Seinfeld was into season 4 when it aired an episode called “The Bubble Boy” in October 1992. It followed Jerry’s attempt to meet a fan – a boy in a bubble – and how it all went wrong, when George arrived early and decided to play Trivial Pursuit with him. When George asks the rude and selfish boy “who invaded Spain in the 8th century?” he answers: “the Moors”. That’s when a wry smile crosses George’s face, and he reveals the (misprinted) correct answer on the card is “Moops”. The boy is left deflated, in more ways than one.
By strange coincidence, late 1992 is when I began shopping for a car they call “the bubble”. I’d seen the “new” Mazda 121 advertised on TV, and it looked like a fun small car to own.
The ad ended with the man washing the car having a bucket of water tipped on him from an upstairs balcony by a curly-haired woman – but despite the thought of my then-girlfriend doing the same to me (I lived in a high-rise unit) I still wanted one.
At the time I was driving a late 80s Daihatsu Charade and earning OK money from my first job, so buying new was the go. There was just one thing I wanted my 121 to have, that I’d seen on some others – a boomerang-shaped spoiler on the boot.
The curvy Mazda 121 was a huge success in Australia. In Japan, it was sold as the Autozam Revue (Autozam being a Mazda brand at the time). It had a peppy 1.3 litre engine, plus air conditioning and power steering as standard. But power windows? Forget it. The seats and armrests were covered in strange but colourful squiggles.
The boot pivoted open very cleverly, and the designer supposedly said it was based on a woman’s behind. But even all that couldn’t save it. It wasn’t very popular in other countries, and was killed off by the time the Asian Economic Crisis hit in 1997. Australia was then treated to the “boxy” and more conventional 121 Metro.
To the Mazda dealer in Gladstone, I would have been a gift. One afternoon I walked in and told them I was interested in buying a dark blue 121, but it had to have a spoiler on the back. The salesman told me they didn’t have a dark blue one, but a mid-blue one had just finished a run as a demo car: it had headlight and bonnet protectors, and (wouldn’t you know it) a spoiler on the boot.
He took me out the back, to where the “Canaipa Blue” car was getting a wash and vacuum. Once the staff had finished with it, we took it for a drive and I was sold: it was a perky 4-cylinder to steer, and had fabric-covered seats instead of plastic ones.
It was time to talk turkey – and I’m ashamed to say I was a little caught up in buying my first new car. They offered me a trade-in on the Charade, and then the balance through the dealer’s own finance company. I didn’t say yes straight away, so then they offered me a phone to call someone about the deal. So I called home (an expensive STD call at the time). Mum answered, and the best she could manage on short notice was “I don’t know, whatever you think is best.”
So I thought it was best to take the deal. It was a pleasure to own for the next 3 years, apart from tinny metal on the doors (resulting in minor carpark denting) and paint being easily scratched. That’s probably why the car came with a tin of touch-up paint in the glovebox.
With its air-conditioning and sure-footedness, the “bubble” was a handy car to own for the 6-hour Bruce Highway drive back to Brisbane on weekends.
For me, the purchase had been no trivial pursuit, and there were no Moops.