Monday, October 3, 2011

A SURPRISE BMW FRIEND


WHAT A CITY CAR

As the tow truck driver hooked up our old BMW for the final time, Mary came out to say we should take a farewell picture.
I did because I was sad. I was saying farewell to 20 years of life and driving in a sturdy nimble car that I never wanted in the first place.
I was at a party in 1991 when a stranger asked what I thought of BMWs. I told him they were too expensive and I didn't like the people who bought them.
Turned out he was the Canadian president of BMW. Said he thought the Editor of the Toronto Sun should drive a BMW and offered me a 1992 325i for a few days.
My sons were delighted. Even some cousins zipped down concession roads with grins at the lightning performance.
After a few weeks, I phoned the president and said wasn't it about time I returned his demonstrator.  I was due for a new car rented for me by the Sun but I wasn't about to get involved with a $47,000 car no matter how well it handled. And the Sun bean counters would have had hysterics if I tried.
To make a long story short, which is not the usual way of columnists, the president gave the leasing company a really good deal and I threw a few thousand in the pot, after I warned the president that I could never write about the car or it would be a conflict.
And so I acquired a quick small car that I grew to like so much, I bought it at the end of the lease. It helped, of course, that I also had a Dodge Caravan for all the trips to the cottage or on holidays when Mary takes along just about everything moveable. Recently I have had a 2005 Toyota Sienna which is a wonderful highway car for trips but isn't the easiest to manoeuvre in the city.
The BMW was so fast, I could find myself passing at 150 when I swear I just touched the accelerator. The miracle is that I only got a speeding ticket every three years or so, and never at my speeds cruising the autobahns.
The car was so solid, Mary got rear-ended coming off Highway 427 and survived with minor neck strain and $4,000 in damage. The car was repainted in Mauritius Blue, which it really needed, but some jealous jerk keyed the new paint the first night it was home.
It was a joy to drive but migawd, it was expensive. How about $1,000 to replace two windshield wiper motors! Thank heavens my faithful mechanic of more than 30 years, Kurt Stibbe, found a solution that didn't cost that much.
It's important to have a great mechanic if you keep a second older car. And T & S Auto, 2276 Dixie Rd. (905 279 2679) was there when the BMW started to labour and wheeze and finally needed a new transmission. But after 250,000 kms, all the little problems added up so it sat more than we drove it.
My first car was a 1930 Model A Ford shared with two cousins during high school. We fixed everything ourselves, including putting a new rear end in the wrong way so when cousin Dave shifted into reverse to take it out of the yard, it hit the tree in front of the car. So we took it out one night on Weston Rd. to see how fast we could go backwards since there were now three speeds to reverse. Bought it for $75 and sold it for $80.
When I got a few bucks after school, I bought a red gem, a 1954 Le Mans Austin Healey. Louvered hood with racing strap. Hard and soft tops.  Getting into it was like wiggling into a glove. What a difficult car in winter. I traded it for a Riley 1.5, a clever little British sedan. Now I keep thinking of that stupid trade because only 54 of my Healey were made and they now sell for $500,000 each.
Then it was an Austin Marina, with the engine mounted sideways. Unique in North America around 1968.  When they checked oil in U.S. service stations  -  remember when they did that as they cleaned the windows -  they would call everyone out of the garage to look.
It developed a hiccup where the starter motor would stick, and I would have to loosen two nuts and hit it with a rubber mallet to disengage it.  When I had to do that almost daily, and once in a tux, I bought a little car from an unknown manufacturer. In 1972, it was the only Toyoto in the neighbourhood.
Then came forgettable cars before I bought a Taurus in its first year in 1986. I think the best advice you can get is never buy a car in the first year of a major model change. Wait for the bugs to be worked out. For some reason, I keep ignoring that. My Austin Marina, BMW, Taurus, Caravan and now my new Hyundai Elantra Touring were all picked by car journalists as the best car in its class when they first were produced. And I snapped them up. So I can only blame myself when the transmission failed on the Taurus after just a few weeks.
They say you never forget your first kiss or your first time. Add to that your favourite cars. I will never forget my BMW - I hate yuppies calling them Beemers - just as that Austin Healey and the Model A that I learned to drive in will always be tucked in my memory.

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