real life

Chivalry isn't dead, it's just that central-locking is alive


My husband and I went out for breakfast the other morning. We had a great meal, chatted and laughed, walked back to the car holding hands, used the key to centrally unlock the car and headed for home.

It struck both of us at the same time that it had been a long time since he’d opened the car door for me.

When we started going out in 1980, we had a get-in-the-car ritual that carried us through dating, engagement and early marriage – he would unlock and open the door for me and I would get in and reach over to unlock the door for him.

By the Nineties, when we got our first centrally locked car, it was so tricky to load half the house into the car if we wanted to go anywhere with our two young kids that unlocking the doors with one push of a button was welcome relief.

“Remember when you used to open the door for me?” I asked. “I do”, he said. Cars with central locking took the chivalry out of our relationship. And it got me thinking about our various family cars and how each one has reflected our time in life.

We each had our own car in the beginning. Mine was a 1974 Mazda 1300, full of shoes and rarely washed. It got me where I wanted to go. I desperately wanted a Suzuki Hatch but a new car was out of the question on a 17-year-old’s wage.

He longed for a 4-wheel drive but drove a 1980 Gemini SL-X, always washed, polished and tidy to a fault. This was the first guy I went out with who had his own car and when he opened the door for me I swooned. Calculating on his part? Maybe. But it worked. This was the car we took on our honeymoon.

Our next car was purely practical: a Subaru station wagon. We figured it was still a bit fun – we could take it off-road if it wasn’t too off-road – but it had room for all the stuff that other parents assured us we would need for the baby we were expecting. After the baby was born, whoever wasn’t carrying our precious bundle opened the door. And we only took it off-road once. Our baby was a projectile vomiter and bumping around off-road wasn’t a wise move, although we did learn that 80 was a good speed to soothe a screaming baby at three in the morning.

Along came a second baby and another car. We stuck with a station wagon, a 1987 Toyota Camry CSX, which, in classic urban myth style, we bought off an elderly lady who had used it to go to church on Sundays.


The Camry was white, so it wouldn’t show the dirt if there wasn’t time to wash it, and comfortable enough for the kids to sleep on the long drive to Queensland for holidays. Definitely a family car, definitely not a car for romance.

Finally, in the mid-Nineties, our first new car – a 1994 Holden Acclaim VRII. It not only had that new car smell, for the first time we had central locking. With an increasingly busy, child-oriented lifestyle, the convenience of running to the car, pressing a button and getting on our way without having to unlock individual doors was luxurious. There was plenty of room for bikes, dance costumes, cricket and soccer gear, and wide enough that on long trips the kids couldn’t reach each other (although they could still look out each other’s window, which is apparently NOT ALLOWED).

Then it was back to two cars again: mine a 1999 Hyundai Excel, full of shoes and rarely washed, the car our kids learnt to drive in, and my husband’s a 2002 Holden Calais, always washed and polished, with various mod-cons including double-click central locking. Now double-clicking is a great safety feature but sometimes my husband absent-mindedly forgot to press the key twice and left me stranded on my side of the car, patiently (ish) waiting for the second click.

Now we have the cars we dreamed about as teenagers. Mine is a Suzuki Hatch, bright red and (hurrah!) no sharing with P-platers, and my husband has his four-wheel drive: a Toyota Rav.

Every now and then, we reminisce about the old romantic gestures in our relationship BK (Before Kids) and look forward to creating new ones. Maybe with a car that will rekindle our special ritual. Something like a classic MG (husband’s contribution to the story).

But chivalry hadn’t really died. It just sat quietly in the back seat. All through the kids and cars I got roses every anniversary and my husband washes my little red car and looks after the tyres, oil and whatever else makes my car safe. Very chivalrous.

Janet Fulton is a wife, mother and Nan, who loves popular culture, trashy books, magazines and TV. She Tweets here.

What car do you drive? Does it have a story?