Monday 4 July 2011

Hard To Handle

Power is a funny thing. 16 year old P-platers will tell you there's no such thing as too much horsepower. But there's steel-eyed, broken men in dark corners of 50's-style cafes who know different. The young fool thinks of blowing the doors off Japanese cars at traffic lights and the big, dumb smile that follows a burnout. The survivor hears the sound of Goodyear Polyglas tyres exploding mid-corner and knows the cold, silent fear when the throttle doesn't come off the floor when you lift your foot.

The Fairlane turned me from the former into the latter.

It made good power, that's for sure, but nothing excessive. Cam, carb, compression. I was quite the race car builder. Over the years it went through three exhausts, two motors, three ignition systems, three carbs, five gearboxes, three diffs and countless sets of rear tyres. I never once touched the brakes or suspension.

Predictably, it became a death trap. All big V8 death traps have their own special black magic. Some cut left or right under brakes, or have brake lockups at the brush of a pedal. Some break down in lonely, scary places. Some have electrical problems that make you lose the headlights coming down a wet mountain range at night. The Green Machine was taily.

There's plenty of old cars that spin their tyres. It doesn't take much power to get both turning if you're trying hard enough. The Fairlane wasn't like that though. It longed to kill, and it had endless patience. It would chug along like your grandmother's Camry for months, then all of a sudden you try to execute a u-turn and find yourself entering a petrol station backwards at alarming pace.

There are people all over Brisbane who probably still wake up screaming, dreaming of that big set of taillights pirouetting towards them as if in slow motion. Out of roundabouts. Through the Aspley McDonalds carpark. Across intersections. Through paddocks beside country roads. The mere breath of throttle would have it lurching sideways, and there was just no catching it as all that weight shifted and the springs wound up so hard that it broke leaf packs.

It was basically undriveable in the wet.  I would periodically end up stopped at the steep uphill set of lights on Creek Street in the Brisbane CBD, outside Central railway station. To get moving with the loose 3500rpm stall convertor, you'd hold your left foot hard on the brake, bring the revs up sharply and let out the brake like a clutch. The tacho would spike and first gear would go nowhere. Once in second gear, the tyres and speedo would be doing 120kph as the car crabbed sideways across the intersection at walking pace, motor screaming. I did this once with a 60-year-old law firm partner, my boss at the time, in the car. He didn't say a word, but I did resign shortly after.

It was waiting to get me. It would taunt me in to making stupid, life-threatening mistakes then sit there innocent, impossibly ungainly but still beautiful, calling me back. It was like heroin - I knew eventually I'd end up crumpled in a wet gutter, but every time I went near it I needed another hit.

I walked past its ruined shell a dozen times on the weekend, smiling occasionally at the big, square grille and thinking it wasn't so tough. I found a stray piece of trim in the shed and opened the drivers door to chuck it inside. I lingered for a second too long. In my mind, the long, strip speedo wobbled up past 200 as fence posts whipped by. It still had me.


  1. I had a speedo like that once!

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