Colt of old regret
Sam Colt founded a firearms company in the mid-1800s, and nearly 30 years later released his most famous revolver for the US Army: known as the .45 or, incredibly, the “Peacemaker”.
A little over a century on from that, Mitsubishi Motors Australia used its newly-acquired Chrysler plant in South Australia to produce a local version of the Japanese Mirage, as a Colt. It had a 1.4 or 1.6 litre 4-cylinder engine, with a bonnet that hinged at the front, not near the windscreen. Even when new, the Colt was a little ‘old skool’: it didn’t have fuel injection – it still had a carburetor – and this feature would come back to bite me.
My introduction to the car came in 2003, when a radio colleague was selling her 1988 manual brownie-bronzie one.
It had been her grandmother’s – then hers – but with a newer vehicle on the way, she offered it to me, unregistered, at the trade-in price she’d been offered: $500. Gran had sideswiped a garage door, so there was a minor dent on one wheel arch and some surface rust spots on the bonnet. Interestingly, the Colt had rotating “satellite” buttons on either side of the steering wheel, for the lights and wipers.
At the time I was driving a SEAT and my wife owned a big late-90s Mitsubishi Magna wagon, which would soon be needing some major engine repairs. So a plan was hatched: sell the Magna, give her the SEAT, and I would drive the Colt.
With the Colt registered, I cleaned the Magna engine and took it to a local caryard, which paid me a little over $2,000 for it. So I was already ahead by a grand or so!
About the same time, I was offered a TV job in Sydney. I’d move down there, rent a room, and fly home on weekends (these were the days of $29 Virgin Blue flights, which I bought in bulk).
So at dawn sometime around mid-May 2003, I packed some clothes, bedding, a plastic table and a stereo into the Colt, and drove south to new opportunities.
I arrived in Sydney at dusk, then bought some milk and cereal at a supermarket, and checked into a room – at an upmarket outer suburbs hotel – that had been arranged by my new employer, until I found a place to rent. The Colt was parked underground in the carpark.
The next morning, I ate my cereal out of a coffee cup with a teaspoon, and went down to the Colt. I turned the key, and the engine turned over, but wouldn’t fire up. I tried again and again. Eventually I called the NRMA, hoping that they would cover an RACQ member – which they did.
After just a couple of minutes, the mechanic had the car going, and asked “before you start the car, do you kick the accelerator pedal?”. With a fuel injected car like the SEAT, you didn’t even need to hit the pedal as it started, let alone before. I said “no, why would I?” The mechanic then told me that the butterfly valve in the carby had to be freed up before you turn the key, otherwise it would get stuck fast by a vacuum as you started the car. I think he said the cooler weather in Sydney might have also had something to do with that valve getting stuck (I’d had no problems in Brisbane).
He pointed out that in the owner’s manual, it does say to fully push the accelerator, before turning the key. I don’t think my Colt had the owner’s manual.
The Colt was fine to drive around Sydney, and leave at the airport every weekend. Although one Sunday, driving back from the airport – through the uphill section of the Harbour Tunnel – the car starting “ticking” or “pinging” badly (pre-igniting fuel), and losing power. I made it out OK, but then had some repair work done.
Before too long, the Colt was gone. My wife had been driving the SEAT, but with 2 young kids in tow she longed for rear doors on a car, instead of just 2 doors and front seats that had to be folded forward to put kids in the back. So during some holiday time I drove the Colt back to Brisbane, prepared the SEAT for the trip to Sydney, and traded the Colt in on a big 1990s Saab 9000 CS for the wife. With the Colt gone, I was the peacemaker.