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Megan Voysey-Braig

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Tallulah

“I want a tight car because I run a tight ship.” Like Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, this is what I should have said when I purchased my first (and by the looks of things, my only car).
I managed to buy the loosest car this side of the equator, as she managed to throw herself with wild abandon at any willing and unwilling mechanic.
I loved her the moment I sat in her springy and frayed bucket seat.
The seller, a Mini enthusiast (be aware of enthusiasts of any kind) asked if I wanted to take her for a test drive. I almost laughed at him, but got in anyway and felt the sure throaty roar of her engine. The gears stuck a little(they were downright unresponsive really) and if my friend had not been in the passenger seat to assist me in grinding and slamming the stick into third gear I might still be whining around the block, the neighbours begging that I be towed away forthwith.

I could not be helped, and nothing could be done, I was smitten and named her Tallulah. I had big plans, we had big plans and she was hell-bent on seeing these plans come to pass, till I could follow her no more.
From a purchase price of R6000, she managed to run up a R12000 bill within a year, just to keep her on the road, keep her moving.
She failed her first road worthy test miserably. I am still adamant that she ground her brake pads down to nothing, as we waited for our turn, cut the wires to the brake lights and indicators, belched oil from her innards and got herself all hot under the collar, when there were none of these signs before the test.

I found a Mini specialist (be aware of this word too) to perform the necessary repairs.
He found other problems of course and launched into mechanic speak, mentioning cylinder heads and pistons, skimming the linings…?
“You will need a new gearbox too.”
I gave him the green light and waited a week to get back behind the steering wheel. He had worked on her some, I could stop now when I needed to, without having to put my foot through the floor, she seemed faster and zippier. I left luxury cars in my dust, people smiled and waved at me.

I stopped at a supermarket on my way home, feeling pleased that I had a car that doubled up as a little rocket sometimes.
When I wanted to leave smoke started to billow from the engine, and into the car, through every rusty orifice. I tried to turn off the engine but she would have nothing of it and kept on starting herself. I was truly terrified and jumped out, thinking she was about to explode in the Spar parking lot. I had drawn a small crowd by now and men armed with 2litre cokes and bottles of brandy peered into the engine, showing me the grey glob that was once the electrical system.
“Something must have shorted.”
Well I could never have guessed!
“I know a guy, Frikkie, he’s good with electrics.”
So I collected another number, scribbled onto a cigarette box.
I phoned my mechanic and in the friendliest tone I could muster, asked him “What the #$%#! did you do to my car?”
He arrived within minutes (faster than the police, I give him that much) and towed Tallulah back home, who by now had managed to stop starting herself but refused to start again.
I phoned Frikkie who said he would be there first thing in the morning. He arrived wearing a muscle shirt that hung on his thin tattooed frame. He had the jitters as though he had been shocked too many times by unruly wires and uncooperative connections. He sported a snor that bristled in all directions, the obligatory mullet hairdo blowing in the breeze. He spoke about falling on hard times as I kept up a steady stream of strong black coffee
“Hell girl I have never seen a mess like this!”
“Can it be fixed?”
“Ja, Frikkie can fix anything, but it will take time, maybe the whole blerry day!”
He had only been with Tallulah for five minutes and already he was grumpy.
The time dragged on into the afternoon, I expected Frikkie to tell me that the engine had fallen out or she had gone up in flames.
“Ja, she’s running now, replaced some wires but the whole thing needs to be rewired, and electricians, hey they know how to empty your pockets!”
I took this as a subtle hint that he wasn’t going to be the one that would be emptying my pockets.

She seemed happy enough for a while, till the windscreen wipers stopped working during a downpour. My vision was reduced to a 1cent coin. I pulled over and waited for the rain to stop, thought I would fashion something from string and work the wipers manually from now on.
Tallulah would just have to wait, or only be driven on clear days.
Of course she couldn’t wait. Having chosen a sunny day, a friend and I thought we would take to the countryside, we even opened the sunroof and this was the only part of Tallulah that worked properly. She started to boil ominously on the way back, we topped her up with water, ignoring the violent hissing that emanated from her murky and inexplicable depths.
There was nothing to be done but drive home, thinking she would cool off and all would be well in the morning.
Later, back at the friendly mechanic, I was told that the engine bloc had cracked and I would need a new one.
“A new what?”
“Engine.”
“Oh.”
I laughed this time, thought I might faint, waited for the offer of tea that never came and maybe a chair to sit on?
This would take some thinking. Before I left while no one was looking I kicked her stubborn sky blue butt and walked home.

I remembered the good times when I could drive up a steep hill in fourth gear going 120kph, the times when nothing untoward happened and I experienced the pure thrill of the open road, and I couldn’t really manage without her. To the bitter end we would go and I would not consign her to the scrap heap just yet.
I tried to disguise the exhaustion in my voice and told the mechanic to do what needed to be done.
A month later and I was the proud owner of a new engine in a rusted old car.
There was no stopping us now, we took long trips to the coast, Marianne Faithful blared from the speakers. I thought about the paint job I might still get to!
I waved happily to my parents, they waved back with worry in their eyes.
I went over a rise or a bump, (could have been a pebble in the road) at a very normal speed and the smoke billowed once again.
There was nothing she couldn’t throw at me and I looked casually into the engine, to see it covered in bubbling oil. I stared at the mess, trying my best to hide my intensifying rage. I stared for a very long time in quiet disbelief. I got back in and carried on driving, a raging ball of blue smoke. I crossed over from sanity into complete madness and told her in no uncertain terms that she was not going to get the better of me.
“Do you think you can break me, ha ha, never, I will drive you to the ends of this earth till you are nothing but a splinter of rusted metal! HA HA!”
I laughed wildly into the open sky which was becoming heavily polluted on account of me.
People pointed at Tallulah’s rear end, children laughed at me. I nodded and smiled weakly, said to no one “Yes I know, all of you stupid horrible people, I hate all of you in your shiny SUV’s!”

