The Passion - Part One
I do remember my first fascination with cars. My Father had, for a very brief time, a used blue 1972 Ford Mustang. Not a Mach 1/extreme version, just the regular Mustang. But for me, the car and especially the seats made me feel like I was in a rocket ship.
And it is that feeling that I never forgot. I don't really remember what it looked like. I actually had to look it up for this piece to be sure of the year, as we unfortunately don't have any pictures of it that I can find. It wasn't even a very good-looking car. But how I felt, that, I remembered. And I was not yet 3 years old. Having my Father, who loved cars, as a role model, (his favourite car being a 1963 Jaguar E-Type, seen fairly universally as one of the most beautiful cars ever made), and the fact he loved racing and talking car history; well, I was on my way. Cars would forever be a part of my life.
That all said, my Father was also a very disciplined man. Frugal. We didn't have the newest or best of everything. We had a one car garage smaller home where I first grew up, and our one car was a series of practical family cars. Thus the very short lived 1972 Mustang. We had it less than a few months I believe. One of the things I would have wanted to ask my Father was how this Mustang even came about. It was definitely an outlier to his normal buying behaviour. Due to that, I wasn't a part of a "car family" so to speak, meaning we didn’t have any cool cars when I was younger, but it was always a point of conversation in the home and between the two of us. I had a ton (perhaps literally) of matchbox cars and other models and again we discussed, read and watched a great deal of racing (formula One, Indy and Nascar mostly, with some top fuel and funny car drag racing thrown in). In fact, it wasn't until moving to Toronto that I actually had any real experience with faster, more sporty cars, and that didn't happen until highschool.
Highschool, like for many kids, was a true coming of age experience for me. Getting your license was (and I'm sure still is) a significant rite of passage. For me, it was literally the only thing on my mind when turning fifteen. I would convince my Mom to take me to a large mall on Sundays (which were closed back in those days) to learn how to drive in the parking lot. In every season and weather. There were many close calls I will tell you and many moments my Mother had wished I did not convince her to go to these impromptu "lessons". It really was just a free for all where I did whatever I wanted with the car and felt (very seriously) that I, was teaching her about how to really drive. It was not long after my 16th birthday I went for my drivers test and successfully obtained my license. The picture on that first license, said it all. I had the widest, goofiest grin with my mullet perfectly unkempt as if I had just returned from flying a jet or riding a roller coaster. It looked like I just sashayed into the photo booth for a quick pic having just won my first race. I just could not have been happier.
My first car was a 1980 Toyota Tercel, or more accurately, this was my parents first, second car. I had to purchase this car for $500, which was almost exactly what I made that summer working with my Father. Suffice it to say, this was not a race car, packing an unbelievable by today's standards, 62 HP engine, with a three speed auto. That is not a typo. Sixty-two. That said, as many of my friends and fellow co-pilots can attest to, I drove that car as if it WAS a race car. The non-power steering, non-power brakes and really, non-power anything, made it ironically extremely communicative. I could feel everything I was asking the car to do. I would joke that I would get my arm workout just having to turn the steering wheel in the car for an hour or two. I pushed that car and would race it from first gear, manually shifting it to second and third. It didn't really go any quicker or faster because of that, but it sounded like it did. I would learn how to "fish-tail" and drift the car, and I found out early on that I wanted to find the limits of the cars I was driving. The Tercel screamed through all of it, but I will give Toyota credit, it took all my abuse as well as a friend of mine who bought it after me as well - and kept on rolling . I will never forget that car.
Nor will I forget my first quick car. That would be a Mustang again, exactly 10 years newer than my Fathers car, and this time, the top of the line for that year; a 1982 Mustang GT five litre V8 (5.0). At 2820 lbs., the not overly impressive 157 HP (but 240 lb. ft. of torque) was surprisingly quick. My friend, Jevons' older Brother Troy, owned this car, and he was not afraid to drive it. It was at the exact moment he took us for a ride that I knew I had to have a Mustang. Jevon was equally bitten by the bug, and proceeded to work at a Pontiac dealership where, through him, I was able to experience a GTA Trans Am 5.7 litre V8 and even the mighty quad cammed(!) LT5 C4 ZR1 (the only demo of that very expensive car in Ontario I believe) - which completely blew my mind. It wasn’t all roses however. I also got my first taste of complete terror as Jevon once picked me up at the entrance of our Highschool with Troy’s Mustang and he decided to make a dramatic exit in front of a few girls. Jevon dumped the clutch after over-revving the engine a few times and all of the sudden, after a few very quick circular rotations of the car, we were now facing an adjacent brick wall. I truly do not know what voodoo Jevon managed to conjure in order to counter-steer us and brake just millimeters away from that brick wall, but it was a moment neither of us would ever forget. I distinctly remember both of us looking as if we just emerged from a swimming pool, soaking wet with sweat, and being as gaunt as ghosts. Not so much for the near accident, no, but because Troy was a mammoth, extremely serious individual (imagine the Trans Am owner in Fast Times at Ridgemount High and you would not be very far off. At all. In fact, Troy was also a star football player.). If even one scratch would have found its way onto that car - it would have been the end of us - forget what would have happened had we wrecked the car. As a quick aside, I waited almost 25 years to tell that story with Troy present (in this case to his now grown Son) - to give you an idea of how long I felt I needed to wait in order to ensure my safety.
Jevon followed suit and bought a 1987 5.0L notchback (sedan) a few years later. And then it was (finally) my turn. After working several more summers, and making some money from my Tercel, I had about 70% of what I needed to buy my car. A white 1988 5.0L notchback. I also needed to get certain grades in order to even have the chance to buy this Mustang. I was happy to say, I made it - on both counts - (getting into University was just a pleasant bonus of course). It wasn't without rules and restrictions however. As I still owed approximately $3000 to my Father, he let me know, that while he owned the car, if I were to even get a parking ticket, he would sell the car immediately. Much of this came from a call he had with our insurance salesperson who told my Father that the V8 Mustang was a very dangerous car and he was crazy to let me get one.
Many years after having this car, and some of the “challenges” I had with it, I wondered why my Father, a knowledgeable car person, who was quite strict, and after having his worst fears realized when speaking with the insurance salesperson, did allow me to have this car? As it turns out, my Mother had shared the story with me one evening after my Father had passed, that when we first went out as a Family to see the car, he saw how happy I was. In fact, my Mother said she specifically remembered that he said he had "never seen me that happy before in his life". He told her that he knew then that he had to let me have it.
To this day, and as I write this, that thought still makes me emotional.