Articles

We’ve taken the fun out of motoring

Father’s Model T looked like a traveling tool box compared with today’s cars that have everything. Bob, who remembers when life was simpler, they’re just worry on wheels— and he’s got the bills to prove it

Robert Thomas Allen November 9 1957
Articles

We’ve taken the fun out of motoring

Father’s Model T looked like a traveling tool box compared with today’s cars that have everything. Bob, who remembers when life was simpler, they’re just worry on wheels— and he’s got the bills to prove it

Robert Thomas Allen November 9 1957

We’ve taken the fun out of motoring

Robert Thomas Allen

Father’s Model T looked like a traveling tool box compared with today’s cars that have everything. Bob, who remembers when life was simpler, they’re just worry on wheels— and he’s got the bills to prove it

When I was a boy, my father bought his first car. It was a T-model Ford sedan. Compared with today’s cars, it looked like a tool box on wheels. But it didn't then. It looked high-spirited and modern.

Every Sunday the family would go for a drive. It was a pleasant and ceremonious event. After dinner my father, a lean clean man in darkblue suit and a light-blue broadcloth shirt starched to the texture of tin, would light a cigar, look around with carefully restrained pleasure, and say, “Would anybody like to go for a little spin?"

Nobody would come right out and say yes. We'd all start passing cake and extra cups of tea as if we hadn't heard him. but we’d all wear very pleased expressions.

Often, we’d visit friends of my parents who

ran a farm in a remote rural area seven miles from Toronto. We never went over twenty-five miles an hour, but we were very conscious of speed and of the fact that a marvellous piece of machinery was whipping us over the ground in a sitting position.

My father would crouch over the wheel, alert for blowouts, engine failure or attacks of horrible lateral vibrations common to all cars those days and known as the “shimmy.” My older brother would sit beside him. straight-backed and wearing a crisp peaked cap, like a co-pilot, ready to take over in case my father had a heart attack.

When some fool cut in in front of us at thirtyfive miles an hour, my father would say, without taking his eyes off the road, without, in fact, raising his voice, as if even any sudden emphasis might send the car out of control, “If

he hit us, he’d have had a nice suit of damages to pay.”

We'd be home by about eight o'clock, tired and windburned. My father would lie down on the couch with the Sunday papers, a pilot and engineer who had earned his rest. I'd still be living in the magic world of the farm, full of recollections of the whisper of sad winds through the pines, waving wheat fields, the silence of the farmhouse parlor embalmed in furniture wax. the kitchen smells of coal oil and berry boxes, and the wonderful wall-eyed cows scuffling up the lane ahead of a farmer’s helper. This helper was named Frank, a big, clobber-footed young man with an enormous sunburned nose, a deep nasal drawl that came right from the bottom of his caked shoes, and a glorious smell of horses, sweat, cow manure, fresh milk and hay. He was my hero for the first ten years of my life. In fact, sometimes I still think he is.

And I still think those drives were more fun than we'll ever have again with the automobile. 1 can still look out my car window at the cows, but those shatterproof, safety-plate, scientifically shaded windows, which cost thirty-five dollars extra, not only keep out the glare: somehow they also keep out the cows.

But I don't think this has anything to do with the windows, or with the cars for that matter. 1 think it’s caused by our anxious, high-pressure, high-spending way of life of which cars have become a symbol and which follows our automobiles like the cloud of exhaust that sometimes used to follow my father’s Ford. They’ll never make cars fast enough to leave it behind, as I’ve

found out since I recently bought one of the new cars, my first brand-new one. which will go a hundred and eighteen miles an hour and keep me broke even faster.

The amount I decided to pay, I discovered, was what they call the basic price. T his is the price of a model all in black which is kept at the back of the showroom to show to oddballs. It has seats, a steering wheel and an engine, which used to be enough. When my kids saw me looking at one they tried to make out that 1 was someone else’s father, and walked over to one called a Jetliner in mesa tan and Catalina purple.

The salesman, who looked a lot like the guy who used to pass my father at thirty miles an hour, felt the same way about it.

“I want to sell you the car you want,” he

said, “—not the one / want. And I’ll be glad to sell you”—he looked over at the basic model in embarrassment—“that, if you want it. But you’ll be the only man I know driving one."

“Look, I thought I could buy a car here for $2,395.”

“You can,” he said, marking it down on a pad to prove it. “That’s the price. But I can tell from looking at you, Mr. Allen, you're the type of successful young executive who will want a few extras. Let’s see now.” he flapped open his sales manual. “Well”—he gave a little chuckle—“you'll want wheels.”

