Not only did we witness the passing of one of the world’s most famous car enthusiasts in Paul Walker, we also lost our beloved Nelson Mandela, as well as being simultaneously pillaged by our own government. Some have called it E-toll Tuesday, Cosatu called it Black Tuesday and I struggle to think of a word that doesn’t evoke some type of profanatory explicative.
Motorists are now forced to not only pay to use the highways of Johannesburg and Pretoria, but have also been hit with a petrol-price hike of 17 cents per litre. I won’t subject you to another rant about how unfair e-tolling is; you know and have been inundated with many already. I am merely remarking on the audaciousness of the government who see it fit to introduce both a tolling scheme and petrol-price increase within 24 hours of one another.
But let us forget about the situation in our own province and rather focus on the life of Mr Walker and the importance of his most famous work.
He was born in 1973 in Glendale, California and began working in television at the age of 12. He first appeared on the radar of petrolheads in 2001 when he starred as Brian O’Conner in The Fast and the Furious. He reprised his role in another five instalments before the tragic accident that claimed his life midway through filming the seventh movie. I remember the first time I watched the original film - I felt as though I had witnessed the birth of a new cultural phenomenon.
I don’t know about you, but I also wanted an Acura (Honda) Integra like Ja Rule’s (even if he didn’t get the girl) or Dom Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) Mazda RX-7 FD with the monstrous sound system or perhaps the PlayStation-equipped Honda Civic EJ. Lest we forget the iconic green Mitsubishi Eclipse that O’Conner used to sneak his way into the racing scene and subsequently into the memory of car enthusiasts worldwide.
The legacy that the film left behind is still influencing popular car culture today. When you speak to someone with a performance car, they almost always have plans to ‘modify’ it - or ‘do it up’ as is the more colloquial term - and that is because of this pioneering piece of cinema.
More often than not it appears that these car-customisation fantasies come to varying degrees of fruition, whether it be cosmetic or performance-related upgrades, so consider that aftermarket exhaust or subwoofer that you installed and the bitter stares and head shakes it provokes while operating around town as an ode to Brain O’Conner himself. The street-racing circuit may not be something that I condone, but there is no doubting that the car culture the movie promoted will remain popular for decades to come.
Walker was also a part of what has to be one of the best racing scenes ever depicted on the big screen - when he pulls up next to Toretto’s heavily supercharged Dodge Charger in that orange Toyota Supra IV after they have just taken revenge on Johnny Tran’s gang. I still get the chills every time I think about the two cars heading towards a moving train.
The Charger was the hero of the race, thanks in no small part to the fact that it could literally wheelie its way into the lead.
But when I think back to a car that epitomises the film and Walker’s role in it, the Supra immediately comes to mind. The heart of the Japanese beast is still spoken of in the highest regard and even referred to by its engine name, the 2JZ, which is a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder capable of producing a staggering amount of power when tuned.
From smoking Ferraris driven by arrogant losers to chasing the proverbial bad guy and even helping a friend escape from the police, the Supra - like Walker - is the hero. His passing is a great tragedy. He would, however, not like his death to be a sad affair. Take this quote from the man himself, “If one day the speed kills me, do not cry because I was smiling.”
At least he passed away doing something that he truly loved and in true James Dean style, in the confines of a Porsche (and not just any Porsche - a Carrera GT) while sitting next to his best friend Roger Rodas.
For your contribution to the world of motoring Paul, I thank you.