Written by

Andrew Millar


July 5, 2011

I drove past the house I grew up in the other day.

The front garden seemed tiny compared to my memory. Perhaps it was that all the trees had grown up around it. Maybe this reduced the scale of the house. The front verandah where I studies for Matric Biology. The front door where we used to position my father’s stereo speakers to play ‘The New World Symphony’ or Dave Brubeck to the street on Saturdays. The window you’d climb in if you forgot your key. It seemed all a bit strange and unfamiliar. Like someone else had lived here, not me.

And then I spotted the oil stain in the drive and I saw some tangible evidence that I had spent some time in this location. Yes, my first car leaked so much oil that 40 years later you can still see a stain on the paving.

It’s one of those things that was part of growing up then. Like a first shave or a first kiss. (Order not important.) It was tradition that your first car was never much this side of roadworthy. And my car was no exception. It was a rolling wreck that I kept together with wire, tape and prayer.

For example, the indicators didn’t stay on. The doors didn’t close properly. And the steering was so worn that the car developed a speed shake at 50 kilometres an hour that made it quite impossible to exceed the speed limit.

And oil flowed more freely than beer at a bogan Bucks Night. Almost as fast as I could tip it in.

The reason we had such dangerous cars was that we had no money. So invention was the mother of necessity. I managed I fixed my indicators by jamming most of a white Staedtler eraser into the slot where the flat spring would have been if it hadn’t broken. That kept the indicators on but they no longer self cancelled as you turned the corner. The doors I fixed with elastic straps. But the steering was different matter. I had no idea how to fix this unbearable shudder.

I had the money for some parts but not for someone to fit them. So I devised a cunning plan. I took it for wheel alignment and explained the shudder.

Under the car the mechanic explained… “Your tie rod ends are all worn, inners and outers. The balljoints are shot and the steering box spindle bush is warn. You’ll need to replace the brass bush and the oil seals.” All the time he pointed with an oily hand to various areas around the equally oily underneath of the car.

I now knew what and roughly where the trouble was. At the spare parts counter I repeated the list… “My tie rod ends are all worn, inners and outers. The balljoints are shot and the steering box spindle bush is worn. And I’ll need to replace the brass bush and the oil seals.” I walked out with a pile of parts.

All that was left for me to do was dismantle the areas of the car where the mechanic had pointed until I found something that vaguely resembled the bits I had bought and replace new for old.

And to a certain degree it worked. Time and time again I fixed the car with this ‘Strip, search and replace’ method. The only thing I feared was a mechanic saying “Just undo the 4 bolts and it drops right out.” It was never that easy. But me and ‘King Dick’ – that was the brand name of my dad’s spanner – always got the job done eventually.

The only thing I could never fix was the oil leak. No mechanic could ever point to it and say ‘there’s your trouble’. I chased that leak backwards and forwards and around the engine until I was resigned to tipping in as much oil as petrol each week.

Most of it remain on my parent’s driveway… a slick reminder of my past.