Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

… or ‘Car-rie, I love you’…

Cars. Here in My Car. Silver Machine. The Road to Hell. I don’t know what it is about me, but I love cars. Big ones in particular. The bigger the better, in fact. Gas guzzling, earth destroying monsters. I’ve adored them ever since I was a child. I don’t know exactly why, but I do. It’s as simple as that. I know that it’s not a very politically correct thing to admit to in this day and age, but let’s face it, it’s a heck of a lot better than some people’s peccadillos, such as hanging around the woods with bags of sweets for the kiddies, breeding Japanese fighting dogs or stamp collecting. And I’m by no means in Jeremy Clarkson’s league of fuel injected petrol-headedness. I couldn’t afford it for one thing! Which brings me on to the beast.

I first mentioned the beast in passing, in one of my very first blogs and at the time promised to write more about it in the future. Well, the future has an annoying habit of catching up with you, so here it is, the first instalment (and quite possibly the last) in… Tales of the Beast.

The beast - Head on view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the front… now, that’s a lot of car, if I do say so myself!

I first met the beast (a 1991 Mazda MS-9) at a car auction in Wellington, New Zealand and it was love at first sight. Well, love at first sight motivated by the fact that I absolutely had to have a car for a forthcoming road trip, having written off my previous motor some weeks earlier and time was rapidly running out. That kind of love at first sight. Anyway, having been outbid on several other vehicles, the auction was rapidly drawing to a close and I was still car-less. Then it (she) appeared. Grimy, dishevelled and obviously deeply unloved, the beast was paraded in front of the disinterested crowd like an old cow that has given her best and is now looking the pet food butcher squarely in the eye. I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the smooth flowing lines of the vehicle, barely visible underneath all the dirt, maybe it was the three litre, V6 engine lurking under the bonnet, maybe it was the sheer size of the damned thing, but I suddenly found myself bidding on it, absolutely resolute that this was the car that I would be going home in that night. And I won! Admittedly there wasn’t that much competition for it and I picked the beast up for just under two thousand New Zealand dollars, including commission, which was a bargain, but at least it was mine.

The beast - Honda Accord grazes a Toyota Ute at 50kmh. Rob Gregory Author

Honda Accord vs. Toyota Pickup truck… I never liked driving it anyway!

And then, sitting in the driver’s seat for the very first time, I turned the ignition and saw the ‘engine warning’ light come on and stay on. I remember the feeling as all of my initial elation evaporated faster than the head off a pint of Thai lager, to be replaced by a feeling of sickening dread as I realised that I had bought a ‘lemon’ as New Zealander’s say: a faulty car that no one else wanted. On the way home, which was done at a crawl, in case the beast should suddenly expire without warning, I remember trying to look on the bright side. It hadn’t cost me much and only had to last a couple of weeks while I was taking my best friend on holiday around the South Island and then I could ditch the beast and look for a more reliable replacement.

That weekend, I took the beast to my local garage for a general service and to get the engine problem diagnosed. Having convinced myself that it was going to be something fatal, such as a cracked engine block or warped manwurzle joints, I was surprised and extremely relieved to discover that there wasn’t all that much wrong with the car. What the mechanics had thought was an oil leak in the engine gallery (which sounded pretty bad to me) turned out to be a melted oxygen sensor. It still cost me another thousand dollars to get it fixed because the engine had to be taken out twice to check that the new sensor was working properly, but once it was fixed, it was goodbye forever to the despised engine warning light.

The beast - rear view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the rear.

With the car now declared mechanically sound, with the exception of the air-conditioning and a faulty catalytic converter sensor, which we just disconnected, it was onto my speciality: spit and polish. Armed with more buckets, bottles, tins and cloths than an Ajax salesman, I set to the beast with a vengeance, determined to restore it to as close to its former glory as I could. I think I spent two weekends cleaning the thing, washing, buffing, polishing and in some cases scraping muck out of the cracks and crevices with toothpicks and cotton buds. I don’t know who the previous owners of the beast were, but from the look of it, they had used the interior of the car as a playpen for toddlers and the boot as a handy compost bin. However, with but a few days before my friend was due to arrive from the UK, the task was finished and in true Cinderella style, to my eyes at least, the beast had been transformed from a dumpy, unloved old baggage, into a sleek and powerful Siren of the road.

The beast - Restord to its former glory

Spit, polish, one restored car and one very happy owner!

I picked my friend up from Wellington airport in the beast and I’m not sure who was more surprised, him because of the enormous gleaming car that he was invited to step into or me because of the fact that I actually had a working motor with which to take him on holiday. As for what happened on our road trip, you’ll have to wait and see, but as for the beast, far from being a temporary mode of transport, I ended up keeping it for almost nine years.

The beast - Picton Harbour, SI, New Zealand c.2003. Rob Gregory Author

Picton harbour c.2003. First stop on the beast’s legendary trip around the South Island.

Stay tuned for more ‘Tales of the Beast’ in a future blog and while you’re waiting, why not have a look around the rest of the site? You might find something else that you like. You never know…


Note: The beast has also been known by several other names, including ‘the bruise’ and ‘the big purple love machine’, although thankfully that one never caught on!