Isn’t it amazing how one simple car can leave a lasting impression?
In the spring of 1995, there was a lot going on in my world as a teenager in Smithers, British Columbia, none larger than the passing of each day to reach my 16th birthday in June of that year. I had already long memorized my ICBC issued ‘Safe Driver’s Guide’ to the point that the booklet had lost its shape, and I was eagerly awaiting my opportunity to write my learner’s license and get on the road. Living in a small town in Northern BC, I needed an escape, any kind of escape, but preferably with four wheels.
It was during those cool, late-winter days that my Mom was looking to upgrade from her pristine, red-over-black 1992 Ford Tempo GL sedan that she had purchased new during the summer of ’92. It was Mom’s ‘first car’ and she loved it, spending lots of time washing, waxing and pampering that cherry red sedan. While most can tell a tale of their own experiences with the Tempo, Mom’s certainly was a winner and while it was in mint condition in and out, she was looking for something a little more personable, though I should also note that the rapid depreciation was also weighing in on the decision to move on to something else.
It was at O’Neill Chev-Olds in Smithers that she found herself something ideal: a 1995 Chevrolet Beretta Z26. I’ll point out, of course, that the Beretta two-door had already been available on the market for several years along with its four door sedan counterpart in the Chevrolet Corsica. That said, this was the first appearance of a new Z26 model in town, despite the fact it was available as of the 1994 model year. Smithers is not much of a ‘car’ town given its location in Northern BC, it’s truck country in those parts, so while we would have Corsicas and Berettas in small numbers around town, they were of the Plain Jane variety. A pair of fresh, shiny Z26s on the local lot was something different!
The pair consisted of one Z26 in red and one Z26 in white. Mom initially fell for the red finish first, given her love for the bright red ’92 Tempo she was looking to upgrade from. I remember getting home from work that weekend and Mom excitedly telling me about the car she found and how it was exactly what she was looking for. It was the right combination of style (the Beretta stood out of the crowd by the mid-90s given how curvy and round cars were becoming by that time), performance and features. The 3.1L V6 delivered punchy acceleration and its sport tuned exhaust delivered the sound. Mom was hooked, but it still had to be the right deal.
It was during the slow paced negotiations on the trade-in that the red Z26 was scooped up, interestingly enough that buyer lived just around the corner from us. While she was sad that she didn’t get a chance to pick up the red Z26, she looked to the other option in the white option instead. I believe the negotiations on the white went on for another week or so, but in the end, the dealer came up to the right price point and the deal was done.
Somewhere there is a picture of us standing in front of that car on the dealership lot on a dreary March 1995 morning and I remember Mom and I driving around town all day in that car, tunes blaring, numerous spins up and down Main Street, just enjoying the new ride. I was absolutely hooked on it too… for me, it represented everything I wanted in a car: booming stereo, lots of power, tons of options, all drenched in beautiful new car smell… I just couldn’t afford something like it!
The day I turned 16 in June 1995 I went in and passed my learner’s test and drove home with that coveted paper in hand, though it wasn’t in the Beretta. It actually became the forbidden fruit… I certainly was not allowed to drive it while I was still fresh… and even once I was a fully qualified driver six weeks later, it was still only on the odd occasion when I was accompanied by Mom that I was allowed to drive it.
I had purchased a 1990 Chevrolet Sprint as my first car and while I was completely happy with it, the Beretta was still that much more amazing. That said, I understood my Mom’s hesitation in allowing me the freedom to run around in her car whenever I wanted and I was more than happy with the little bit of time I did get to have with it back then, usually when I got to take it down to the car wash and get it all shined up for her, ‘accidentally’ taking a few spins around town afterwards to dry it off before bringing it back home.
In the summer of 1996, we took the Beretta on its first significant road trip, which was a long weekend drive down to Vancouver so that Mom & my younger brother could take in Garth Brooks. I was happy to go along for the ride and keep Mom company, allowing her to switch off driving with me for the long 12 hour run from Smithers. We were making great time and into the last leg of the journey in the Fraser Canyon when a red Chevy pick up came across the center line on a corner at the summit of Jackass Mountain, heading straight at us.
