Pedals, Pistons, and Pitfalls

The Making of a Motoring Aficionado


Peter Pickering

3/23/20249 min read

In the realm of motoring, not every journey is paved with the luxury of cruising down picturesque paths in elegance. I've certainly had my share of less-than-smooth adventures on the road. Reflecting on my early days behind the wheel brings back memories of times when I was still developing my taste for the ideal automobile, and along the way, encountering a few that were far from perfect.

a yellow car parked in front of a building
a yellow car parked in front of a building

The Volkswagen Beetle, way back in the swinging 60's, bless its optimistic heart, was a lesson in underestimating expectations. Don't get me wrong, the sight of it, all sunshine and cheery curves, brought a smile to my face. It was a classic, a rolling symbol of freedom and open roads. The car's initial charm, like a sugar cube in a cup of tea, dissolved quickly, leaving behind a bland reality.

The first clue should have been the gear lever. Imagine trying to stir pea soup with a wooden spoon – that was the frustratingly imprecise dance with the gearshift. Finding the right gear felt like winning the lottery, pure luck amidst a sea of grinding protests. And once I did manage to coax it into motion, the "acceleration" was a generous term. It was more like a gentle, persistent urging, a polite suggestion that we eventually reach a destination, sometime in the next decade.

The thing about slow is one thing, but the Beetle managed a special kind of sluggishness that redefined the concept. It felt like the car was perpetually stuck in treacle, the engine droning a monotonous dirge as the scenery crawled by in slow motion. I swear, I could have outrun it on a brisk jog.

That little Beetle, a comical footnote in my automotive odyssey, lasted less than 3 weeks under my ownership. It wasn't a bad car, necessarily, but it was a terrible fit. It was a whimsical dream car crushed by the harsh reality of everyday driving. The memory of it serves as a reminder: sometimes, the icons we chase on four wheels don't always translate to the joy of the open road.

The Leyland P76. Oh, the Leyland P76. It arrived in 1973 with a fanfare that could wake the dead, a gleaming, sunshine-yellow monstrosity heralded as the pinnacle of Australian automotive design. Let's just say the reality fell somewhat short of the hype, despite it winning the 'Car of the Year' award.

Climbing into the driver's seat felt less like entering a car and more like assuming command of a small, poorly-lit apartment. Driving the Leyland P76 was an experience as unique as the car itself. The visibility was more akin to peering out from the helm of a ship than a car, grand and sweeping but not exactly race-car precise. As for the turning circle, let's just say it preferred the open road to tight urban jungles – twirling more gracefully than a novice dancer rather than a waltzing elephant, but still taking its fair share of the dance floor. And the steering? It wasn’t quite like wrestling a stubborn ox, but more like persuading a strong-minded Labrador on a walk: it takes some effort and a firm hand, but you’ll get there in the end, probably after a few unexpected detours. Imagine manoeuvring a trolley with a slightly wonky wheel through the supermarket – challenging, yes, but part of the weekly routine. That, in essence, was the Leyland P76 driving experience – an adventure in every journey.

The bright yellow paint, a colour that seemed specifically chosen to ensure maximum visibility through sheer obnoxiousness, only amplified the car's shortcomings. It screamed "look at me!" yet instilled nothing but a deep yearning for the anonymity of a beige sedan. And in an unexpected turn that could only be described as either a cruel irony or a peculiar stroke of serendipity, my next car was exactly that – a Holden Statesman DeVille, cloaked in the very essence of discretion: unassuming beige. It was as if the universe responded to my silent pleas, trading the loud exuberance of the yellow for the soothing whisper of the beige.

This P76, this automotive lemon, this rolling monument to misplaced optimism, lasted a grand total of two months in my possession. Two long, arduous months marked by white-knuckled driving and a constant fear of attracting unwanted attention. Reflecting on the decision, I can't fathom what I was thinking at the time to buy it. Perhaps I got swept up in all the promotional hype, or maybe there was something inexplicably alluring about making a bold statement. And why, of all the colours, did I choose yellow? It was, undeniably, my own doing – a vivid, almost comical testament to the whims of the moment. The day the P76 finally departed my driveway was a glorious one, a liberation from a vehicle that tested both my patience and my sanity. Looking back, the P76 serves as a potent reminder: sometimes, even the most anticipated arrivals can leave you wondering what all the fuss was about and questioning your own decisions.

Ray Hunter, my ever-enthusiastic friend at Alf Barbagallo Motors, could usually convince me to take a spin in anything 'interesting' with an engine and wheels. So, when he practically shoved the keys to a black Porsche Carrera into my hand, promising an exhilarating experience, I was cautiously optimistic. The car itself was a stunner – a vision of Teutonic design, its silhouette dominated by the now-iconic whale tail spoiler. It whispered promises of precision handling and a thrilling ride.

But as I eased the Carrera out of the dealership and onto the street, my optimism took a nosedive steeper than a downhill slalom. The initial growl of the engine was promising, but the symphony it offered was quickly drowned out by a cacophony of thumps emanating from the cabin. Every pebble on the asphalt felt like a hand grenade exploding beneath the car, sending a tremor through the stiff suspension that vibrated all the way up my spine. The supposedly luxurious leather seats felt more akin to a park bench, offering about as much support.

By the time I completed a single, teeth-gritting circumnavigation of the block, the dream of carving corners in a Porsche had evaporated faster than a drop of water on a hot exhaust manifold. Disappointment gnawed at me – the reality of the car was a far cry from the image it projected. The Carrera was promptly returned to Ray, a silent testament to the fact that sometimes, all that glitters is not gold (or, in this case, sleek German engineering).

