IF YOU WANT TO SEE people in love with their cars, don’t waste your time at a race circuit, or a concourse show, or the drags, or even the local cruising strip on a Friday night. Because in those places you will only (and I’m generalising, of course) see men in love with their cars. To see Mr and Mrs and even the whole tribe of kids worshipping their wheels, you need to head a long way from the traffic lights and supermarkets. I speak of the outback.
As I write this, I’m somewhere in the tropics, having just started to head south after a trip to the very tip of this wide and – as it turns out – tall land. A month living in a tent in a different spot most nights has given me several opportunities including never wearing shoes, growing a beard and actually having real conversations with real people. And it has also given me the chance to really bond with my vehicle, learning its ways and growing to trust and admire it. Just as you never really know a person until you’ve been locked up with them, hanging off a muddy cliff face and praying to the off-road gods that the centre diff lock has actually engaged will always broaden the relationship with yer truck. No, I haven’t gone off hardcore performance cars, but if you want a different kind of challenge at the wheel, try proper off-roading.
Anyway here’s the weird bit. The Speaker of the House (I’m in charge of accommodation each night; she’s catering officer) has also fallen for old Harvey (the Morley family fourbee). Now, to illustrate what a red-letter day that represents, I should point out that The Speaker has otherwise zero interest in anything with wheels or an internalcombustion engine. Frankly, she wouldn’t know a handbrake cable from a hippo, which may well turn out to be a problem if she’s ever on safari in Africa, but hasn’t bothered her yet. (She is also more likely to turn up in Kenya than at a Repco.)
But this past month of having Harvey transport us from the very bottom of the country to the very top and having him show us the remarkableness of things like pristine swimming holes, the Old Telegraph Track and, of course, the tip of Cape York, has seen her soften her ignorance. Suddenly, she is seeing cars through the same prism as I always have; as devices to take you to see impressive stuff. Well, she’s seeing Harvey that way, anyhow; I still have a long way to go to get her on board with the Monaro. But you know what? That’ll do me.
Okay, so you could get to the very tip of the cape in a conventional sedan (although there might not be much of it left by the time you got home) but for the best swimming holes, camp sites and the Old Tele Track you need a proper off-road four-wheel drive. And I don’t mean an SUV with a Haldex diff and a Conargo Pub sticker on the back window.
Mind you, neither do you appear to require the latest, high-tech off-roader complete with a year’s wages worth of aftermarket gear bolted on and a set of stupidly bulbous mud tyres. And Harvey is proof of that.
So what is Harvey? Well, he’s a 1990 Toyota LandCruiser with a nonturbocharged, non common-rail diesel engine, a manual gearbox, standard ride height but good suspension, the best fridge I could buy in the back, quality all-terrain tyres, plenty of driving lights and a roof rack that carries an extra spare tyre, a set of traction mats, the LPG gas bottle (for cooking) and a shovel (for afterwards). The only electronics are in the stereo head unit.
Harvey is hardly the quiet type (and the snorkel places the diesel intake grumbles right at ear level) and although his ride quality is average, it’s still better than the current crop of dual-cab utes even with their three decades of development over ol’ Harves. He is hardly a swift mover – I could run faster – but for the real rough stuff (which is why I bought him) he has the gearing and the ticker to get her done. And more than that, he has convinced The Speaker that some cars are actually worth more than the fuel that goes into them. And for that, I thank him.
Mind you, the leopard never really changes its spots, and Harvey will never be considered perfect. Although, if I can figure out how to install a dishwasher in the glovebox, apparently, he’ll be one step closer.