Christine. The Perfect Lover.
A tale about my second '97 Mazda 323F who became the fatal woman & whom I love & whom I hate.
The masterminds behind Mazda automobiles have always been poetic and original. They are keen to invent philosophies to explain their inventions. You may have probably heard of Jinba Ittai, the unity of a rider and a horse, which the Mazda engineers follow. Therefore, driving a Mazda is not about moving, but moving in a mechanical creature whom you feel attached to. Also, there exist the Kodo design, the soul of motion. What it makes is sculptures your car as a reflection of the dynamics of a wild life. Look at the muscles of a running tiger. And now look at the Vision Coupé concept. See it?
This article, however, will not be about the newest Mazdas. But about the one I care. Jinba Ittai is in every bit of her. The '97 323F BA. Christine.
But before we continue, I strongly recommend you reading the previous part of the story. About Eve, my first car: drivetribe.com/p/eve-the-first-eepBPTgkQlap52jw0e26CQ?iid=QMSXCUHBQSeurWdCGq96Aw
Christine has always been my dream since I saw her on pictures for the first time. Posh, sporty, neat. Painted in the Marrakesh Brown (B09). Actually, I wanted to transform Eve into something very similar, but painted in the Soul Red (41V). I invested a lot of money into the necessary upgrades and fixes. I befriended Chris, the creator and owner of my dreamed vehicle, and asked him for help with almost every idea of mine. Things changed drastically when I got that call from Chris who was going to Canada and decided to sell his car within hours. The question arose ahead of me: should I continue upgrading and fixing the car I had or should I buy the car which had always been the benchmark of what I was going to achieve? I opted for the second solution.
Looking at the purchase from the perspective of time, it was not a “win-win” development. Christine brought a lot of problems with her. Some of these problems I would never experience with Eve.
Christine was not only a car, but a work of art. Unique phenomenon on the road. At least, I used to perceive it that way. The issue, though, was with the artist. I gave the gentlemen's word to Chris that I would not ruin the appearance of the car: bumpers, rocker panels, bodywork, alloys, etc. But he wanted a bit more than that. He wanted to know how I would take care of the car and gladly shared with advice, whether needed or not.
Imagine, you were lucky to buy a painting at an auction. The one you liked. You hung that painting in your bedroom. The next day the artist knocks at your door. He has an inspiration and wants to improve the painting. Will you let him in? Will you respect his empathy toward his handiwork, which belongs to you now? That was my issue...
Actually, the painting may be not the best example. Here you have another metaphor.
Eve, my first car, was a fairy, caring, and all-forgiving passionate woman in her 40s. She had her sorrows and issues, but they were always “out of my sight” (f.e. the rust on chassis). She never bothered me with anything I didn't need to know. All I saw in her – and enjoyed – was Eve's refined appearance, wisdom, and behaviour. In her stead, Christine was a spoiled woman after the forced divorce. She used to change her mood way too often, but was always ready to burst with passion. She looked much better than Eve and had always enjoyed much more care! But every time you dropped a word with her, she started speaking of her former husband. Every time you looked at her you saw the reflection of him. Of her creator. Who, by the way, never lost his interest in our freshly-established love affair.
Don't get me wrong, I do sincerely respect Chris' talent, sense of style, and craftsmanship. He's a mechanical genius! I decided to name the car Christine in his honour, actually. The point is that there has always been too much of his engagement as for the car he decided to sell.
Overlooking the turbulence with Chris, the beginning of our relations with Christine was also “mechanically” tedious. The first problem I encountered after the purchase was the overheating engine. This became especially evident on our motorway journey with my fiancée to the seaside. It was summer of 2015. Very hot summer as for Poland, above 40°C (104°F). From time to time I had to take my leg off the pedal as one of the needles rocketed unnaturally high. The problem resided in the faulty water pump. The minor issue.
Then the rocker panels reminded of themselves. The major issue. Chris had hand-crafted these panels from a piece of steel. With years, they severely rusted as the water condensed inside of them. What aggravated the problem was that Chris never garaged the car. So, Christine got to me with rusted rocker panels the creator of which moved out of the reach. My quest was to find a good tinsmith who would be able to mend these panels. Then there came the price... 1/4 of the sum I paid for the car.
As for today, I try caring of the car body as much as I can. “Say NO to rust” campaign! Christine always “goes to bed” in the garage. I rarely drive her in the rain or in the snow (i.e. bad weather conditions). If this becomes unavoidable, I take a rag and remove the water from the rocker panels, bottom of the doors, and other weather-exposed parts. The car is hand-waxed twice per year. All bird droppings are washed out immediately. Apart from this, I check the chassis before every winter and conserve the most suspicious elements. This being said, the bottom of doors has already got some rust. It is number one on my list of to-be-eliminated things. Unfortunately, I can't buy new original doors as they are not produced any more.
Apart from the new water pump and rocker panels, a number of other improvements has been done during the two-and-a-half years of my ownership. For instance, Christine received a brand new exhaust system (what includes a new catalyst), clutch assembly, throttle assembly, spark plugs, power-steering pipes and gaskets, alternator pulley, wipers' mechanism and washer pipes, Yuasa battery, and engine protection plate. The air conditioning, day running lights, and the headlights washers were brought to full functionality again. Every 8-12 months Christine goes to visit Adam, my trusted friend and mechanic. He changes all liquids and filters, replaces all worn elements, as well as removes a variety of other minor faults. I'm leaving Christine to Adam for a week so he can test and fix everything.
