Opinion: Losing Australian cars means making compromises

Ford Falcon Sprint Hero

The soon-to-be write-off that is our local car-making industry is a shocker on a whole bunch of levels.

Not the least of those (among the human, financial and social aspects) is that we’re losing not just great cars, but cars that have been genetically moulded to suit local conditions.

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Take it from me, not all cars enjoy being left idling in 40-ambient with the air-con running flat-out. But a Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon or Toyota Camry doesn’t give two hoots.

Try the same thing on a few Euro makes and models I could name and you’ll return from whatever it is you were doing to find a pool of molten alloy and plastic that used to be your car.

1997 Holden Commodore SSOf course, it works the other way round, too, and the sheer girth of a Commodore SS or Falcon XR makes them pretty hard work in the narrow, cobblestoned alleys of a medieval European city. (We tried it years ago, driving a VT Commodore from Barcelona to Berlin.)

Same goes for some of those narrow mountain passes or the roads around, say, Lake Como, where two Fiats have trouble passing (not that it slows the drivers down at all).

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And, of course, in the States, all bets are off as designers and engineers battle with concrete roads (with big, lumpy joins in them) to all extremes of temperature and a population that doesn’t necessarily place quality over the price-per-kilo equation.

And drive-thru coffee. Oh yes, the Big Gulp Super-Supremo, Mega-Cup full of hastily prepared, caffeinated beverage (I’m drawing the line at calling it coffee) has much to answer for.

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Mainly those gigantic cup-holders that American car makers are now obliged to scatter throughout the car’s interior in multiples of dozens.

 But North American cars can be good at other things that happen in the US of A. I found this out a few months ago when I managed to swindle the entire Australian publishing industry and gave myself a month-long holiday in the north-east corner of the US.

2014 Jeep PatriotTo keep a low profile, I avoided borrowing a press car from one of the manufacturers and instead, booked a rent-a-racer online.

But when I got to JFK International, the Latino gal (preppy, white girls don’t work at Alamo) on the counter advised me with a big smile that I’d been upgraded from the hatchback I’d specified to a – drum roll please – Jeep Patriot.

How, I wanted to know, was that in any way an upgrade. Surely re-grade should have more than covered it. But at $5.60 an hour, she didn’t seem interested.

But it turned out to be a good thing. Despite it being technically spring in that part of the USA, there was still plenty of ice around Maine and actual snow falling on the beach in The Hamptons. So the Jeep’s all-wheel drive turned out nice.

PizzaBut the Patriot also proved itself a winner when, one night while hunkered down in a little motel with permanent hooks for the police tape to attach to, I went out and bought a takeaway pizza. Don’t get a huge one, was The Speaker’s advice as I left.

I blew it. Using the old ‘how big can a pizza be, anyway?’ line of logic, I ordered a family pepperoni and thought very little of it. Till it arrived at the counter. It was roughly the size of Disneyland, but cheesier.

I couldn’t even fit it on the back seat, instead resorting to lifting the tailgate and lying the mutha flat on the floor.

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Arriving back at Chalk Outline Towers, there was no point trying to sneak it in, especially since I had to tilt the box to get it through the door of room 13.

The Speaker was unimpressed. Mainly because she couldn’t figure out why the hell I’d gone out for pizza and returned with a flat-screen TV.

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To keep up appearances, I had to eat the whole damn thing. Which I did, choking down the last piece about three days later, in another hotel room in Newport, Rhode Island.

However, had that Jeep Patriot not had a big, flat-load floor and enough cheap-plastic-and-rental-car-deodorant smells to keep an acre of pepperoni-stank at bay, it never would have worked out between us. Genetic perfection.

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