in automotive sales history.
The timing was pretty good in a black sort of way too because the Rangie would be a lot more comfy for the long trip I had to make in a couple of days time. My Grandmother had died earlier in the week and my sisters and I were going to drive up to Wauchope from Canberra for the funeral. At least this sad occasion now had a silver lining as I'd have a chance to give the truck a good run on the open road.
I was determined to head home quickly, excited to snap the obligatory 'when new' photos as most blokes are apt to do. I came to a major round-a-bout and pulled up in the right lane, second in the queue behind a Mitsubishi Pajero. It's a bit of a tricky intersection, the round-a-bout can be taken at quite high speeds and this being Canberra... everyone did. I was amazingly patient however because nothing else mattered as I basked in the warm afterglow of 'new-purchase fever'.
Finally there was a gap in the traffic and the woman in the car in front moved into the intersection with me following. I conducted ye olde shoulder check to ensure no hoon was going to side swipe my new beauty. All clear... beautiful.
Apparently not. For reasons known only to her, the Pajero driver had stopped dead. It was far too late for me to avoid her so I threw the anchors out hard.
I wasn't travelling quickly when I hit her but with the not insignificant inertia generated by a car this size, it was a reasonable clout. I like to call it more of a 'bump' than a 'smash' as the latter has a bloody awful ring to it. We both pulled over for the usual chit-chat and damage assessment. We were both calm and kept the conversation amicable, and to be honest, it was just one of those things; not really anyone's fault, an accident in the truest sense of the word.
As I am climbing out of the Rangie, alarm bells were ringing through my head. Apart from the obvious "for fuck's sake, I haven't even got the bloody thing home yet", there was a far more sinister sense of foreboding steadily seeping into my consciousness. Insurance!
Naturally the car wasn't insured in my name as it sat in the vendor's driveway, I had been trying to contact my insurance provider during the day to try and arrange something without success. No problems I thought ...
No, now it was big problems.
Anyway, as I exchanged details with the other driver I also realised that our camera was in my wife's car along with my mobile phone... double bugger! The other driver didn't have a camera on her either. This day was turning to custard very quickly.
I drove it home (at least everything seemed to be working) and started chasing my insurance company. After many phone calls and some research via the internet, I discovered that my insurer had gone tits-up six months prior. I hadn't had a letter notifying me but my insurance payments had still been going 'somewhere'... the realisation sunk in; I was not insured! I quickly phoned another insurer and got all our gear re-insured, thank Christ we hadn't had a break in because none of our house contents had been covered during that time either.
I dutifully trundled off to the panel beaters to get a ballpark damage assessment. They straightened the bullbar and had a quick look. I nearly whimpered like a dog that had been kicked when the repair costs totalled about three quarters of what I'd just paid for the car.
Apparently this car was going to be a little more expensive than I first thought... Fuck!
I quietly drove home to lick my wounds and thoroughly check everything, fixing what I could before the trip up north to Grandma's funeral. I waited apprehensivley to face the inevitable letter from the other driver's insurer... life just doesn't get any better than this!
Stay tuned for part 3 folks.
Part 3 – The silver lining.
Despite the intense financial pain I had suffered so far, the car was still exactly what I wanted (less the damage of course). There is a powerful temptation in times like this to simply sell the car and cut your losses, but this wouldn't be right; it's just not the way of the Aussie bloke. The never say die, hang on like a drover's dog attitude wins out in the end.
Not withstanding the caustic taste of bile every time I looked at "that fucken car", doing the sums told me that it would be more expensive to get rid of it, cut my losses and buy something else. Now that other endearing trait shared by Aussie blokes everywhere reared its head; Making do with what you have.
The long drive up to Wauchope and back with my sisters for Grandma's funeral went without a hitch and I was determined to throw the Rangie at some properly hairy chested goat-tracks to see what it was capable of. The Brindabella National Park looked like a great place to start and it was close to home, at least there wouldn't be any bloody round-a-bouts half way up the side of a mountain!
I'd heard about a few great tracks from some yokels, however, as usual they had different names for them than could be found in the maps of the area. After a bit of research, helped in no small part by the extensive cross country navigational experience from my army days, I had a few options quickly nutted out. We loaded the esky with drinks and tucker, loaded the back with tools, water and oil, and off we trooped towards the mountains.
One thing I've loved about moving to Canberra is the almost constant sunshine, year round. Ok, so the winter mornings can shrink your knackers to the size of dried peas, but the sun is always shining and morale is always high. We headed westwards out of town and navigated our way to a small semi rural area at the foot of the mountains. The track was marked very poorly, however after a couple of false starts resulting in awkward seven point u-turns, we found the road we needed... so we thought.
After a few kilometres I was certain we were headed in the wrong direction, not by much mind you, but just enough for me to be certain. We stopped and looked at the map and deduced that we were about where we should be but the road was pointing in slightly the wrong direction. We decided to give it another klick or two to see if they joined up before turning back.
At about the time we were going to turn around we spotted a local farmer in a big dozer up ahead and decided to ask him for directions. Pulling up next to the dozer and my wife leaned out of her window to chat to the driver. It was extremely difficult for me to hear what he was saying from my side of the car over the noise of the battered old Caterpillar bulldozer. It also didn't help that this farmer could barely speak English. No, he wasn't a migrant, English was his mother tongue, but by Christ he spoke it badly!
I was picking up snippets of what he was saying, enough to realise that we were going the wrong way and had to head back down the hill to the main road to find the start of the track we were looking for. As we thanked him, turned around and drove off I asked the missus what he'd said. She turned to me and said she had absolutely no idea.
We burst out laughing.
It turned out that despite being right next to him, she'd understood even less of the conversation than I had. This was especially disturbing for my wife as she is a school teacher. She was in a mild state of shock that a native English speaker could be so incomprehensible. After comparing notes, we both agreed that he'd mentioned something about turning right and something else about a green letterbox. It appeared we'd have to make the rest up.
Once back at the main road we dutifully turned right and proceeded to discover that every second bloody house had a green damn letterbox. To the incomprehensible farmer's credit however, there was indeed a green letterbox also at the beginning of the track we wanted to take. After travelling a few kilometers we realised why we'd been led astray. The other track was only about one-hundred metres away through some trees and ran parallel to the one we had been on. The other road wasn't even on the map. Navigational pride restored, we pressed on.
The road got rougher the further we climbed but the ride inside the Rangie was superb. If we'd been driving this road at this speed in a 20yr old Toyota Landcruiser, Nissan Patrol or LandRover our teeth would have been rattled out of our heads. It was a fitting moment to reflect on just how far ahead of the times these things were when they first arrived on the scene. As we climbed further into the mountains it occurred to me that I hadn't needed to use the low range gear box yet, such was the immense torque on tap for me to use. It ate up the obstacles with a sublime finesse, not words I'd ordinarily associate with a 3 tonne vehicle.
In the end, I had to go looking for terrain that would make it break a sweat. We found one cracker of a small track that required very low gearing and some serious ground clearance. It was a very steep incline which resembled a pile of ugly boulders disguised as a track. The Rangie was never really troubled and even could have tackled it more quickly, however I was starting to get used to the hitherto alien concept of four wheel driving in comfort and style.
After a great lunch right at the very peak of a rugged mountain, sitting on the bonnet with a view no restaurant could hope to match, it was finally time to head for home. This was just what the doctor ordered; the band-aid I so desperately needed for that opening gash of financial aggravation after the prang. It was a comforting reminder that I'd made the right choice and a needed memory to reflect on in the face of the impending bills.
What a bloody incredible bit of machinery.