Much of Vancouver’s glitterati attended the exclusive and expensive Luxury & Supercar Weekend earlier this month at the VanDusen Garden. There was a Bugatti Veyron there and even a Pagani Huayra.
A colleague recently toured the factory and picked up little details about this last car. For instance, a set of tiny titanium bolts can cost $50,000 dollars, each is engraved with the Pagani logo, and they’re attached down underneath the bodywork where they’re never seen.
The whole shebang will set you back something like $1.4 million.
Sometimes I feel like the supercar end of the spectrum is getting a bit silly. Most of my favourite motoring experiences have been all the way down at the other end of the spectrum. I’m talkin’ waaayyy down there in the price range. The hoopty. The rust bucket. The cheapskate. The beater.
The beater is the natural entropic resting state of any automobile before it’s crushed. A series of owners has used up all the good bits, and all that’s left is a threadbare interior, a beat up exterior and an engine where many of the horses have escaped the ranch. There’s character and charm left too. And, usually, a funny smell. The experience of driving one of these things, which is usually a rite of passage around the time one is a penniless student, can be the happiest time of life. You can park it anywhere. You don’t have to worry about parking lot dings. It asks nothing of you except fuel, and in return provides faithful (well, mostly) transportation.
Many years ago, I returned from Australia with my then-fiancé and not much in my pocket. Times were tight, as we were in a transitional phase, but I needed something to get me around. And, moreover, any time I have to go without driving for an extended period of time I get all cranky.
I found just what I was looking for in a 1991 Ford Escort GT, which I purchased for the princely sum of $200. It was mostly white in a corrugated way, as if painted with correcting fluid. There were several large dents, the most minor of which made the car look like it had been on a semi-disastrous safari expedition.
There were two seats, a steering wheel, one third of a dashboard and a tiny jury-rigged knob that changed the heater from On to More On. Everything else was bare metal, and by “bare metal” I of course mean “rusty, paint-flaking-off metal.” Inexplicably, every crevice was filled with sand, as though the car had just been on a nice long beach holiday. The engine and transmission, on the other hand, were in fairly good shape, apart from the fact that the oxygen sensor had been disconnected because it wouldn’t run otherwise, and someone had fitted a “muffler” approximately the size and shape of the Graf Zeppelin.
Oh, how I loved that car. It was such a horrible piece of junk, but the little 1.8-litre engine still revved as though it had just come off the factory floor, and the no-name-brand shortshifter provided quick shifts, and the Kirklandquality tires did the best they could.
I never locked it — why the heck would I? — I used it as a stepladder. I used it as a dump truck. If I was travelling even two kilometres, the entire trip had to be accomplished with the rev counter completely buried in the red. “Bwaaaap!” went the Mazda-sourced 1.8 four-cylinder while I grinned and bystanders rolled their eyes. At one point, I found myself coming over the Burrard Street Bridge next to a Carrera GT. That particular convertible V-12 supercar had just come out, and was the talk of all the motoring press — and here I was in a car which cost less than 1,000th as much. Much less.
The guy in the Carrera GT had a very serious look on his face. Traffic wasn’t great and the big-engined machine was obviously champing at the bit, with nowhere to open it up. Plus there was some idiot in a junky little Ford next to him who might suddenly swerve and nick the paint.
At the end of the bridge we parted company, and thinking back now, what an oddly democratic thing driving is. All the money in the world can buy you nearly unlimited power and poise, but maybe not the thrill those first wealthy owners of horseless carriages once felt.
And, on the other hand, a fistful of dollars and some magic beans can get you an execrable lump that’s still cracking good fun.
Shopworn and dirty, cracked windshields and misfiring cylinders, rust and decay, and yet, somehow, the essential essence of what makes driving such a joy.
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