Although obsessed with automobiles all of his life, up until his late sixties, Kevin Canahan only owned one brand new car.It was a 1948 Oldsmobile V-8 sedan, which was his
pride and joy for nearly six years, until in late 1953 it burnt to the ground, along with the wooden garage in which it was parked behind his parents’ house.
At the age of thirty, only a year out of an apprenticeship done through the Army Repatriation (having fought for three years in World War Two), Canahan was short of cash to buy another
car.After looking around for several months, he finally settled for a nearly new Volkswagon Beetle.
To Canahan’s delight the inexpensive little car lasted for over a decade in working order, if not perfect order.Which, insisted Canahan, made it great value compared to the
high-priced Oldsmobile, which had lasted only half the time.
“That’s hardly fair, love,” his wife Carmal would point out.She reminded him that the Oldsmobile had caught fire, after some neighbourhood kids threw firecrackers into the
wooden garage on bonfire night. (In the days before fireworks were banned from private use in Australia in the early 1970s.)
As logical as this was, Canahan had never been one to be swayed by mere logic alone, so from then on he had almost a love affair with Volkswagon cars.In the decade that the
Beetle had lasted, Canahan had been able to save up a bit of money, so for his next vehicle he splurged out on a luxuriously outfitted Volkswagon Combi-Van.Then while he still owned
the Combi, he purchased a rickety old sky-blue Volkswagon utility truck.(Which in reality was nothing more than a Combi-Van with the passenger section cut off halfway up to turn it
into an immense, oversized lorry.)
The VW lorry was already fifteen years old when Canahan purchased it, in the late 1960s, but went well enough, apart from creaking alarmingly when travelling at high speeds.So
much so that no-one liked to sit near the passenger door of the cabin.Particularly after an occasion when Canahan’s then seven year old daughter Teresa had been sitting too close to
the door as the lorry started up.The door flew open and, with a shriek of terror Terri went flying out into the front yard.Fortunately the lorry took a long time to warm
up and had only been crawling along at a few kilometres an hour at the time.So the only damage done was to the little girl’s pride, as she went bouncing across the front lawn on her
backside, like a large rubber ball.
Despite its failings, though the lorry worked well enough except that the motor had very little power behind it.Which was a real problem since every day Canahan had to drive
across the overpass between North Williamstown and Newport to get to work.Canahan’s solution was to
crouch over the steering wheel with his face almost up against the front windscreen, and plant his foot on the accelerator for what Terri called “the kamikaze-run”: a one kilometre charge to get
the lorry moving fast enough to climb all the way to the top of the overpass.
On more than one occasion the lorry failed to get up enough speed, or else some slowcoach would veer in front of Canahan, forcing him to brake sharply, so the lorry would not make it all
the way to the top of the overpass.Then, to the alarm of the motorists coming up behind him, the lorry would start rolling backwards down the road toward them.
In those days there was no other route through Newport.So Canahan had no choice but to turn the lorry round, drive back
along Melbourne Road toward North Williamstown, then go for another kilometre charge to get across the
overpass.This time blaring the lorry’s horn all the way, to warn away any road hogs who might dare to cross his path.
That was how he crossed the overpass from the North Williamstown side.Things were even trickier returning home from work, since on
the Newport side there was a set of pedestrian lights at the very base of the overpass.Which meant that if the lights changed at the wrong
moment as Canahan was making his charge, he would be travelling along at eighty kilometres an hour, through a built-up area, and would suddenly have to slam his foot on the brake.Then,
because its brakes were almost non-existent, the lorry would slide right through the pedestrian crossing and rocket halfway up the side of the overpass before coming to a halt for a moment, before
starting to reverse down the hill again.So the pedestrians who had been narrowly missed when the lorry raced through the crossing the first time, would have to scatter for a second
time as the Volkswagon reversed down on them at great speed.
