Do I hang my head in shame or simply accept my humble roots? I’ll say it up front: I’ve owned not one, but two Holden Geminis.
My first ever car was a 1977 Holden Gemini in what I’ll call baby blue. I don’t know what the real name for the color was. The 1977 Gemini had the round headlamps on the front, whereas the 1978 model had square headlamps (more about that shortly).
The Gemini was essentially an Opel Kadett with a 1600cc Isuzu engine in the front and a 4-speed manual gearbox. This is an image of an Opel Kadett of the same era that I found on the web. The blue is not quite ‘baby’ enough to be the same as mine, but it’s close.
I bought the car several months before getting my drivers licence. I think I paid $3,000 for it, which is pretty much been indicative of my ceiling for purchasing cars ever since. The money has stayed the same but the cars I can afford for that amount (plus a little more) have improved remarkably.
The day I (finally) got my licence was one to remember. I’d owned the car for a few months leading up to then and was itching to get on the road. I sat my driver’s test late in the morning, passed, and my instructor congratulated me as she dropped me off back at home. I’m sure I was polite enough to reply, but I can’t remember. All I remember is running down the driveway and getting into my car – MY CAR – and hitting the road.
First stop was to a friends place, named Jeremy. I picked him up and then the second stop, or non-stop, was the relatively new Greensborough bypass road. Whilst quite congested now, the area was still in it’s relative infancy back then and the bypass road, a lovely and smooth two-lane affair, was pretty quiet. I started from the top and did 160km/h as far down the road as I could. My first act as a licensed driver would have seen me banned automatically today if I’d been caught. We were young and reckless….
Place yourself back in 1988, in the shoes of a young, 18 year old Australian male. A young man whose friends own EH and HR Holdens, or XY Falcons. A baby-blue Gemini is not a car, especially amongst such company, that says “manliness”.
I bought the car from a friend of my sister, a lady who was higher up than your basic school teacher, but was a school teacher nonetheless. The car was a rolling billboard for estrogen, which is probably why my girlfriend of the time liked it so much. She enjoyed teasing me about my ‘little blue Gemini’.
Of course, I tried to bloke it up a little bit. I added a more manly stereo system and a SAAS sports steering wheel. But I wasn’t kidding anybody.
One savings grace was that the car sent its Isuzu power through to the back wheels. Combined with its small size, it was actually quite a fun little car to drive. The 1600 engine was revvy and you could actually break traction quite easily. Geminis did eventually become quite a favourite with the fast-four crowd and it’s still relatively easy to find hotted up Gems at car shows here in Australia.
I learned early on about the potential perils of rear wheel drive when I floored it coming out of a roundabout in Montmorency. The car span through 180 degrees and without any assistance from me, performed a perfect kerbside parking manoeuvre between two other parked cars. Lucky!
I only had the car for around 7 months. One Spring Sunday evening, I picked up a friend of mine from her house in Diamond Creek and we were heading off to the movies. It was one of those weird nights – warm and humid with some threatening cloud looming in the distance. As I drove through St Helena, the heavens opened with a vengeance. St Helena road wasn’t developed at that time, with no street lighting across the top of the mountain and no kerbs on the site of the road. The storm came in fast and the rain was so think that the wipers couldn’t keep up with it. Despite my fondness for driving stupidly, I was actually trying to drive responsibly on this occasion as I had a friend in the car.
With a lack of street lighting and no kerbs, I didn’t even realise I’d left the road. I saw the tree when it was 10 feet, dead in front of me. We hit it at around 40-50km/h.
I must have blacked out for a second as I distinctly remember a what happened? followed by happiness at the fact that the stereo system was still working. Fleur’s door wouldn’t open, but I managed to force mine and she was healthy enough to climb out via my side of the car. The rain cleared up as quickly as it came and we stepped out into a dry sky, but a sorry scene.
The neighborhood definitely heard the crash as three emergency vehicles arrived shortly thereafter. One of the neighborhood houses opened their doors to us, offering us ‘a smoke’ of a funny smelling cigarette whilst we waiting. We declined.
Fleur was feeling a bit sore so she took the opportunity for a ride in the ambulance. I rode shotgun, though I was OK. A short consultation at the Austin Hospital was all we needed and to our surprise, friends from the church service we’d skipped were waiting in the lobby for us. Pizza time!
That was the end of the little blue Gemini. I’d already split up with the girlfriend of the time, the one who loved it so much. She was shocked when she heard about the accident, though I’m not sure if her concern was for me or the car.
A friend went up to the crash site the following day and picked the Holden badge out of the tree. I wasn’t too sad to see the car go, though it’s not the way I would have planned it.
The little blue Gemini was replaced with something far more fitting for a young Australian male – an LJ Holden Torana.
I guess I’ll cover that one next.