Skid marks

Itís the locals who lose out when the only cars they can buy are built for a global market

David Morley

HE 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 weíre losing not just great cars, but cars that have been genetically moulded to suit local conditions. Take it from me, not all cars enjoy being left idling in 40-ambient with the air-con running flat-out. But a Commodore, Falcon or Camry doesnít give two hoots. Try the same thing on a few Euro makes and models I could name and youíll return from whatever it is you were doing to find a pool of molten alloy and plastic that used to be your car.

Of course, it works the other way round, too, and the sheer girth of a Commodore or Falcon 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).

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 doesnít 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 (Iím drawing the line at calling it coffee) has much to answer for. Mainly those gigantic cup-holders American car makers are now obliged to scatter throughout the carís interior in multiples of dozens.

But North American can be good at other happen in the US of A. out a few months ago to swindle the entire Australian industry and gave holiday in the north-east keep a low profile, I avoided from one of the manufacturers rent-a-racer online. But the Latino gal (preppy, counter advised me with the hatchback Iíd specified How, I wanted to know, re-grade should have she didnít seem interested.

But it turned out to be T s that n cars things that . I found this when I managed ustralian publishing myself a month-long ast corner of the US. To voided borrowing a press car facturers and instead, booked a ut when I got to JFK International, white girls donít work at Alamo) on the th a big smile that Iíd been upgraded from fied to a Ė drum roll please Ė Jeep Patriot. w, was that in any way an upgrade. Surely more than covered it. But at $5.60 an hour, ted. e 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 Jeepís all-wheel drive turned out nice. But 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. Donít get a huge one, was The Speakerís advice as I left.

I blew it. Using the old Ďhow big can a pizza be, anyway?í 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 couldnít even fit it on the back seat, instead resorting to lifting the tailgate and lying the mutha flat on the floor. 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 couldnít figure out why the hell Iíd gone out for pizza and returned with a flat-screen TV.

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. M