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Driver's Seat

16th July 2002

By Glenn Torrens

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It's said that everything happens for a reason - but sometimes you're left wondering why!

I guess we've all heard sayings such as 'a stitch in time saves nine', 'make hay while the sun shines' and other such ditties passed down through the hands of time. Well, I have just once again learned that those ditties are coined for a reason.

You see, for the sake of a phone call, I missed out on buying a bargain recently.

It was parked on the footpath a few streets from where I live. I don't even know when or why I first noticed it - it was, after all, just another ordinary sedan, like a million others, parked by the side of the road. It wasn't a factory V8 special, or a low-volume muscle car or anything like that. It was simply an ordinary run-of-the-mill Holden Commodore V6. It had ordinary paint, a spoiler on the back and an optional factory-fitted sunroof. You see cars like this every day. And yet, you don't really look at them.

It must have been a few months later when it dawned on me one morning while going for a run that the car was in the same place. It wasn't simply in the same place each night - it really hadn't moved. The grass was growing up around the tyres and the paint was getting a neglected patina about it. Oh well, I thought. Whoever owns it must be away for a few months, backpacking around some tropical island paradise or working for the defence forces or something. The house the car was standing in front of had only a single driveway, and no room to park the car off the street.

A closer look revealed it had some panel damage around the rear doors and the boot lid, but it certainly wasn't a car abandoned for the authorities to take away to the dump. It was too good for that.

A few more months passed and the car still hadn't moved. Maybe, I thought, I should go and knock on the door of the house... see if it's for sale. I mulled over the idea, wrestling in my mind the whys and why nots, do's and don'ts of knocking on the door of the house the car was parked in front of. I don't know why I just didn't barge in right then and there, bang on the door and wave a fistful of 50s in front of the owner's nose.

After all, that's how I acquired my first car when I was at high school. Except back then, I didn't have to wave the 50s. It was a 1974 Mitsubishi Lancer parked on a front lawn, so I gingerly knocked on the door of the house one Sunday afternoon, after spending all day plucking up enough courage to climb the front steps. What happens if the person who answers the door doesn't want to sell the car? What happens if he or she is an axe murderer? What happens if... Anyhow, my courage was rewarded with the words "Mate, if you want it, you can take it away!"

I guess with another decade and half's worth of wisdom, I was subconsciously resigned to the fact that luck like getting a car free happens only once in a lifetime. There was no way the Commodore I had been walking and driving past all these months would be for sale for a bargain price. Nahh, it just doesn't happen twice...

And then one day, I saw the sign.

For Sale.

$1000.

I couldn't believe it. A grand for a car that, even in rough condition, I knew was easily worth four times that amount. I got that odd butterflies-in-a-bottle feeling in my stomach and my pulse went up. Some of us seem to do that - it must be some bargain-hunters' sixth (seventh?) sense. In the still, cool air of the early morning, I wiped the dew off the driver's window and peered inside.

The interior was like new. Spotless. Immaculate. Not even a hint of wear on the carpet, no stains on the seats, no dust on the dash. The odometer showed the measly total of 90-something thousand kilometres - a low amount, even for a car half its age. I stepped back and took another look at the car's panel damage. It was restricted to both rear doors - easily rectified with a set of doors from the wrecker's yard. The damage to the car's rear (the car had been reversed into something solid) was such that pumping the panels back into position with a hydraulic jack could probably make the repair - without the extra cost and hassle of painting. This, I thought while standing there in the morning sun, was looking good!

After I got home from work that afternoon, rang the number and was greeted by a happy voice who told me he'd owned the car from new and loaded it with the factory sunroof and the spoiler. Why was he selling? He had changed jobs, been given a company Volvo but had retained his own car just in case he was retrenched in his first year, but things were okay now and he'd been at the company for a while and had been promoted. He started and drove the car around the block once every month or so before returning it to the same place on the grass outside his house.

But now his wife was sick of staring at the big blue beast parked on the front lawn and it was a pain in the butt trying to move the car because the battery was cactus.

The dents happened when the car was stolen one night from his previous residence in a less salubrious part of town. And the reason he only wanted $1000? He'd been quoted $4000 to fix the damage and figured the car was worth $5000. His reasoning was that $5000 minus $4000 equals $1000... But, he offered, if you know a bit about cars, you could probably get it done cheaper...

Know a bit about cars? Yes. I suppose I do. I knew I could get the two doors for about $100 each, and stretching the car square again would take me about 20 minutes. I already knew that because one day during a hailstorm I reversed my own Holden into a tree - and saved myself a $2500 repair bill by stretching it square myself. The most expensive part of the job would be paying a body repair shop to repaint the rear doors to match the remainder of the car.

Uh huh.. I told Happy Voice I'd be there in three minutes, with a set of jumper leads for a test drive. Actually, forget the test drive... Even with a blown engine, the car was worth buying!

I ran down stairs and began rummaging through the garage - my battery jumper leads were nowhere to be found. Instead, I grabbed a set of spanners so that I could get the battery out of my car to put in his. Let's see... 10mm, 13mm socket... let's go!

I was just about to start my car to leave when a voice called out from the house. It was my brother, telling me there was someone on the phone for me.

"Can I call them back?" I asked.

"Nah - it sounds urgent.." was the reply.

Now, I can remember my brother convincing me of the importance of the phone call, but to this day I can't recall what it was about. Whatever it was, it took about 10 minutes - with me throwing impatient glances at my watch every 10 seconds or so, knowing there was a bargain car waiting for me 300 metres up the street...

I may have forgotten the content of that phone call, but I can certainly recall the next I received.

It was Happy Voice - but sounding a little more subdued than previously. Sorry, he said, the car had just been sold to a bloke who lived three houses up the road. He had noticed it for sale this morning and had bought it just a couple of minutes ago...

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