Where I’ve been, and where I am.

I’ve obviously been quiet on here for a few weeks. Hopefully I can shine some light on the reasons why, and bring you up to date with everything that has happened.

Part 1: The receiving end of sirens.

As those of you who know me or follow my instagram account will already know, about 4 weeks ago my MR2 was damaged in what Police allege was a deliberately lit fire. Mine was (hopefully) the second last in a string of 10 cars burned in my suburb over the last few months. A suspect has recently been arrested and the matter is with the courts, so I won’t cover the event in too much detail other than to say that it happened.

It’s a strange thing, to be on the receiving end of that much attention. While we obviously revel in the attention our cars garner, we control that narrative to a degree. We build our cars and take them to events and know that through that we will attract interest. But when that attention comes in an undesired context it suddenly feels like you’re under a spotlight that you didn’t ask for and have no control over. Police and firefighters descended and then disappeared, the neighbourhood came for a look and then retreated to their homes thankful it wasn’t them this time, the car was towed away and then it was all over the local paper, and all over facebook, and on the radio and the TV and for a little while it was necessary to just retreat and take stock.

When it feels like all eyes are on you sometimes you need to draw the blinds.

Part 2: The lack long after

You expect that if something like this happens you’ll have a maze of conflicting thoughts and emotions to deal with, and I guess to an extent that was true here. There was a lot of anger in my social circle about what had happened, but I made a conscious effort not to buy into that. I figured that it had happened and it was done, and losing myself in anger at an individual, at the town, at society in general wasn’t going to be productive. So aside from a lot of anxiety I was just sad. Grieving a loss that although just material, was still real. I questioned whether there was still a place for sentiment anymore, as really that car was all about a childhood memory materialised. It came from a place of innocence, which was pretty easily snatched away in the end. That can shake you. I certainly questioned whether it made sense to invest so much of myself into something that could almost literally disappear in a moment, taken away by a malicious act. At one stage I had resolved to sell my red Silvia, unwilling to continue with what seemed like fruitless projects.

I think I also questioned my belief system – the idea that I can lead a quiet but hopefully generous life and have that returned to me in good fortune and the ability to enjoy the things I enjoy without anyone trying to impinge on that, just as I try not to impinge on them.

But ultimately, I resolved that whoever was doing this may have won a battle but was losing the war. I was left with cars that I and others enjoy, the support of friends and family, and options in life. I remain confident that whoever may have done this is behind me on that scorecard. So there’s no point wasting time or losing sleep over them.

Early on after it happened I was considering repairing the car, but I pretty quickly resolved that I had 2 realistic options – either insurance fixed the car or I took a total loss payout, removed the parts I wanted to keep and sold the car on. Ultimately, the second option was the one that materialised. There was just no way that I could find the energy or motivation to start a project again almost from scratch. It was time to move on.

With the immense help of friends the car was bought back and then returned to stock(ish) without me so much as having to see it. This helped hugely in me moving on from the whole saga. All my transferrable interior bits along with my wheels and my intake were removed and the car put on the market.

Part 3: I’m down for whatever. What’s there left to wait for?

Initially the idea was to take a break from cars, but pretty quickly I realised that I needed to put the insurance money towards something new. It became important in the emotional recovery process that I got another car, to regain some control over the narrative and to feel like I hadn’t had something taken from me.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how when the furnace goes it’s the absence of heat that hurts more than the cold.”

So I started casually searching, thinking about all the cars I had been interested in but couldn’t buy because the stable was full to overflowing. Initially I was looking at a VIP style sedan. Either a Celsior or a Cima. And while I was pretty keen on the idea there was just that nagging feeling that it was about 75% right but not the full 100. One morning sitting at work I remembered an idea that was hiding in plain sight – an AE111. I had liked those cars since probably the early 2000s, and had said a number of times that I had my MR2 because it was a combination of two cars I had wanted for a long time – the AW11 and the AE111. So if I couldn’t have one, why not have the other? A quick search while waiting for a meeting to start found 2 for sale in Australia. I picked the best one and started tossing the idea around.

I had honestly not wanted to jump into a new car so quickly, but this one did seem right. A phone call was made a few days later, then a flight booking.

I feel like one thing that loss reminds you is that nothing is guaranteed past today. Having plans to do something at some indeterminate time in the future doesn’t really get you anywhere, because that time may never come or, when it does, the opportunity you were planning for might have evaporated. I had plans for the MR2 that were snatched away in a matter of minutes. I had never done anything like what I was now planning to do for this Levin, had never gone interstate for a car, had never driven as far as I was proposing, but if I didn’t do it there and then would I wind up mourning an opportunity lost? I suppose you can either look at those “never befores” as an insurmountable obstacle or an exciting opportunity to do something new.

