by Lance Hill
The Bomb was a derelict Austin A30 that had sat on our front lawn for around 5 years. Before this, it had sat for many more years under a tree on someone else’s front lawn.
Its body was showing the results of the often humid weather of Auckland’s seasons and what was left of it was largely held together by luck and the fact that it didn’t move much – except about a car-length forward every couple of months or so in order for me to mow the long grass that crept up inside it’s sills and mudguards.
It had originally been painted a sort-of darkish cream – an unflattering colour that didn’t do much to disguise the rust holes. It had a dirty red vinyl interior that was sun-hardened and split and much stuffing had burst forth and disintegrated after baking in the fetid atmosphere. Time had taken its toll on the window seals too and it leaked like the proverbial sieve. Not that The Bomb ever filled up with water mind you - the floorpan (in typical A30 style) had rotted out years ago, so the water just went onto the bare earth below and helped the grass to grow longer.
It was safe to say that The Bomb wasn’t going to be going back on the road anytime soon and it was bought originally to be stripped for parts, but Dad had just not got there yet. There was talk that the driveline in it was in excellent order but it had never moved under its own power for as long as we had had it, so nobody really knew for sure. All I knew was that you had to have a lump of wood handy when you pushed the thing around, because once it got going it was hard to stop. The Bomb had no brakes. None at all.
The day came where the gearbox in my mum’s Austin A30 was so shot, that she parked her car and told my dad that she’d rather take his work truck – a 1948 Ford Bonus with a crash-box – on a sight-seeing tour than drive it again. Being of a mechanical D.I.Y. bent, my dad decided to replace her A30’s gearbox with the one out of The Bomb.
We pushed The Bomb out of the long grass and onto the driveway, lifted its bonnet amid much screeching of hinges and surveyed the engine bay while flakes of rust drifted down from the underside. The stock 850cc engine had been replaced by an 1100cc unit sometime in the past, but everything was still there at least. Dad managed to turn the engine over by hand, so we knew it was not seized and might be coaxed into running – hopefully for at least long enough to test the gearbox. Checks of oil and cooling fluid over, Dad connected up the battery out of Mum’s A30 and pressed the link on the starter solenoid – The Bomb’s engine turned over several revolutions on a worn ring gear for the first time in many years.
The mechanical fuel pump from the old motor had been replaced by an electrical one at some point and rather than pump up whatever was in the tank, Dad disconnected the fuel pump, grabbed a 600ml milk bottle and filled it with fuel from my lawnmower can. He then ran a tube from this to the carburettor and got fuel running through it. We were ready for a test.
Ignition on, choke out, pull the starter and The Bomb turned over another half dozen revolutions and then fired up in a cloud of smoke and backfires, blowing what remained of its exhaust system free from the bodywork and causing all the neighbourhood dogs (including ours) to bark loudly – but not as loud as the roar from that unmuffled engine! The Bomb was alive!
I can’t recall ever hearing anything quite as bad as The Bomb sounded at that moment. The fan belt was screeching because the waterpump was seized, something was rattling mightily from the front of the engine and every nut and bolt on The Bomb seemed to rattle in sympathy. Many kilograms of rust particles were departing the dilapidated hulk and there was an outline forming on the driveway.
Dad revved the old car a few times and cursed at the dogs to shut them up. Whether it was bloody-mindedness or the fact they still couldn’t hear him, the dogs kept barking until the rotten muffler of a 1956 Austin A30 sailed into the fence over their heads at around 50 knots. Dad dusted his hands off, smiled and opened the driver’s door and sat down on the seat.
More rust hit the deck and dad was momentarily lost in the dust cloud that whooshed up from every one of the splits. Dad opened the driver’s window and slammed the door. The passenger’s side sill fell off.
Dad sat for a few moments, looking at the interior of the wreck. From the missing hood-lining to the horn button that was held on with electrical tape, from the single (broken) sun-visor to the sagging parcel tray.....yes, this old girl might beat her heart at the moment, but she was well past her use-by date. He pushed in the clutch pedal and tried for second gear – no crunch, so the clutch was still working too. Cool. Ok then, select reverse gear and let the clutch out slowly.....
