The early 1800s were an exciting time – in how to spell and say “aluminium”.
English chemist Sir Humphry Davy first named the metal alumium in 1807, then changed it to aluminum, before deciding on the more “classical” aluminium in 1812. It later became aluminum again, just in the US and Canada. This was either due to Noah Webster’s dictionary spelling, or, as Mike Powell reveals in his book “Amglish”, an engineer’s typo.
The car world also has pronunciation differences. When I heard radio ads for a local RSL club, saying one lucky member would win a “Ford K.A.” (kay-ay), I knew what they were talking about, despite the odd name. It was what I called the Ka, as in “car”: a funky little hatchback in Ford’s “new edge” design philosophy of the time. This pronunciation did make it difficult to explain what car you owned.
However, in researching this post, I’ve found out that Ford’s “top brass” said the name should be pronounced like “cat” but without the “t”.
And funny I should mention cats, because an ad for the Ford Ka’s “evil twin” – SportKa – featured a computer-generated cat coming to a grisly end in the sentient car’s sunroof. It wasn’t supposed to be released, but made it onto the web, where it’s stayed.
Despite its lack of engine power, I was a fan of the Ford Ka when it was released in Australia in 1999. The outside look of this Spanish-built car was unlike any other small hatch at the time (but a similar theme to the AU Falcon, sporty Ford Cougar and soon-to-be-released Focus). The Ka had grey bumpers as standard, or optional painted bumpers. There was a wheel at each corner in the spirit of the original Mini, plus they came with air conditioning and that cat-catching sunroof.
Inside was just as weird as the outside. There was retro bare metal on the tops of the doors, a swoopy dashboard with an analogue clock, and instead of a glovebox, a little rotating storage hutch: you either flipped it over, facing up, to open the storage for (say) sunglasses, or flipped it down to hide it, and have a flat area for (say) a phone.
The Ka didn’t have power windows, mirrors or central locking, but still sold for over $16,000, quite a bit more than most competition. With a mortgage to pay and a second child on the way, I couldn’t afford to buy one new. So of course, I kept an eBay search going.
In late 2007 an orangey-bronzey Ka (the colour was called “Kaligula”) come up for auction, unregistered, in Bundaberg – 4 hours’ drive north. It checked out with online vehicle history searches, and looked good in the photos. I’d just sold my Daihatsu Copen so had the money to buy it – I bid against a couple of other people and eventually won it, without having inspected it or ever driven one, for a little over $2,000. I just had to get to Bundaberg to pick it up.
One Friday morning (I worked Sunday to Thursday at the time), I hired a car for a one-way trip to Bundy, met the seller at the local Transport Department carpark and paid for the Ka, after we’d both gone inside the building to transfer ownership and get it re-registered. It was as good as it looked in the listing.
There was just one problem: the car’s battery had been unplugged while it was for sale, and now the radio wanted a code put in – and of course, the owner hadn’t found the piece of paper with that code. Without a radio or CD, it was a VERY long trip home, with just songs in my head for company.
Owning the car was great – with wheels at each corner and so little overhang, it handled beautifully. Swooping down onto the highway along the on-ramp was a lot of fun, even if it took forever for the old-style iron head pushrod engine to get the Ka up to 100 km/h. The 1.3 litre 4-cylinder design apparently dates back to the Cortina and Escort! It made just 43 KW, slightly less than my SEAT Ibiza, but the Ka seemed to use it well.
After a while, I’d had my fun with the Ka – plus my purchase of an old Ford Capri meant the Ka was now sitting out on the driveway. So, up for sale it went – and it soon sold as a first car to a young lady, who drove all the way from Capalaba to look at it with her dad.
I’d had to buy a new battery and maybe 2 tyres, plus I recall paying my local Ford dealer a small amount of money to look up the radio code – which I then wrote down and kept in the car! So I made a small profit on the sale of this registered Ka.
Some months later, on a family drive, we were stopped at traffic lights at Capalaba, when we saw it go around the corner, with the young lady at the wheel. This K.A. or Ka car was still nice and shiny, like freshly smelted aluminium – or aluminum.