Driving like it’s 1964
It’s big, it’s yellow, it seems to have an engine that makes it go
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.