I am not sure exactly what happened, but fortunately for us the front bumper of the truck hit the back driver’s side of the Beretta and knocked us off course, instead of striking us (and killing us) head on. The car squealed and twisted on the asphalt for a few moments after impact but Mom managed to hold on to the wheel tight and get it straightened out and I am forever grateful for that, given we would have gone over a steep embankment and rolled down into the Fraser River instead. We reported the incident at Boston Bar’s RCMP detachment and I would carry on the drive into Vancouver from there. I should note that there was very little damage to the car, just a few scratches in the paint and a light depression in the metal, it was fixed up to factory condition a few weeks later.
After 10 years of service, Mom was starting look for something new. The Beretta had been a trusty, reliable vehicle for her for many years and while it was still in great condition all around, it was time for something fresh. Mom called me just after New Year’s 2006 to tell me about some of the choices she had found in her searches and one particular vehicle that stood out, a 2005 Hyundai Tucson that was a dealer ‘demo’ model and was therefore equipped with every single option and available accessory piece. It was exactly what she had been looking for.
Of course, that left the question, what was going to happen to that beloved Beretta? Mom would get absolutely crushed on trade and the car, while being 11 years old, only had 77,000 km on the clock, barely broken in! I also couldn’t stomach the thought of someone else enjoying it, so I made arrangements to buy it and take it home. I remember the day I met Mom in Prince George to pick up the car. We had lunch together prior to her handing me the keys and the papers. It was an amazing day, like the passing of the torch. The trip back to Calgary in the Beretta was quick, smooth and absolutely flawless with great fuel mileage in turn, something my Mom had always appreciated about the car. I will admit too, that I pushed that car to the limits on some quiet, lonely straight stretches on the Yellowhead highway and it handled those speeds with ease.
It became my daily driver in Calgary and handled the grind well, though it racked up the miles at a significantly quicker pace than it was used to, reaching 100,000 km about a year later. It needed a set of front brakes replaced and a new muffler (which I upgraded a bit to sweeten its wonderful exhaust note) and I tossed on a set of 17″ 5-spoke rims I had kicking around to give it an updated look, it’s ‘cabbage shredder’ type OEM wheels were very old school at that point. All in all, I enjoyed many hours behind the wheel of that car, all of those years later, in an entirely different place.
My wife and I would take it on a road trip out to Kamloops in the hot summer months of 2007 and once again, it provided us with a flawless journey, handling the tight curves of the mountain passes on the Trans Canada highway. I remember a young fellow stopping me to chat about the car during a gas stop in Revelstoke, remarking about the uniqueness of the car and offering to provide his number should I ever want to sell it. Always a head turner, that car was for Mom and I, at least in our circles!
In 2008 and after more than two years of heavy commuting (reaching almost 70,000 km in those two plus years), it was time to look to retirement. I became a father in May of that year and the occasional trip I would have to take with an infant in the back of the Beretta would highlight the need for a second ‘family friendly’ vehicle. While many would wonder how I could let it go after so many years, I would simply say that Mom and I both got our full enjoyment out of it. Mom had a long relationship with it, very short drives over a long period of time. I had a short relationship with it, but spent a lot of time in it, racking up almost similar miles in two and a half years as Mom did during her 11.
In December of that year, I said goodbye, though I wasn’t around to see the car leave. By that time, it had began to drip power steering fluid and had developed a rust hole in the lower driver’s side door jamb (a very odd location for sure), but it still ran like it was new and still had shiny paint. I let it go for $2,800 to a nice younger fellow who lived out in Banff and that is likely where it carried out its final days, riding on base Cavalier steel wheels and hubcap, as I had let go of the ‘cabbage shredders’ and had a buyer for the 17″ 5-spokes it rode on. It left my house, as my wife told me, plowing away in the snowfall we received that day, sort of a fitting end to its time in our lives, biting through the snow like Mom always said no other car could.
For almost 14 years that car was appreciated in all aspects of vehicle ownership: style, options, performance, efficiency, reliability and gave the most cherished of them all, a lifetime of memories.