I flew out at 7am on a Friday.

Part 4:Everybody wants to drive on through the night if it’s a drive back home

I guess I had a sense that things were all lining up. This car was still available, I had been contacted out of the blue by someone wanting to buy the MR2 with the deal being agreed to a couple of days prior to leaving for Brisbane, etc. But I flew up prepared to fly back, as I suspected that the Levin I was looking at might have had some front damage because of a bonnet misalignment in the sale photos. If I was paying a premium for a good low km car it had to be a good car…

5 minutes after getting out of my first ever Uber (I don’t drink and I own 4 cars, why would I ever need an Uber?) I had decided I was buying the car. The bonnet was crooked because the damper adjustment knob was hitting it.

It just felt right and while it was cosmetically a bit rougher than I would have liked it was a genuine 83,000km Levin BZ-R in my price range. I wasn’t going to find another one.

I set out for home at 12:30, a/c blasting in the Queensland humidity with everything feeling like it had fallen into place. I had taken back control of the narrative.

The first few days/weeks with a new car are always so much fun. It’s kind of like you’re feeling each other out, learning. It just so happened that I got to spend those first few days driving 2,000km down most of the east coast of the country, learning just about everything my Levin had to teach me.

With 3 days to make the trip I was able to make a few stops. On day 1 those were at a Beenleigh shopping centre where I made an MX5 friend, and then later in the day at Ballina where I was able to take some photos and revel in the fact that I had a car that could take me to places like Ballina.

I started to work out how the automatic climate control worked as the sun set and the humidity gave way to showers and an electrical storm as I drove through cane fields between the ocean and the Richmond River, coating my Levin’s bumper with bugs.  

Night 1 was spent in a brilliantly authentic Kempsey motel watching the Swans get an unexpected win. Everything really was going right.

Day 2 wasn’t so much fun. I started to notice the problems the car had, as you always do on day 2. The paint was worse than I had thought, with at least a partial respray clearly required. I also noticed on a few on-ramps that what I had initially thought was noisy injectors was starting to manifest as a failing VVT gear. I think these problems felt like huge hurdles because Saturday ended up being 10 hours in the car with a quick stop to pick up some aero mirrors from the northern suburbs of Sydney.

It was one of those days where you wonder if you’ve done the right thing, then realise that literally and figuratively all you can do at that point is keep driving until you get to where you’re going.

Holbrook for the night in a palatial $98 room with a view and a 1970s bathroom, then reassess in the morning. Remember you’re in the midst of maybe a once in a lifetime experience and embrace both the ups and the downs.

There’s always that extra incentive on the last leg of a trip. I had enjoyed the drive and didn’t really want my little holiday to end, but I knew that a new era with the Levin started when I got home. Quick photo shoot with the famous submarine, then another at a truck stop to document how the car was looking after about 1300km, then on the highway early.

Breakfast at a McCafe in Wangaratta with the world’s most enthusiastic McDonald’s waiter and then, finally, the road home.

All in all, the car swallowed the 2000km with ease. It was just so willing to get the job done that it was hard not to love its effort. It was almost the perfect introduction. It’s a great car – a Corolla when you need it to be a Corolla, but a sports car when the impulse hits.

Home by midday, work started immediately. A fog light was out, and the wipers were old. So they were replaced. I hopped under the car on the Sunday night, ripping off the “there’s every chance this is full of rust” bandaid. Nothing. Everything looked like a (now) 85,000km car should.

Safety inspection on the Monday, with almost a complete bill of health. Headlight restoration that afternoon, and my old headunit from the MR2 that evening. The car was beginning to become mine.

2 days later the MR2 went off to its new owner, and I saw it for the first time since the fire. After all that had happened with the Levin, it felt not like a devastating loss but more like a progression. It was a fond farewell and then that chapter closed. The distance afforded to me by my friends taking care of the car while I got everything in order changed the game completely.

2 days after that we had a roadworthy certificate, and then 2 days later I took the Levin to its first event. A simple day spent with friends enjoying our cars.

The next chapter had been opened.

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One thought on “Where I’ve been, and where I am.

  1. Love your writing style Tim, so imersive.
    So happy it worked out in the positive. Enjoy the new Levin.

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