I had to find a mechanic as I had another terrifying 300 kilometre ahead of me.
When I finally found one at an Ultra stop he stated the obvious.
“You have a major oil leak.”
Yes, suddenly and from nowhere as if by magic. It was an act of God I had decided and God was against me.
“Can I still drive?”
“Ja, well you will need to stop for oil every 50 to a 100 k’s.”
Perfect, that was all I needed to know, we could do this, even if it meant that all I would be holding at the end was the steering wheel.
Ten pints of oil later and I was home, my nerves shot like the wires in my car.

I never had the oil leak fixed, it seemed to plug itself up, as if too, by magic. I think I hated her, cursed her every time I drove her.
“So what is it today Tallulah, are you going to impale me with your exhaust, are your brakes going to fail as a truck approaches at high speed, come on give it to me!”
She would surprise me and coast along happily, I would spoil her with a car wash.
Many repairs followed and I lost track of how many things I had replaced and restored, wheels that were seconds away from falling off, shocks weathered down to the metal when I had replaced them twice.
“But it has always made that clunking sound!”
Anyway Mr Mechanic what do you know about cars, this one has got in for me, I have nightmares, she is alive and crazy, the wheel will tighten itself when you aren’t looking!

Lights would conveniently stop working just as the sun went down and work again in the morning, the sunroof started to leak.
By the time we went our separate ways Tallulah was a new car, there wasn’t a single mechanical part in her that wasn’t replaced, except for the rusty body. She would go like lightning and stop just as suddenly, her wheels turning inward, refusing to go any further till I had replaced the offending part.
I sold her to a young man who said he loved Minis. I felt awfully sorry for him, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. I sold her for the princely sum of R3000.
Later when he dropped off the last of the money I noticed that he had tinted the windows(cringe) and he had draped fur on the dashboard (ouch).
I shed tears. Tallulah said nothing to me, only glared at me with those round eyes of hers that asked “How could you?”

 
 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 5th, 2009 @14:24 #
     
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    Loved loved loved this. I drove a rusting Mini I adored for seven years (mine was red), and experienced almost every travail you describe and a few others besides (like the time my engine fell out onto the highway). I too remember leaving Beemers eating my dust at robots, cruising up hills flat-out in 4th etc... But my best was when a 4X4 bakkie reversed into my rusty heap with a resounding smash. The bakkie had a seriously crumpled tailgate. The Mini had a cup-sized dent.

    I eventually sold her (having to use the handbrake in lieu of regular brakes finally wore my nerves down) to a wonderful trio of guys who each wanted an old Mini to do up. They bought her round for me to admire six weeks later: she had a new burgundy metal coat, mag wheels, a pumping sound system and (the piece de resistance...) fake snakeskin seats.

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  • <a href="http://meganvoyseybraig.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Megan</a>
    Megan
    December 5th, 2009 @16:04 #
     
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    Thank you Helen! My mom had a Cooper, same problems, the exhaust fell off twice, dodgy brakes etc.(I didn't learn!) I had to laugh-the engine falling out onto the highway! Though I am sure not so funny at the time. Those fake snakeskin seats must have really hurt...

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    December 6th, 2009 @18:26 #
     
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    Tsk tsk. You ladies should have bought an original Beetle. I drove a 1976 VW Beetle for eight years and it never let me down once. Started first time, every time - even after it had been sitting in my parents' garden for a year while I was overseas. The engine failed to fall out. The brakes failed to fail. The clutch cable remained unsnapped, and the fan belt never gave any trouble because Beetles don't have fan belts.

    I have never loved a car liked I loved that one. I finally had to part with it when I had my first child because the seatbelts wouldn't go around her car seat. I still miss it. *sniff*

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    December 6th, 2009 @19:21 #
     
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    Ah, I loved this - brought back memories of my end-of-matric present, an avocado green Mini(no name).

    I learned everything I know about fixing cars from that Mini: like Megan's and Helen's, mine was always being repaired for one thing after another, and as students, we had a truly Indiana Jones-type adventure (with failed master/slave brake cylinders) going down 7th Avenue Parktown North in peak hour traffic and bearing down terrifyingly fast on the luxury vehicles ahead of us (and squealing to a halt in the parking bays on the left, cursing and yanking on the useless handbrake.

    And I learned: with a low-slung Mini transverse engine, always keep a can of Q20 in the car. For puddles.

    I loved that car!

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 6th, 2009 @20:05 #
     
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    Fifi, many of my friends had Beatles. Every single one of them rolled their Beatle at some point. It is not ergonomically possible to roll a Mini. I used to terrify my friends by taking all corners and bends at 100ks an hour. Ingrid, I remember the Q20! Needed simply for driving in the Cape in winter...

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