Incredibly in twenty years of racing derelict cars and lorries up and down the Newport overpass, Canahan never hit anyone.(The people
of Newport are obviously fast on their feet.)And in fact the only crash he ever had was late at night, when returning home after a long day’s
Canahan was a self-employed builder who charged by the job instead of the hour, which meant the faster he completed a job, the more profit he made.So he would often start work
by dawn (to the annoyance of neighbours woken an hour or two before they had to get up for work), then would work until well past sunset.Putting in ten-, twelve-, sometimes even
fifteen-hour working days.
After one extremely long day, Canahan had difficulty staying awake during the long drive home, and had fallen asleep at the wheel.Fortunately he had been aware of the danger,
and had been creeping along in first gear when the accident happened.So, since he had his seat belt firmly in place, the only injuries were to the lorry, which had the passenger side
of the cabin virtually wrapped right around a lamppost.
The damage was easy enough to repair: the mechanic merely cut away the damaged section with a blowtorch, welded on a replacement from a wreckers’ yard, then painted it over.So
in a few days the
lorry was as good as new, or at least as good as it had ever been during the years Canahan had owned it.
The only lasting damage was to Canahan’s pride, since he had always considered himself a good, safe driver.And after the accident his wife, Carmal, and their daughter, Teresa,
took great delight in teasing him about the crash.Canahan, who had a very short temper, quickly reddened in the face under their taunting, and would angrily insist, “It wasn’t my
fault!The lamppost ran out into the middle of the road and I didn’t have time to avoid it!”
This continued for several months, until one evening the Canahans were sitting around together in
the lounge room, watching “Riplay’s Believe it Or Not!” on television.To Canahan’s delight the program featured a story about a European country which tried to stop motorists
from speeding, by placing streetlights in the middle of the road.
As the camera zoomed in on a car wrapped around a thick, wooden lamppost in the middle of an intersection, Canahan jumped out of his seat and pointed at the TV screen, excitedly shouting,
See!That’s exactly what it did to me!”
During its life time Canahan parked the VW lorry in the back yard at night.
One morning he got up early to go to work and the lorry simply refused to go anymore.So, rather than waste money having it towed away, he merely left the lorry where it was
and it became the first corpse in a large auto graveyard which he built-up behind his house over the next decade or more.
After the demise of the lorry, he purchased a long succession of second-hand Volkswagons.There’s nothing wrong with this, since VW make good, sturdy cars.However,
what made it strange was that Canahan had come back battle scarred from the Second World War, with a paranoid hatred of the
Germans and all things German.
“Then why do you drive nothing but German cars?” his wife Carmal would tease him, after Canahan delivered one of his lengthy lectures upon the evil of
“The Volkswagon is not a German car!” Canahan would insist, flushing red-faced from indignation at the very idea.“It’s a British car!”
Despite the laughter which greeted this remark, for twenty years Canahan steadfastly refused to admit the Volkswagon was German.Right up until the day, to Canahan’s horror,
the almost legendary Beetle was finally put out of production.After this he stopped driving Volkswagons and conceded that perhaps they were German cars after all.Since who
but the country that produced Adolf Hitler would be fiendish enough to put the beloved Beetle into mothballs.
“But Hitler was Austrian, not German,” Carmal would tease him.
Canahan would seethe with anger, insisting, “German, Austrian, European...It’s all the same difference!”
By the time Canahan had driven his last Volkswagon, he was notorious throughout North Williamstown for the auto graveyard which filled the back yard
of his house and had started to encroach upon the side driveway as well.Over the next ten years, Canahan purchased more than fifteen used autos, most of which he paid only a few
hundred dollars each for.He would drive each bomb until it refused to go any more, then simply added it to the graveyard.
Canahan’s passion for used autos might have gone on until his dying day.Except that one August, after a particularly zealous year buying bombs, he received a notice from the
Victorian Department of Motor Registration, informing him that if he purchased one more second-hand car before the New Year, he would qualify as a used-car dealer.And would then have
to purchase a used-car dealers’ licence, costing $12,000.
Since in those days a new small car only cost around $7,000, it was much more practical to purchase a new car than to buy the licence.So wisely that was what Canahan chose to
Fortunately the new car lasted him the rest of his life, so that the legend of Canahan and his cars was able to slowly die out...Well almost.
© Copyright 2010
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.