I don't usually do this, but there was a column in the Star today in a special section on Auto Technology. I had a piece in it, but they haven't posted the extras on their website. So...here it is!
Air conditioning was the devil.
That’s what my Dad always told us as kids, when we got back from a ride in someone else’s car; a car that felt like heaven on a blistering hot July day. “Roll down the windows, you got all the air you want,” he’d tell us.
I thought air conditioning cost a million dollars; it must have, because we could not afford it, even if everyone else could. They didn’t have to eat their ice cream cones in 2 minutes like we did - the cones that were a reward for 3 hour Sunday afternoon drives around Mennonite country.
I remember being fascinated with the small triangular windows on the front doors of our ’66 Rambler, the no drafts. We called them nose drafts. I firmly believed this actually was air conditioning, and begged my mother to angle the flowing air to the back seat. It wasn’t until 1976 that our car had a radio with FM. It didn’t matter; it was only ever set to CFRB on the AM side of things.
We always had station wagons, because my father believed a car was for one thing only: hauling wood home from the cottage. We had nasty plastic seats and no power anything, because the wood didn’t care about those things. It cared about a V8. Little girls fighting in the back seat as they were being dragged across the country to Saskatchewan were not wood, and didn’t care about the engine.
The concept of utility versus luxury has blurred over the decades. The very presence of acres of leather, climate control, heated bolstered seats, and exorbitant stereo systems makes me think we should be embarrassed to squeeze the word ‘utility’ into the description of so many vehicles. The tractor my father drove growing up on a farm? That was a utility vehicle. The hollowed out van my first boyfriend hauled pool supplies in? That was a utility vehicle.
As my sisters and I grew up and started acquiring our own cars, we’d try to teach my father the error of his ways. You need air conditioning, we‘d tell him. Power windows are practically standard. How could you not want comfortable seats and plush carpeting? It wasn’t that we had all these things; we just thought if you could afford it, why wouldn’t you? He thought we were crazy to pay for such silliness. He would adjust his nose draft and turn up CFRB to drown us out.
In 1994, my father was too sick to kick tires and dicker with salesmen, and uncharacteristically handed the chore to my mother. She let her inner car freak fly, and the Chrysler Intrepid she showed up with was loaded. My father only drove it a handful of times, but even he had to concede it was nice to drive a car that cocooned you in luxury instead of challenged your stamina. The fight was over, but the stripped down station wagons remain a centrepiece of my early life.
What about before the station wagons? Like most children, I didn’t believe my parents actually existed until I was born. My mother alluded to a fabulous social life apparently powered by Morris Minors and public transit in England when WWII was finally over. This was fine, but I was far more enamoured of my father’s first conveyance: in the late 1930’s, he used a team of horses to get to school.
Featuring 2 horsepower, he had the original utility vehicle. Call me a foolish romantic, but there are no cars my parents owned in my childhood, nor any I have driven since that have topped this.