She wasn’t my first. But she was the best. Betsy was special.
I have no idea what became of Betsy. It’s been some 30 years since I last saw her, one last wistful glance in the rearview mirror as I moved on with her replacement.
Betsy was my favourite car.
As mentioned, not my first. Not the sleekest, the most well-equipped or the most expensive.
Just the best.
Most drivers can remember their first car. Mine was a nasty old 1972 Corolla. Orange with a slightly jacked-up rear end, goofy mag wheels and an endless appetite for oil. I was thrilled to drive anything, but that was quite the heap.
At the end, when it was either pay more than it was worth to fix it, or keep paying more for oil than I did for gas, the Corolla had to go.
With a limited budget but huge expectations, I began looking around.
“Mum, you guys will pay for a Corvette, right?” I asked hopefully.
OK, I was going to have to figure it out on my own.
After looking around at a few dozen wagons, I finally came across Betsy (I believe the incarnation of the game was Archie Andrews of comic book fame had an old jalopy named Betsy. Completely random side note here – so who killed Jason Blossom?).
A 1979 Honda Accord. Gold on the outside, a combination of brown and off-puke on the inside.
It passed my dad’s mechanical once-over. Of course, this was secondary to me, as the little car display (“look, there’s a red stick that tells you when the door is open!) begat a lifelong fascination with interior bells and whistles.
A deal was struck.
I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for that old beauty, but it was worth every penny and then some. While it surely had something to do with my own age at the time of purchase, I had more fun with Betsy than any car since.
It was virtually indestructible. I beat the living you-know-what out of that poor beast.
Endless trips over the Malahat, cutting corners all the way home to Duncan (those medians are a good idea, BTW).
My sister and her friends happily drove Betsy all over town on days when I toiled away one summer at the venerable Volume One Bookstore.
I used to zip down the main drag near my home street, yard on the emergency brake and execute a perfect skid to head up the hill. Was innocently talking politics with a young lady one night when a policeman came to investigate why all the windows were steamed up. He laughed and gave us only a mild admonition when he realized we weren’t attempting to be Cheech and Chong.
Another night, I was in a rush to get home and was unabashedly channelling my inner Speed Racer.
“Son, do you know how fast you were going,” asked the officer, after pulling Betsy over.
“Young man, do you realize you were doing 140 kilometres per hour?” (I remain slightly ashamed of this, although the retelling of this tale has since upped the legend to 160 km/h).
“No way!” I said, patting the dashboard. “All right, Betsy!”
Of course today, I’d deservedly face all kinds of excessive speeding penalties. Back then, I was lucky, with another generous officer who laughed and made me promise to never do it again.
Sadly, Betsy began to age. At one point, you could start it with a pen lid or screwdriver or pull the keys out while driving. We learned not to do that when the steering locked up on the Malahat and the smoke from hitting the brakes so hard is probably still wafting around somewhere.
Bubble rust turned to full-blown rust patches. It was time for Betsy to find a new home. It was with a heavy heart that I traded her in for a spiffy, fully-loaded Mazda 626, with all the bells and whistles you could imagine back in the ‘80s. It was a great car.
But it just didn’t have Betsy’s personality. I’ve had all kinds of cars and trucks since, but none will ever take the title of ‘my best car’. Betsy’s got that one nailed down forever.
The worst part of this melancholy boy-and-his-car tale? I can’t find any pictures of Betsy. The rusty Accord you see pictured is an impostor – found on the Internet. Similar in its rusty charm, but not the real deal.
Today, I’d have 14,058 cellphone pics of Betsy shared on every social media platform I could think of. But back in the Stone Age, when you had to pay for film (imagine that?), we were a little stingier with our picture taking. If anyone out there happens to have a shot of Betsy hanging around, send it along.
Did you have your own ‘Betsy’?
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