The psyche of a car obsession and other matters

The psyche of a car obsession and other matters

THE first time I ever sat in a car and didn’t ever want to get out of it again I think I was 9, or maybe 10. Whenever the family made the trip from the country to the Big Smoke, our route took us past a car dealer on the corner of a major intersection. In the window was a white Lamborghini Countach. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I think the dealership was called Brents, which a few years ago came to an unhappy end.

But a long time before any of that happened, the white Countach had become an obsession. I’d pester my parents to drive us the 300km to the city, just so we could go past the showroom. Eventually they twigged to what was going on and without telling me what they were planning, on one trip we stopped in for a closer look.

It was a formative experience. I can’t recall for sure, but it might have been an LP400, maybe an LP400S, and it was simply the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on. The salesman opened the door – what a revelation; from the road outside I had no idea they opened upwards! – and invited me to climb in. 

Every kid has somewhere they go when they want to be alone, where no-one can see them, and where they feel completely safe. When the door closed, that’s how it felt: still, quiet and calm. Like a cream leather and white aluminium pillow fort, if that makes sense.

Today the Countach still looks magnificent, even if hopelessly outdated, with its tacked-on skirts and gouged-out air inlets, a boxy scoop behind the cabin feeding air to the V12 engine, an unfeasibly protuberant rear wing, and skinny little 15-inch wheels – like all cars of its era, and by comparison with today’s supercars, it looks woefully, almost comically, under-tyred.

Even then, I think I intuitively connected to what a beautiful car means and stands for, everything that it represents. I responded to it in a way I didn’t respond to anything else until I was a bit older and discovered the opposite sex in a big way.

It wasn’t only that it represented a kind of safe space. Growing up in the country, it also meant mobility, and freedom. I could take a step back and appreciate the craftsmanship and ingenuity that went into its design and manufacture. Someone, somewhere, thought this up, and then made it happen. This is what they wanted it to look like, this is how they wanted it to sound, and this is what they wanted me to feel when I looked at it, and when I sat inside it. It was a labour of passion, and I felt like they’d done it just for me.

'That’s what we’re here to celebrate with Madam Wheels – our joy, our love for our cars, in all of their diverse wonderfulness, idiosyncrasies and characteristics.'

A couple of years after my Countach encounter, someone in the town where I grew up bought a Triumph TR7. Anything that wasn’t a Ford or a Holden was treated with suspicion, so this wedge-shaped piece of exotica was regarded as though it was from another planet. The highlight of the bus ride home from school was to spot the car, parked in the same place on the main street every afternoon.

Almost half a century on, there are still cars that engender the same response. Some of those are in my garages, and I’m never as happy or fulfilled as when I have one of them out, I’m alone in the cabin, with no traffic and only the road ahead to concentrate on. Bliss.

As I progressed through my career, the means to buy cars that I love became available. I indulged it. Some of my friends did the same. Others were not so fortunate; nevertheless, we spoke the same language and shared the same fascination.

Cars matter, for reasons that tap into the human psyche in ways I’m not fully across, but wholly open to. They have utility. They say something about us. They fill a need, beyond the practical, to be able to move, to explore, to find out what’s up ahead round the next bend of over the next hill. I’m sure there are other things, too – the ability to harness and control immense power; having something that will respond to our commands faithfully, and without complaint. Freud could probably explain it.

Whatever it may be for me, I hope there’s something just as elemental and essential for you. That’s what we’re here to celebrate with Madam Wheels – our joy, our love for our cars, in all of their diverse wonderfulness, idiosyncrasies and characteristics. Everything they mean to us, for whatever reasons they mean it. From the simplest, oldest and least sophisticated examples, to the latest technological marvels from the supercar factories of Europe, and everything in between. If one of us loves it, all of us love it.

And we come do it in a space where others will join us unashamedly in that celebration. Where the undiluted wonder of the 10-year-old can be found again.