The Bomb moved backward under her own power, up and over the lumps of discarded bodywork and spiders, gaining momentum with every shuddering foot she moved. Dad goosed the accelerator and she lurched backward a few feet, so he gave her some more and The Bomb’s reverse gear responded with the characteristic whine of the straight cut gear as she continued to back her way, faster and faster, up the driveway. All of a sudden the gearbox made a huge drone as Dad released the power and The Bomb slowly came to a halt on the slope.
The Bomb sat there idling for a few seconds as Dad shifted into first. Then a gentle roar as Dad gave her some juice, changed into second, gave her more of a bootful, then quickly into third then fourth and The Bomb was hurtling toward the garage at over 40km/h.
The Bomb cleared the huge block of wood that Dad had put in the driveway to stop her as if it was a minor speed bump, collected the trolley jack and sent it off at forty five degrees doing at least 20 knots, then over the tools and into the garage itself.
A huge BANG alerted me that The Bomb had found the reinforced shelving that my father had at the back of the garage at more than 30km/h. I was running towards it as fast as my legs would carry me, but where had The Bomb gone? All I could see was a huge dust cloud with a rusty chrome bumper sticking out of it. There was a complete and dead silence too and that was more chilling than anything. Even the birds had seemingly stopped making noise as I ran.
The dust cloud in the garage tasted of iron as I finally reached the driver’s door. Dad was sitting, staring straight ahead with a stunned, incredulous look on his face. In his right hand he had the remains of the handbrake, which had come away from the rusty floor when he had pulled it up. His right leg was jammed on the part of the floor where a brake pedal would normally be, but once again there was only a new hole and it took some time to get his shoe out of the ragged rust hole he had created.
Dad appeared unhurt. The Bomb however had lost what was left of its structural integrity in the impact and large areas of the body had seemingly vaporised. However, the damage at the actual impact site on the front of the car was remarkably minor. I remembered hearing about so-called ‘crumple zones’ that were a new thing being built into cars then and I thought about The Bomb and its apparent ability to disperse the power of that impact to all the vulnerable areas of its bodywork and I couldn’t help but laugh at the comparison. Fortunately Dad didn’t see or hear me... he slowly got out of the car, lit a smoke, sat down on a convenient saw-horse and stared at the sea of dust, rust and cobwebs that was settling round the even more dilapidated remains of an Austin A30.
Silence reigned for an age it seemed, as Dad sat there not moving except to raise and lower that cigarette from his mouth. I was rather worried, because he was never as quiet as this. I ran and got Mum – fearing Dad had injuries that he wasn’t telling me about – and when she saw what was embedded in the back of the garage, the look on her face actually mirrored Dad’s. She too pulled up a saw horse, lit a smoke and sat beside the old man, staring at the mess. So much for THAT I thought.
Eventually, they moved again and it was certainly apparent that Dad was ok except for a badly bruised ego. We all inspected the remains of the shelving The Bomb had destroyed and saw how close it was that we didn’t have a totally different ending. Dad’s shelving was built strong in order to support a mass of car parts, dismantled engines and various heavy tools and machinery - and the whole unit was now canted at around thirty degrees. The block of a 253 cubic inch Holden V8 engine was perilously close to falling off the edge of its shelf and through the windscreen of The Bomb and I think this was what caused Dad to sit quietly for so long. Certainly sobered ME up when I saw it.
The poor old bomb was unceremoniously pushed backward in silence until it was once again on the grass where it had lived until disturbed. It was like it had awakened and fed, effected its wrath and was now curling up for another hibernation period...but it was not to be that way for long.
Two weeks after Dad had rebuilt his shelves, The Bomb was slowly pulled out of the divots in the lawn again, stripped of its drive train and anything worth salvaging and then cut up with a gas axe and sent to the scrap metal recyclers. Its gearbox made its way into Mum’s A30 and its engine ironically sat on the reinforced shelving its propulsion had nearly destroyed. The Bomb was no more.
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