That experience left an indelible mark. It wasn't just about the discomfort of the ride, but the shattering of a long-held image. The Porsche mystique, for me at least, was forever tarnished. While the allure of the brand occasionally flickers, the memory of that bone-jarring test drive serves as a potent (and somewhat painful) counterpoint. My driveway has since remained a Porsche-free zone, a silent reminder of the day a black beauty turned into a beastly disappointment.

a car parked on the side of a road
a car parked on the side of a road

The Maserati Merak. Oh, the Merak. It was a symphony of Italian design, a vision of low-slung curves and that iconic Maserati trident that whispered promises of operatic performance. The first glimpse sent a jolt through me, a siren song of automotive allure. Here, I thought, was a worthy successor to the line of legendary machines that had graced my garage.

But as I circled the Merak, a serpent slithered into my initial enchantment. Upon closer inspection, the craftsmanship, barely adequate, lacked the meticulous finesse I expected from a car with such a prestigious badge. The shared components with Citroën, a perfectly respectable brand in its own right, somehow cheapened the experience. It felt like a beautiful melody played on a slightly out-of-tune instrument.

a red sports car parked on a brick sidewalk
a red sports car parked on a brick sidewalk

Don't get me wrong, the Merak was a performer, no doubt. But it was a performance that lacked the soul, the inherent rightness, that I craved in a car. A car, for me, is more than just an engine and wheels; it's a reflection of passion, a testament to engineering excellence. The Merak fell short of that ideal.

The Merak ultimately found a new home, leaving my driveway Maserati-free. But the experience wasn't a loss. It served as a potent reminder that allure can be a fickle mistress. A car's aesthetics, undeniable as they are, are merely the opening act. True appreciation comes from delving deeper, examining the craftsmanship, the engineering choices, the very soul that breathes life into the machine beneath the gleaming paint.

The Merak may not have earned a place in my collection, but it played a vital role. It became a lesson in looking beyond the surface, a lesson I dearly wish I'd applied more broadly in my relationships. Perhaps then, the road ahead wouldn't have felt quite so riddled with unexpected bumps.

Reflecting on the winding road of my motoring history, I pause at the gateway of the present, gazing back through the rearview mirror at the eclectic procession of vehicles that have led me here. Each one, from the defiant Beetle to the boisterous P76, was not just a car but a lesson on wheels, guiding me through the varied landscapes of automotive quality and design.

It was, in fact, my early days with not one, but three Rolls Royces that first ushered me into the realm of true quality. These paragons of automotive excellence weren't just modes of transport; they were rolling masterclasses in craftsmanship, luxury, and engineering. In the quiet grandeur of their cabins, I learned the true meaning of attention to detail—from the whisper of the closing doors to the symphonic harmony of their engines.

This early acquaintance with the pinnacle of car manufacturing set a standard that could not be unlearned. The experiences instilled in me a profound appreciation for materials, finish, and the silent language of luxury that speaks in the subtlest of whispers. The Rolls Royces were my gateway into a world where cars are more than mere machines; they are expressions of artistry, safety, and timeless elegance.

Reflecting on my transition from the regal opulence of Rolls Royce to the understated elegance of Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar requires understanding the unique social landscape of Australia. Here, the tall poppy syndrome often casts a shadow over conspicuous success and wealth. My creative business concepts were generating a buzz, a resonating 'noise' that, while successful, began casting a rather pronounced shadow. It became clear that a more subdued profile was necessary, not just for personal comfort but for the broader acceptance in a culture wary of overt displays of affluence.

The Rolls Royces, while epitomes of automotive excellence, inadvertently became beacons that attracted more attention than I desired, both in admiration and envy. Parking them, even for a brief stop, meant assessing potential risks from vandals driven by resentment, who might scratch their sleek sides or aim to steal the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy ornament. This unintended spotlight, combined with Australia's unique cultural nuances, led me to reconsider the type of vehicle that would serve my needs without serving as a billboard for wealth.

Thus, the transition to Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar was not a step down but a strategic pivot. These brands, each with their own rich heritage and commitment to excellence, offered a balance that better suited the evolving demands of my life and business. They provided luxury and performance without the ostentatious glare, aligning with my desire for quality while maintaining a lower profile in a society where success is best worn with subtlety.

This shift was more than a change in transportation; it was an adaptation to the cultural and social dynamics of my surroundings. The Mercedes, BMW, and Jaguar became not just cars but symbols of a matured approach to success—one that values discretion over display and subtlety over splendour. They continued the journey of automotive appreciation that the Rolls Royces had begun, but in a manner more congruent with the nuanced tapestry of Australian life and my personal quest for a balanced existence.

The Mercedes brought a blend of robust reliability and understated luxury, their engines humming with the promise of enduring quality. The BMWs offered a dynamic balance of sportiness and comfort, their precision engineering a testament to the joy of driving. And the Jaguars, with their seductive designs and refined interiors, whispered of old-world charm married to modern performance.

These cars, each in their own right, have been more than just vehicles; they have been companions on a journey of discovery. From the ostentatious yellow of the P76 to the dignified elegance of a Jaguar's silhouette, my path has been a mosaic of experiences that have taught me the intrinsic value of a car is not measured by the badge it bears, but by the joy, safety, and satisfaction it brings to its journey.

As I navigate the road ahead, the lessons of the past ride shotgun, reminding me that while the quest for the perfect car may be perpetual, the true joy of motoring lies in appreciating each mile travelled, each story lived. And so, with a respectful nod to the past and an eager eye on the road ahead, I continue onwards, enriched by every turn, every acceleration, and every sunset reflected in the rearview mirror.

The vehicles of my past, from the humble beginnings to the peaks of luxury, have been more than mere transportation; they have been the mile markers of my life's journey, each teaching me to savour the ride, respect the road, and always, always appreciate the craft behind the wheel.

© Peter Pickering 2024.