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To have…and to lose

Motoring journalists rightly advise that you should never talk about your own car. It’s a bit like talking about your kids; you may think it’s interesting but everyone else just pretends it is.

It’s a truth I have adhered to fastidiously in the past six or so years.

The idea is that we are all flawed. Most humans buy cars with their hearts then use their heads to justify it. Readers neither know this nor the tribulations we go through to own our dream cars. They assume you endorse it, or the brand, and therefore hold you accountable if (when) anything goes wrong with theirs.

Additionally, most of the reviews you read here, due to the immaturity of the local dealers, are as a result of a weekend driving a borrowed car. I, therefore, advise caution in taking this as absolute buying advice. I only give my short-term 3 bob opinion on what will doubtlessly be a long-term costly commitment on your part. That said, there’s nothing against writing an honest review of a car once you sell it off.

I did it once for my very first car, the deliciously sublime 1977 Datsun 200L. It had been rusting away in a go-down in Industrial Area when I found it and decided to save it from its impending demise. I was nineteen, disastrously naïve and eager to get my hands on a steering wheel of my very own.

It had a 2.0-litre straight six, a four-speed manual and sent power to the rear wheels. These were all very important to the budding driver in me, as was the 70K asking price. A quick service session at the mechanic’s and a wash and I was rolling down the street, window down, elbow out and wearing a smile so big you could see my molars. The afternoon was spent driving and the night dreaming of my new-found status as a car owner.

It was bulletproof to a fault and withstood the bumps and bruises inflicted upon it by a teenager short on skills. I drove it only when I could afford the fuel and then only to hone my hooning skills in a grassy field. Two paint jobs and a lot of filler later it looked like it had been in a boxing match with a train. I couldn’t be bothered to paint it a third time and gave in to a hapless guy begging me to take 80k from him.

Next up? The 1994 JLX Suzuki. I wasn’t actually looking for one but a distant mzungu family friend was permanently moving back to the UK and selling everything off. It came with a bulging folder full of every conceivable detail from the original purchase documents to a record of every single top up and service. I was gobsmacked that people kept such a detailed history of their cars.

It was powered by a 1.6-litre carburettor-fed engine and going for a song. It was at this exact time I came to the sudden realisation that SUV’s are infinitely better than saloon cars as they could go off-road. Here was one of the most practical, affordable and iconic examples. I simply had to have it and so I did. It was a far cry in terms of comfort from the Datsun, however.

Where the big saloon would smother road imperfections into submission, the JLX felt like you were driving in a barrel, urged along by the angry kicks of a drunken donkey. It sputtered every time you got on the throttle and sputtered when you got off. In town, it had the turning circle of an ocean liner and the steering felt like it was nailed in place. It was the 2-door short chassis model and as a result, the rear wheels were constantly sliding about. It is by far the most uncomfortable and inconvenient car I have ever driven, and yet I loved every single bit of it.

I fitted knobby all terrain tyres and aimed it at the great wilderness. Out there it was king of the jungle.

Where larger SUVs would struggle to fit, I’d breeze past, over or around, getting closer to nature than most cars would allow. When I had to cover the previous election, it was the only vehicle I could rely on in case things went sideways.

It may have been uncomfortable, borderline dangerous and inefficient, but it made me feel invincible!

Up until last Sunday, I’d sworn I’d never sell it and would pass it down to my offspring with strict instructions to do the same. But as with life, God had other plans.

I’d apprehensively lent it to a friend the night before with strict instructions to have it back by dawn.

Instead, I received a 5 am wake-up call, “Sorry bro, I’ve been in a serious accident!” He was fine, the car wasn’t. Even to this point, I haven’t bothered to ask what happened, I’ve just been letting the loss sink in.

My mind flutters around like a lost butterfly and my mind chokes on the thought of Effin Zuki, all alone, mangled and cold, accumulating dust at the police station among other discarded wrecks.

At the end of it all, cars are replaceable. I hop in and out of an endless number, play with the switchgear and make important notes to compile into an article in case one of you is interested in buying one. But honestly, I care about them as much as a wench cares for her assorted johns.

I still see the Datsun from time to time; it’s a bit like running into an ex you parted ways with amicably. You know they’re out there and you’re glad they’re doing fine but that’s about it.

On the other hand, there’s a gaping JLX shaped hole in my heart. It feels like the  sudden death of a loved one and for the past few days, I’ve been expecting to see it every time I draw my curtains, waiting for the next adventure. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, but until the now-empty parking spot is filled, I’m not so sure.

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