This is not a photo of my first car, but it is a photo of a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof. My first car was a beige Renault 4 with a sunroof, but it also had matching dents on each front corner, and a chiaroscuro quality imparted by the proliferation of rust.
How does it qualify for my bucket list? Well, it was a rust-bucket!
My Renault 4 came to me by way of my Sister, Síle, who decorated it with the two matching dents by knocking down first one pillar and then the other on the driveway of her house in Newbridge. She bought the car second hand from the Burkes, who owned a garage in Tipperary. That might explain why a Renault 4 came to be fitted with a sunroof. It also had a go-fast stripe, and I suspect they did something to the engine to give it a bit of power, but maybe that was just an illusion imparted by the stripe.
There is a magic and a nostalgia associated with your first car. It is usually a piece of rubbish, but it is a very important piece of rubbish. Your first car is probably the most expensive and most important thing you have ever owned up to the point where you get your second car, or a house, or an engagement ring.
Your first car represents your freedom as a young adult. Your ability to strike out at great distances without begging rides from parents or siblings, without the need to rely on public transport.
It is a space of your own. If you have a car you can take a girlfriend for a date in said car. Louise learned how to drive in it, and there was no worry that she might scrape a door or a wing as there might have been with later cars, of which we will say nothing. Before you know what is happening a girlfriend can become a wife, much to the confusion of her brothers who would not be caught dead in a car like that!
You could bring friends to rugby matches as far afield as Malahide, Greystones, Clonskeagh and Churchtown. You could give rides to Glénans trainees for holidays in Bere Island, Baltimore or Collanmore Island, instead of having to hitch rides from other members.
When the last exams finished you were able to bring a gang of friends to Rutland Island in Donegal for a week in Murf’s holiday home. They could then have a great laugh about the acceleration qualities of a Renault 4 engine going uphill in a headwind with five big lads on board.
You could nip up the Wicklow mountains for Sunday hikes, or head off to Dingle or Glenbeigh for a rainy Irish summer holiday. The possibilities were endless.
It was a gateway to adventures. My Renault 4 carried dinghies, ribs and sailboards on the roof. It had a great cargo space, especially when you dropped the back seats. It held lots of sailing equipment, hiking equipment, camping gear, washing machines and plenty of second hand furniture. When we bought a house it was furnished with bits and pieces of second hand furniture bought from the small ads in the Irish Press and carted back in or on the Renault 4.
Because it was rusty and a bit battered there was none of the concern that you might scratch it, or leave a stain on the seats, or get a chip in the paintwork. I didn’t worry that the seawater would add more rust. I didn’t mind if puppies shat or puked in the back. It was a workhorse, not an ornament. It enabled my adventures rather than decorating my existence.
In its final years the rust holes became larger and larger. On rainy days it was advisable to wear plastic bags on your feet because of the spray coming up through the floor.
Then one day it stopped. Dead.
A friend of my Sister came up from Kildare and towed it away to see service in its final days as a hen house.
When I look back at the sum of my experiences in that battered old rust bucket I pity any teenager or 20-something who is gifted a brand new vehicle as their first car. You will never understand the unadulterated joy to be had from owning a total piece of crap, bought and paid for with your own money.