Christine is a charismatic car. At least, I perceive her “soul” this way. Its body lines are very smooth and slick. The non-stock front bumper, rocker panels, and rear spoiler make a mesmerizing emphasis on its design. Apart from this, I specifically like a slightly concave line of the hood above the rear seats (thank you, Ginger (Arnold) Ostle). Because the race-car?
Jinba Ittai is what permeates Christine. Turning the wheel requires a fair effort. Touching any pedal gives that oldschool mechanical feel. When you get over 90 km/h, a wind noise hisses from everywhere. The engine roars. The tyres whisper. The exhaust signs in the basso cantante. When you get to 120 km/h, you enter the realm of vibrations. The steering wheel, the acceleration pedal, the gear leaver – all of them “scream” to you with the information. The rear-view mirror emanates a shaky vision of the flying-Dutchman-vehicles behind. When you get to 140 km/h, the speed becomes scary. Yes, Christine stays firm and grippy; yes, she can do faster; yes, you feel the downforce... But no, you do not want more acceleration. You simply do not really want this! The road already rushes at you as the arms of cracken. The moment is enjoyable enough.
I love to know that the car is “pure.” She lacks thousands of functions which are common for the contemporary vehicles. These are mechanical solutions, not electric computations, which cast the magic of Jinba Ittai in my Mazda. Moreover, her dashboard lacks the “check engine” indicator. It is my job to listen to my 1,8L BP-type collaborator and note changes in its sounds-and-vibrations to understand that something went wrong. It is my job to feel the tyre grip, understeer, and oversteer. It is my job to select gears and do the rev-match. I am THE driver of THE car! Quoting Jeremy Clarkson, who wrote the following about Lotus Exige in 2004:
“This is a car that has no active yaw control and no active diff. It has no turbocharger and does not need to be told what sort of road it’s on before setting off. If the Evo VIII, with its spray-jet intercooler, is Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then the Exige is a spitting, strutting Sex Pistol (...) Yes, the Toyota engine may produce only 189 bhp, but because it has no sun visors and no active yaw control it weighs less than a microwave oven. Put it like this: when Genesis went on tour, they needed 16 pantechnicons and a football stadium. With an Exige, you simply rock up and play.”
In this light my 323F looks much like Exige. Let's omit the fact that it is bigger, wobblier, and not that monstrously powerful. It simply rocks up and plays!
Ohhhh, ok... On the second thought, I need to make a confession. It would be nice to have an electronic assistance for the icy roads. Nothing else, but this.
Christine does also have some charismatic oddness. Different plastics squeak in the cabin depending on the contrast of external and internal temperatures. In summer, especially under the direct sun light, the steering column emits weird sounds when I turn the wheel. The driver's door panel usually squeaks in the late autumn and winter. Something behind the central vents squeaks when the engine is on and the heater is off. Then there's central console which usually squeaks in winter on speeds between 40-90 km/h. Finally, the major disruption comes from the rattling trunk lid and rear deck when I drive on an uneven surface. These sounds become especially refined during the cold seasons. You should have got the message already: I hate this cacophony of squeaking plastics! I know where my enemy resides! It will be fought, defeated, and humiliated in summer 2018.
The same as Eve, Christine has gifted me with a plethora of memories. To begin with, there was the above mentioned journey to the seaside. Speed, august, freedom. On our way we encountered at least three other 323F BA's. These were unknown vehicles driven by unknown people, but we stuck to one another for quite a long time. We bypassed one another and revved in the rays of the setting sun. We were smiling, everyone in their own Mazdas, and enjoyed the close company without dropping a word. That was my “Hollywood moment” of road fun and happiness.
Then there was the journey through the forest on a curved narrow road to Mazury lake district, the biggest in Europe. Three lines stretched ahead of my windscreen. The narrow grey line of a virgin asphalt. The massive green line of trees to the left and to the right. And the blue stripe of the sky above. The perfect video-game feeling!
Finally, every time I take Christine back from my mechanic, Adam, it gives me the shivers of discovery. I'm always looking forward to experiencing these moments. The car drives in the same way, but goes oddly. Little changes in the minor units make up a huge difference. In particular, I was thrilled to drive the car three times: with the new clutch, with the new exhaust, and with the new throttle assembly. Christine fell over in hysterics then, rebelled against majority of my actions, and demanded to be re-discovered again! The 60 km of a motorway lying between my house and Adam's workshop transformed into the laboratory of exploration!
Our relations with Christine have always been full of love-and-hate, pain-and-pleasure, sufferings-and-happiness. They remain such up to now. The perfect blend which you expect from the perfect lover.
Moreover, my real-life fiancée seems to be jealous of these relations. She has even once told me that she feels that Christine hates her (whatever this may mean).
Hmmm... What else you would expect to hear from your future wife after she met your lover?
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P.S. I said in the video that Mazda was produced in Nagasaki, what is wrong. She left the factory on 12 December 1997 in Hiroshima. I worried too much while recording the video and that made me confuse cities. Sorry for that.
P.P.S. If you are interested in the fate of Eve, do not worry. I sold it to one of my friends who appreciated its condition and my contribution. Eve continues to go like a dream and bring fun to good people!
P.P.P.S. Matt Parsons can be reached here: www.behance.net/Matthew_Parsons_SA