2000 Volkswagen New Beetle. Click image to enlarge
By Michael Clark
Apparently, pulling out of the garage can be the same as coming out of the closet.
My particular ‘coming out’ party happened rather innocently enough. Like most auto scribes, I maintain a back-up vehicle. It’s usually not pretty, nor expensive, with at least 50 per cent of the original equipment options in a state of dormancy. Its purpose exists for the odd week that a press car is unavailable. The last back-up, a ’95 Chevy Beretta, reached its peak performance level this Spring: 320,000 well-used kilometers; a trusty steed, indeed. However, this battered blue Bowtie was starting to tip the scales in the “Good Money Into Bad” department. The best word that could be used to describe every aspect of drivability was ‘spongy’: spongy brakes, spongy clutch, spongy ride, and the ability to soak up money like a, well, you get the picture.
The best bargains in The Land of Used Cars can usually be found on supermarket bulletin boards, free want-ads, and online postings. Better still are the cars with issues. OK, every used car has issues. These are the ones that the owner is actually up front about. If we’re talking 10 to 12 years of age in vintage, the vehicle in question is probably on the verge of some major service. The current owner may have received the dire news from the neighbourhood mechanic, with numerous red check marks on the 50-point oil change inspection. More often than not, the kitchen table discussion between Joe and Jane Inhock results in more hock, for the next five years.
There’s still the matter of the disposal of the used car. Most car dealers turn their noses up at trades of age, offering just enough to cover a set of floor mats for the new ride. Those owners with a conscience will contact one of numerous charities now in the car business, which provide a tax receipt in exchange for their rusty lump. Everyone thinks they can sell a car, until the phone starts ringing. “Has the timing belt been changed?” “How are the tires?” “Does the interior match the colour of my eyes?” And so on.
The author’s 1996 Mazda MX-3 Precidia. Click image to enlarge
One such car salesman was Mr. X, the first and only owner of a 1996 Mazda MX-3 Precidia. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent.) It’s a bare-bones model, black as proper coffee. The miles were low; a scant 143,000 klicks on the odometer. Known issues included rear brakes, struts, and the absence of a safety check. The asking price was $1800. That number quickly fell to $900, when the original alternator decided to seize up during the test drive. The Bargain Gods were smiling. So was I, until I mentioned to some friends what I had purchased.
“That car is so gay,” said H. Moe Phobe. (THESE names have been changed to protect the ignorant.) “You must be pretty sure of your masculinity,” offered Johnny Rainbow. Gay? How can a car be happy? It is ultimately a machine, without emotion. “Not that kind of gay,” said Rainbow. Ohhhhh, THAT kind of gay. I lowered my pinkie finger on my decaf/non-fat/mocha frappuccino (with cinnamon.) I took a swig of frap, cleared my throat, and began to extol the advantages of the Precidia life. With an unleaded litre continuing to hover at the Buck-Thirty mark, who wouldn’t want a four-banger roller skate with a five-speed stick to go cruising downtown?
The issue here seemed to surround a popular myth in the transportation world. Does the vehicle you drive denote your sexual orientation? Depends on who you ask. A quick Google entitled ‘Gay Cars’ returned a number of surveys on the issue, from both sides of the fence. Many of the comments posted on the likes of Jettas, CR-Vs, and Mazda Miatas were apparently penned by members of the gay community. Wait a minute; I had a Mazda Miata! A red one! And I really liked it! What does that make me?
2008 Mazda MX-5 (photo by Michael Clark); 2004 Pontiac Sunfire; 2000 Chevrolet Tracker convertible; 2008 Volkswagen Eos (photo by James Bergeron). Click image to enlarge
What it makes me is a man who knows a high-performance driving machine when he sees one. Whether it’s a first-gen or freshly minted MX-5, the Miata is about as close as most middle class enthusiasts will get to cornering Velcro. There’s a lot of that heart in the Precidia, which is powered by a front-drive version of the same dual-cammer four from the Miata. There’s a label for that sort of thing; it’s called Cool.
I’m so confused. It comes down to what ‘gay’ means when attached to a motor vehicle. The first definition of gay appears to refer to an inanimate object that possesses some level of effeminate quality.(See ‘murse’.) This I can understand. I have a few of these vehicles on my personal list of Never Own. These include any form of Volkswagen Cabrio, including the new Eos. The New Beetle is a close second, followed by Chevy Trackers and Pontiac Sunfires. I see these vehicles as more suited to female drivers – the proverbial ‘chick car’, as evidenced by the abundance of females that I have seen driving them. It is simply my opinion. What we like and dislike comes with labels, sometimes honest, sometimes misinterpreted, and sometimes derogatory. You may applaud/jeer at your discretion.
The second definition, as ridiculous as this sounds, proposes the concept that a male or female at the wheel of a specific type of automobile denotes their sexual orientation. While I wouldn’t be caught dead driving a Chartreuse Beetle TDI, it certainly doesn’t mean that a male driver of such a mobile eyesore is a homosexual, regardless of the abundance of flora in the bud vase. Nor should the same be said of a woman driving a Honda CR-V, on the way to the mall to buy some comfortable shoes. This knuckle-dragging mentality reminds me of the digs expected from less enlightened individuals when I wear a pink shirt. (For the record, it’s Macho Salmon.) At the same time, an early Seventies Dodge Challenger with a Pistol Grip four-speed and a Panther Pink paint job would be a welcome addition to the driveway of H. Moe Phobe. Hmmmmmm…
One would hope that by 2008 in the A.D. that social norms have adopted a live-and-let-live attitude to same-sex relations. We have far more pressing matters on this life-size globe than whether or not girls are kissing girls, and liking it. In the grand scheme of things that go zoom in the night, we are androgynous. We may wax poetic about ‘her’, how ‘she’ drives. From The Betsy to Eleanor, it has been common practice to refer to an attractive vehicle as a ‘she’. There is no ‘she’; only ‘it’. Even harsher sentiments are used when ‘it’ breaks.
What to do about her, I mean ‘it’. How would the sales pitch sound? “For Sale; 1996 Mazda MX-3, low kilometers, not secure enough in my masculinity to drive it. Will trade for Dodge Ram with 4-inch lift lit, 33-inch tires, and airbrushed skulls throughout.” Sounds pretty manly – unless the Ram owner has been living a lie. What isn’t a lie is what I paid for this little Mazda. That’s a good deal, regardless of the sock drawer you’re sharing.
I know what you’re all thinking; is he or isn’t he? I suppose you all deserve the truth. Here goes.
I, Michael Clark, am an openly-cheap male. And it’s so good to be out.