Many men have a relationship with their cars that cannot be explained by the machine’s utilitarian or aesthetic value.
I have known otherwise perfectly rational human beings lose their sense of proportion where their cars were concerned. And I do not just mean those, like a neighbour whose life seemed to revolve around his machine almost to the exclusion of everything else, including family and friends.
When at home, he was always busy fixing something either under the bonnet although the thing sounded perfectly fine to me, and moving to and from the boot which served as some sort of garage. Either that or he would be polishing an already gleaming body.
I came to the conclusion that the car was his version of what I have heard described as ‘kujipatia shughuli’, perhaps an excuse to escape a shrewish wife or the responsibilities that come with being the man around the house.
The neighbourhood bar serves a similar purpose for many other men.
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Rather, the type of man I have in mind is the kind that uses his car as his alter ego and its make and engine power a reflection of his virility.
Among the car owners I have known, none has taken a greater pride in their machines than those who were lucky enough to possess a Peugeot 504 saloon when they were in vogue decades ago.
For many, the muruthi — Kikuyu for lion — as it was popularly known due to the marquee’s emblem, seemed to represent and project their own power and virility.
It did not matter that the poor vehicle was a second or third-hand specimen that was long past its prime and its performance a pale shadow of its old self. The owner would somehow believe that his lion would conquer the road the way its flesh and blood relative was king of the jungle.
Something happens to otherwise perfectly rational men when they get behind the wheel and I often find myself sympathising with them when reality fails to match expectation.
A maniacal quality takes grip and other road users become bitter rivals to be engaged in do-or-die contests.
When a close friend of mine, a respected journalist and popular columnist, acquired a Peugeot 504 many years ago, I was surprised at the previously well hidden side of his personality that it revealed.
“That fellow is joking,” he would say whenever another motorist showed signs of overtaking him. “Does he know this car? This is a 504 my friend.” And he would do everything to ensure that the other car did not overtake him.
Never mind that the fellow in question might be totally unaware that he was in a competition, and was only rushing to an appointment.
One day, my friend gave me a lift from Nairobi to Meru and at the steep incline after the killer Nithi bridge, a car behind us started to overtake. Those who have used this road know that it is always wise to take things easy unless you are driving a powerful sports car.
My friend’s competitive spirit was however aroused and he pushed the ‘Fie’ to its limit, muttering darkly, “That fellow does not know this car. He thinks he can overtake me.”
To his chagrin, the other car inexorably powered past and the rest of the day was spoiled for my friend.
This thing about men and their cars can sometimes be taken to ridiculous levels.
During the hotly contested 1992 General Election, I had gone to vote in my native Igoji and after casting the ballot, I joined some friends for a drink at a local pub.
One of my friends was the owner of a Peugeot 504 which he proudly parked outside the bar.
Another man came and parked a fairly decent pick-up truck next to it and when my friend went outside and noticed it, he came back into the bar and demanded to know who had parked a “junk next to a muruthi”.
The pick-up truck’s owner was so offended it took all our efforts to avert violence and possible bloodshed.