Driv­ing like it’s 1964

It’s big, it’s yel­low, it seems to have an en­gine that makes it go

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - PAUL BENEDETTI

Re­cently, I drove out to the lake and took my car out of win­ter stor­age.

Now, you might ask, what kind of knuck­le­head stores a 2009 Chevro­let Im­pala?

It’s not an an­tique, though if I drive it for a few more years, we both may fall into that cat­e­gory.

No, the car I went to re­trieve, I’m slightly em­bar­rassed to ad­mit, is a 1964 Buick Riviera.

Peo­ple that know me, might won­der, “Paul, with a clas­sic car?” Ac­tu­ally, peo­ple that know me would just fall down laugh­ing.

To say I am not a car guy is like say­ing Don­ald Trump is not sex­ist.

First, I know very lit­tle about cars. I can’t tell a car­bu­re­tor from a gar­bu­ra­tor. Sec­ond, I am not me­chan­i­cal. For ex­am­ple, when we went to get the car, I had a bit of trou­ble putting the bat­tery back in. For one thing, it weighs about 300 lb — and I can never re­mem­ber which ter­mi­nal is which.

“Red or black?” I say, try­ing not to ap­pear mo­ronic.

Uwe, the man who stores the car, smiles. “I think red is pos­i­tive,” he says po­litely, though I’m sure he’s think­ing, “Wow, this guy drove him­self out here alone?”

I at­tach the cable, send­ing a spray of sparks across the hood. Uwe eyes the wood walls ner­vously.

“Oh, you mean this red?,” I say laugh­ing slightly hys­ter­i­cally.

I also have no idea how to fix any­thing, which is bad if you own a car that is a half­cen­tury old.

And, I have no car tools. In fact, I have no tools of any kind, un­less you count duct tape and a nail file.

Nat­u­rally, I don’t take the car to auto shows. I’m afraid if I did, some­one would walk up to me and say, “Ah, the ’64 Riv. What she got un­der the hood? The 325 “Nail­head” V-8 or the 340?”

“Gosh, I’m not sure,” I’d have to say, my voice ris­ing a cou­ple of oc­taves.”

I can never re­call en­gine facts and it would also help if I could re­mem­ber how to ac­tu­ally open the hood.

Last week, try­ing to put the bat­tery in, I popped the trunk, clicked open the glove box and turned on the wind­shield wipers be­fore my son Matthew fi­nally walked to the front of the car, and popped the hood.

“Ah, yes, that’s it,” I said, over the sound of the wipers.

So, you may rea­son­ably ask, as my wife gently did: “You bought what? How did you even find it?”

The an­swer is my wife’s cousin, Lou. He is an ex­pert col­lec­tor of clas­sic cars. I told him in con­fi­dence that I had be­come in­ter­ested in the early Riviera. I wasn’t even sure why. I just loved the way it looked.

“You have su­perb taste,” he said. And then I ut­tered the fate­ful words. “Can you help me find one?” It didn’t take long for Lou to lo­cate a car and we drove to Kitch­ener to­gether one sum­mer after­noon to see it. I demon­strated my deep car ex­per­tise by say­ing, “Nice colour.”

Lou walked around the car, popped the trunk, looked un­der the hood, in­spected the chas­sis and then turned the en­gine over. “Good car,” he said to me qui­etly.

A cou­ple weeks later, I bur­bled up our drive­way in a ca­nary yel­low Riviera. My wife came out, smiled and shook her head. “Wanna go for a ride?” I asked, ex­cit­edly. “Does it have airbags?” she said. “No.” “Does it have seat­belts?” “I think so,” I said. “Maybe later.” So, I drive it. On week­ends mostly, out to the cot­tage. I’m still not en­tirely sure why I bought it. A few years ago, my mom left us each a lit­tle bit of money and I thought that I could ei­ther:

A. Do some­thing re­spon­si­ble like buy a GIC or B. Do some­thing fun. I went with B. I al­ways wanted to get an old car and I fig­ured at 60, it was now or prob­a­bly never. I love the look of the Riv, it’s beau­ti­ful lines, it’s dar­ing grill and its su­per cool, 1960s-styled dash. It didn’t cost much and it’s not a per­fect car — just a cruiser, with some dents and peel­ing paint, but it’s a beauty.

When I drive it, I think of my mom. She liked to have fun.

And she didn’t give a hoot about GICs.

Paul Benedetti is the au­thor of You Can Have A Dog When I’m Dead.

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