Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

LIFE ON THE street must be bru­tal for hu­mans, and a re­lent­less bat­tle for sur­vival for dogs. But it’s also deeply un­kind to cars.

The search for a low-bud­get first ve­hi­cle for my 17-year-old daugh­ter had taken us to (and past) scruffy, unloved Suzuki Swifts, a clunky Honda Jazz, and a parked-by-ear Yaris that had cov­ered all of the miles to the moon and back. Even­tu­ally it led us to a 2009 K12 Nis­san Mi­cra in Syd­ney’s inner west.

Life on the street had knocked the shine out of its mint-green paint; crap and grime and leaves and sap had found their way into its most in­ti­mate reaches. Ageing out­doors can be un­kind.

The seller was a mid-40s chap named Guil­iano, and he was vis­i­bly down­cast as he explained the car had be­longed to his mum since new, but it had to be sold now, as she had passed away sud­denly ear­lier this year. It was the fi­nal piece of her es­tate; his last physical link to her mem­ory. He apol­o­gised for not hav­ing made any ef­fort to pre­pare it for sale. “I just haven’t had it in me,” he said de­spon­dently. But he knew what I really wanted to know. “It might not look like it now, but she did love it,” he said. “She was really metic­u­lous about the main­te­nance.”

The log­book in the glove­box tes­ti­fied to this, and the odo had half the kays of sim­i­lar cars from the same pe­riod. The dip­stick showed the oil was a rich caramel colour, and as I squeezed un­der­neath the lit­tle Nis­san with a torch, ev­ery­thing looked tidy and straight.

So I forced my­self to look past the grot­ti­ness and the dinged bumper, and we did the deal in his kitchen over an ex­cel­lent cof­fee. As we said our good­byes on the street, Guil­iano said, “Look af­ter it for me,” and I knew he really meant it. We parted with an only slightly awk­ward man-hug.

My daugh­ter and I got it home and went straight to work with the high­pres­sure cleaner and an en­tire ca­reer’s worth of free-sam­ple car-care prod­ucts. It was deeply ther­a­peu­tic, blast­ing away years of cos­metic ne­glect. It was also a great bond­ing time, not just with my daugh­ter, who was pop­pin’ like a

whack-a-mole, but with the car it­self. As I dug leaves out of the scut­tle, and de­greased the door­jambs, I found my­self in a men­tal con­ver­sa­tion with this lit­tle Pommy-built 1.4, in a way only other car peo­ple could un­der­stand. I had a stern word with it about up­hold­ing Ja­panese me­chan­i­cal in­tegrity, and as I cut through the cloudy haze of its head­lights with the elec­tric pol­isher, open­ing its ‘eyes’ for the first time in years, I also wanted it to know just how ir­re­place­able its hu­man cargo was: “Now lis­ten, you lit­tle ANCAP underachie­ver, if you let any­thing bad happen to my girl, I’m gonna gut you with a plasma cutter…”

With the law laid down, I started at­tack­ing the in­te­rior. First it needed clear­ing of the de­tri­tus, and the rear-seat pock­ets gave up more snip­pets of the last good years Guil­iano’s mum had en­joyed. The re­ceipts for her Car­ni­val Cruise to New Cale­do­nia in 2018; the set menu of a wed­ding she’d been to in 2017. As I binned them, I felt that real tran­si­tion of our lit­tle car em­bark­ing on its next phase of life.

Four hours later, the metal­lic-green paint had a deep lus­tre; the tyres glowed gloss black; the glasshouse sparkled, and the in­te­rior was im­mac­u­late. I even un­bolted the rear bumper and, with a bit of gen­tle per­sua­sion, the big ding re­turned to shape with a sat­is­fy­ing pop. Af­ter a quick trip to Repco for new wheel trims and num­ber-plate frames, the bob­ble-eyed minty Mi­cra was shin­ing like a new pin.

Fi­nally Sisi pulled me away, un­able to hold back any longer for the must-have In­sta­gram selfie with her lit­tle green free­dom ma­chine. It was rem­i­nis­cent of a prized photo of 17-year-old me, sta stand­ing proudly with my Mini Cooper S in 198 1983, ex­cept she was not sport­ing a tragic, po post-punk mo­hawk and tar­tan trousers.

S She wasn’t the only one who posted a pic pic. I sent a photo of her with the car to Gu Guil­iano, with a short note to say thanks, an and how happy we were with how the car ha had scrubbed up. “I hope your mum would be pleased,” I wrote.

““That’s awe­some,” Guil­iano wrote back. “S “She’s smiling.”

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