It’s a funny thing, memory. Time passes, and we often look back with fondness to a moment that will trigger a passing smile. It can be the smallest thing too, and different for all of us. For some reason, smells are powerful triggers for me. I had one hit me like a hammer some ten or twelve years ago, that reignited a passion, left dormant too long. Oil burning on a hot exhaust. Not an attractive smell, I know, but sometimes the most memorable are not the most pleasant!
It is the smell of an air-cooled car. In reality, air-cooled cars are actually oil cooled. But air is forced past an oil cooler and the engine heads in an early VW or Porsche to try, at times in futility, to keep the engine cool enough to keep powering away. There are no car enthusiasts that are ignorant of the air-cooled motors designed and developed by the Porsche Family. Sure, they are often ridiculed for their low power and endless oil leaks, but once their copious torque and charm is recognised, and they get their claws in, they are hard to not appreciate, for their ability to create memories.
Ironically, about ten years ago, the humble little air-cooled powered cars became cool again. When you consider that one of the most produced cars of all time is air-cooled (the Beetle) it is hard to comprehend where this coolness came from. In any aspect of life being common is a death warrant to being cool. Somehow the Beetle has transcended this. Talk to anyone of a certain generation, yes I am showing my age, and they have either owned or regularly driven a Beetle. The real posh, or fringe, owners might have had a Type 3, and the real adventurous lived the life we all dreamt of, but lacked the courage to pursue, the life of a nomad in their Kombi. To this day, I still look wistfully at a passing Kombi. Just Google Westfalia.
To the absolute joy of unending car lovers, Ferry Porsche decided it was time to not only build a sports car using everything learnt during the development of the People’s Car, but to make one of the best. Welcome, world, to the Porsche 356. In the right light, at the right angle, it is clearly the car that evolved into today’s iconic Porsche 911. But this story is not a history lesson in sports car evolution. It is about memories and triggers.
There are real tragic enthusiasts, including me, that can hear or smell the difference between a four-cylinder VW motor, and a four-cylinder Porsche motor. That wasn’t me about ten years ago. I walked out of a service station after filling up my car – it was busy, there were cars everywhere, and as I walked out, I got a sniff. I stopped dead in my tracks, and almost got run over.
The smell triggered a memory. There was no water or coolant mixed into that perfume (to me). I searched the bowsers, couldn’t find the source. Then a modern Range Rover Sport pulls out and there it is, looking like it could have fitted in the passenger seat of the Rangey. A 1963 Porsche 356 SC Sunroof Coupe in silver with red interior, and it was a traffic stopper.
I’ll admit, I forgot. I’ve seen a lot of Porsche 356s, and driven a lot, but I forgot. I forgot how little they are. I forgot how pretty they are. I forgot that they look like something from the future, still, 60+ years later. I forgot that both men and women look at them with smiling eyes, and appreciation. I forgot how much I wanted one. I did NOT forget the smell. Oh, the smell. It could not have been six minutes later before the stunned reality that not everyone else forgot. Google quickly revealed the appreciation for the car I HAD forgotten. The cars for sale in my budget were requiring an equal amount of investment in repair work. Through my experience with the cars, I knew exactly what I wanted. A 356 T5 Coupe, in a dark colour. The T5 body shape was the newer, more modern shape of 356 (in 1960) but still had that single rear grille, and small rear window. Details only a 356 nut appreciates, I am sure.
A couple of years, a lot of phone calls, a zillion emails, and an unnerving amount of cursing later saw me on a red-eye flight from Perth to Brisbane, in the days following the birth of our daughter. My wife is not only beautiful, but understanding. It had been a long chase. After an hour or two of inspection I was heading back to the airport, financially a lot lighter, but heavy with smiles and enthusiasm. It took nearly a month to get it home. A very long month. The first journey in the car with a baby capsule with all three of us is very memorable, and there have been a lot since. No 60-year-old car is perfect, and I did not want one that was, so the journey since, is a story unto itself.
The reason I’ve written this story at all was hearing my now eight-year-old daughter, yelling to my wife that the little red car stinks, whilst walking into the garage, shortly after it returned from a run around the neighbourhood. Yes, it stinks, and I love that it stinks. With the inevitable demise of the internal combustion engine likely to occur in her lifetime, I suspect, and if I’m selfishly honest, hope, in years to come she might too.