My friends and I had nicknamed it ‘the Queen Mary.’ It was big — a little more than two meters wide and about five meters long. ‘It’ was my first car, a 1980 Pontiac Parisienne. It was a full-size, four-door, luxury vehicle. White with metallic blue trim and a dark blue interior that still looked as good as new back in 1991. It was meant to be a family car, and for many years it had been exactly that.
At least until the day my dad decided that he’d had enough of her. He’d only been the second owner, having bought her in 1981 as barely used. As I was looking for a decent and dependable car, my dad offered her to me for a reasonable price. This was one of the last behemoth cars of the 1970s and early ’80s, but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Despite her size, she offered a lot in the way of driving enjoyment. She may have been a boat, but she was a smooth-sailing boat. I could put her in cruise control, stretch out my lengthy legs and relax, all the while looking out through the acres of glass and enjoying the view.
There were those who questioned my sanity in buying the old Pontiac. “You’re too young for a big boat like that!” “You won’t be able to afford that gas-guzzler!” “It’s a family car!” “It’s probably slower than molasses.” Well, age wasn’t a hindrance. I was still at the stage of life where I could afford skiing, and for ski trips there was nothing better than a big boat. I could easily pack in five of my friends and all their luggage without any problems.
As for gas mileage, there couldn’t have been a better car for its size. One time I took her from Edmonton to Vancouver and made it on a tank and a half. In fact, I made it to Kamloops without filling up. As I figured it out later, the mileage worked out to nearly 40 miles per gallon. It helped, of course, that I drove her at 90 km/h the entire way.
But just because I drove her at 90 doesn’t mean that the car had some kind of speed impediment. No, the Queen Mary was fast. How fast you ask? Once a friend and I took her from Edmonton to Thunder Lake (a distance of about 110 km) in just under 30 minutes. The needle on the speedo was buried, so you do the math. This was one of the stupidest and most dangerous things I’ve ever done, but the point is made: this car could hustle. She just kept on accelerating.
Moreover, she got us there in one piece. She was a fine car — in every way. Maintenance-wise, you couldn’t have asked for anything easier. Most of the work I was able to do myself. Working in a service station made it even easier, since I had access to tools, equipment and the expertise of the technicians. I owned her for two and a half years and rarely had anything go wrong. The only thing that still sticks out is a fan clutch that outlived its usefulness. That’s it.
Some people found it hard to imagine why I’d want a big car like the Queen Mary. It was easy to rationalize it. Sure, it was a family car, but it was far more practical than any sports car I’ve ever seen. I mean, how often do you see a young fellow taking five buddies skiing with him in a Corvette? Case closed. So, I didn’t care that people laughed at my car. She was mine and when it came to other practical things like maintenance and fuel economy, this was the car to have.
Then there were the folks who most likely wondered what my wife Rose thought of such a big boat of a car when we first met. When we first started dating, I tried to make the best of it and patiently explained to her all the benefits of having an ocean-liner for a vehicle. She nodded politely and listened, pretending to be interested. Thankfully, it turned out that she didn’t really care what kind of car I drove.
There sure were a lot of good memories in the Queen Mary. The ski trips. The trips to the lake. Driving down desolate mountain roads. Driving through farmer’s fields. Driving through the park behind my parents’ house (don’t ask, it’s a long story). The first time I kissed the girl who would become my wife. The Q.M. meant a lot to me. The only time I’ve ever felt the slightest emotion in selling a vehicle came when I had to get rid of her. Rose had a smaller vehicle which she felt more comfortable driving in the city.
So one day in December, I took the boat to the auction market, removed the old license plate BRC-727, and said farewell to this signficant character in my life. I made the stupid mistake of not putting a reserve on her (nobody told me!) and so she was auctioned off for the paltry sum of $400. Whoever bought her got the deal of a lifetime. I often wonder what happened to her. By now, I’m sure she’s gone — though every now and then I do see a Parisienne of the same vintage, so it is possible that she’s still out there motoring around. At any rate, as I drove away from the auction lot that sad day, I recall the song that was in my head, a song my friends and I had bastardized to describe the fine old lady: “Pontiac, Pontiac, long and white, shiny and bright…”