The Funny Girl and La Bella Donna

The relationship between man and his car is a complex and multi-faceted thing of beauty. I say man in a totally non-gender specific way, because God knows I love my car, but not in a creepy auto-erotica kind of way.

Someone got me thinking about cars and what they mean this weekend. Mine have occupied a strange mechanical shaped space in my heart. My first car belonged to my Grandpa. It was his pride and joy. No-one, but no-one drove it but him. He was so obsessive about this that he went with his car when it was serviced and stayed throughout the proceedings like an over-protective parent. Upon his death I painted it British racing green, put fur on her dashboard and embraced the road like a long lost lover. I am sure he did more than roll over in his grave. He probably stood straight up and roared.

She had no brakes, no radio (I had a portable tape player under the passenger seat), no air conditioning and certainly no power steering. She was the very essence of freedom and the keys to the city. The AA came to my home most days to start her up and in the afternoons I prowled the varsity parking lot with my jumper cables looking for some hapless first year to get her going again. I never went anywhere without those cables or a 2 litre bottle of water to refill the radiator. Once caught without it, a passing motorist kindly gave me her bottle of Evian.

Eventually I had to concede that I lacked the mechanical knowledge to keep her on the road. This coincided with my Grandmother passing away and my father telling me in no uncertain terms that it was time to get a car that might just on the off-chance pass roadworthy. We went together to the Ford dealership and I spent my inheritance on Funny Girl, named for her number plate FNY. She was a red Ford Fiesta with air conditioning and, oh glory, a cassette and radio built-in! My happiness knew no bounds.

She has served me well for many years, but with three children a two-seater car is not an option and I was sick of listening to old mix tapes. Sadly things came to a head last year in a head on collision that has rendered her into a heap of scrap metal in my back garden. I can’t bear to part with her. She may be unsalvageable, but her spirit will live on in my husband’s Triumph Herald.

She must have known my heart belonged to another. For shortly before the accident I had fallen head over heels in love with La Bella Donna. She is a 1976 3 litre VW Kombi. She’s been repainted, reupholstered and kitted with a sound system that can blast your head off at 20 paces. She has no power steering and no air-conditioning, but she is beautiful. Everyone smiles when I drive past. Arbitrary strangers try to buy her from me for ridiculous amounts of money.

She and I are the same age. This means we are slow to get going in the morning. We are a little creaky around the joints. We go a little slower these days. We can be a little cranky. We do not like to be rushed. We need a lot of tender loving care.

Sadly La Bella Donna is currently going nowhere slowly. Her compression is out and her steering column in shot. She is, like the best women, an artwork in progress. My father regards her as my folly. Then again his first car was the first Mini Cooper and his folly a 1960s Morgan. My older son regards both Bella and me with ill-concealed embarrassment amid the Z5s and SLKs in his parking lot at school. My younger two think she is marvellous.

Why did I fall so on love with her? Well, let me count the ways…

The most important is that she is a symbol of my childhood, my dreams for the future and the naiveté of youth in a design icon of her era. She is instantly recognisable on the road. People wave at me on the school run and daily commute like we are old friends. She doesn’t look like any other car smooched out of a sausage factory production line. She stands out, proud of her heritage, her age and her aging mutant hippiedom. She is a symbol of simpler days, simpler times and maybe happier ones.

Also, she is one of the few cars this week with petrol in her, because she doesn’t use this new fangled unleaded stuff, she’s an LRP girl all the way.

Oh yeah, and she paid back her carbon footprint in 1983. Boo sucks to you Prius.

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