By the time he'd finished adding up the extras, he put his pencil down triumphantly and said he'd got the price down to a thousand dollars more than I'd intended to pay.

“If you just give me a cheque now you can wheel this deal home to your little wife.”

continued on page 58

Continued from page 25

Bob’s no-fin car wasn’t really ancient — it just looked like an old bum sneaking out of town

Í told him I'd have to take a few days to go over some of my accounts, and drove off in my old car, a low-slung, 1949 streamlined job that didn't look streamlined any more after all those hightail fins. It looked like an old bum, sneaking out of town with something he stole hidden in his pants.

This was the beginning of a couple of months of anxious shopping, by the end of which I was walking into showrooms, and snapping, "What’s your price on a 274-series hard-top Sierra convertible with power glide, power pack, power brakes, power steering, double stacks, dual pots, twin fins, scat gear and backup lights?”

People told me that I was being quoted prices fifteen hundred dollars higher than anybody else paid, and were always telling me to try another town.

“Take a drive down to Pickering,” one man said. "The dealer down there is stuck with a hundred and twenty-five cars that he has to get rid of before the new models come in. Tell him you want to get down to business. Offer him seven hundred less than he’s asking. He'll grab it.”

Car in the clouds

What the man in Pickering did was walk away from me and start talking to another customer, leaving me standing there knowingly sucking my teeth. I didn’t think he’d ever come back. When he did, he said, with cold dignity, "Mr. Allen, I’m running an automobile agency, not a bargain basement. Now do you want to make a deal or not? The price is $3,650.”

I paid it and drove off feeling sick. But I had one consolation: I had the car that I’d seen on TV, floating on a cloud with a ballet dancer who did the dance of double-torque suspension. I waited for one of those sidewalk crowds that gather around new cars on TV, in which elderly women, just returning from shopping, say, “They certainly have come through with that central magic torsion this year! I was just telling my grocer, it gives by far the most motor-magic, cylinder - for - cylinder, power - plus performance of any car in the lower middle-price class!”

Or someone like Pier Angeli puts her head in the window and says, “Well I’d certainly give up this year’s mink coat for this streamlined beauty with vaportrail body design that slices out the air currents.”

Or a ball player who happens to be passing, says, "I drive one myself. That push-button super-fusion is an important minute-saver for busy ball players.”

All that happened was that an old gentleman in high rubbers looked in at me and said, "You got stuck too, eh? It’s just like I said to my wife last night, you drop five hundred dollars before you put in the first tankful of gas.”

Another man who overheard him, called over, “Give me the 1934 Packard every time. 1 just put a hundred and

thirty-five thousand miles on mine and I’m going to drive it till it falls apart.” That night a neighbor of mine, a little man whose head just comes over his steering wheel, pulled up beside me in a car just like mine, looked out his window sadly and said, "How much did you pay for it?”

I told him.

Without a change of expression, looking straight ahead, he said. "What do you think I paid for this?”

I knew what was coming, but I put up a fight.

“What model is it?”

"Exactly the same as yours without the electronic rear-vision mirror, but I wouldn’t have one. Know a man got his eye knocked out with one.”

"What did you pay for it?" I asked him.

“Twenty-three hundred and fifty,” he said. “Got it in Barrie. He was asking $3,900 but I just offered him $2.350 and told him to take it or leave it. Before I left, he wanted me to take two at $2,100 each. He has to get rid of them before the new models come in.”

Next day I took my family for their first drive in the new car. I headed for the old farm along a busy, four-lane speedway, flipping my blinkers, leaping at open spaces, swearing through my Eezee-Eyc windows at other drivers, who swore at me through their Eezee-Eye windows. One made a sort of victory sign at me with his thumb just as his two-tone Fontainbleau Road King gathered itself and passed me like a cheetah, and I was seven miles past the turnoIT to the old farm before I figured out something to do back to him.

I had to drive another ten miles before I came to a place where I could turn, but I was still at the old road about four hours before my father used to get there. I power-steered past a housing development and the Home of somebody’s Gasket Seal, looking for the wheat fields. Before I found them I was trying to make a left turn into another highway at the other end of the road, sitting there warming up my two carburetors hoping to catch some driver with just one. I was back home by two o’clock, with the rest of the day to think about the thirteen hundred dollars extra I'd paid for my car.

1 was still thinking about it when my eldest daughter called out from behind a teen-ager's magazine, “Wow-WEE! It says here that the cars next year will have their fins lying flat like guided missiles!”

It made me think of the next logical step: eliminating the pilot, and I had a sudden longing to get into my father’s Ford and take a drive out to the old farm to try to forget it. before 1 realized that’s where I'd just been. ★

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