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Tire Dilemma keeps Sowerby up at night

September 24th, 2009


For the last 12 months I’ve had something on my mind that’s been embarrassing to discuss with anyone in any detail. It’s not a medical condition that will eventually consume me or an addiction that will take over my life. Not a tasteless skeleton about to emerge from a long forgotten closet either.

The situation has to do with the 1991 Pontiac Firefly I bought new almost two decades ago. There’s guilt associated with hanging on to a three-cylinder car that I don’t drive very much. Insure it, store it, another dipstick to deal with. But it has been a great car and hey, back in the day, it was the most fuel-efficient car on the market.

It’s not stubborn refusal to sell the Fly that has been keeping me awake at night though. The matter at hand is the Nova Scoria safety inspection due to be renewed at the end of September and the Michelin ZX radial tires that barely made the grade at the inspection station last year. I know I’ll have to replace the Michelins this year.

Problem is Michelin doesn’t produce 155 R12 tires any more. I know because I’ve been looking for a set all year. With slim pickin’s in the 12-inch wheel size, it looked like the only option was to go back to the original size tires,145 R12 Goodyears that were so skinny, they looked like a cross between an elastic band and a shoelace.

I replaced the Goodyears when ‘the Fly’ had 32,000 kilometres on it. I couldn’t wait for the day I went to Costco and scored a set of 155 R12 Michelin Z snow tires with the funky criss-cross European tread. The next day I drove the Fly on an extended business trip to Toronto, Detroit, Nashville, Washington and New York. Yep, big time operator in the Firefly with the snazzy oversized boots. It cost just $125 for fuel on the 10-day junket.

But with the end of the month as well as the end of the validation for the Nova Scotia safety sticker looming, I had to bite the bullet and prepare for the eventual downsizing of the Firefly tires. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not proud of this, but the idea of installing those 145s on my Firefly really did keep me awake at night from time to time. Not that I’ve turned into a sleep-deprived danger that needs to be kept away from the public, but the thought of skinnier tires on my Firefly gave me a bad case of the heebie-jeebies.

So last week I visited Derek Bemister, owner operator of Bemister’s Auto repair shop on Windmill Road in Dartmouth.

When I met Derek in 1994, we immediately hit it off. He knew vehicles inside out and his sense of humour and ability to get to the root of a mechanical problem and solve it in an expeditious, professional manner made him an obvious go-to person when it came to sorting through the maintenance requirements of my quirky fleet of vehicles. The fact that Derek consistently did the work for a fee that didn’t force me to put a second mortgage on the house wasn’t bad either.

“It needs a safety, Derek. So try and find me some 155 R12s. It needs a muffler too along with anything else you find.”

I didn’t have to tell Derek that I wanted the tailpipe to look stock, neat and tidy. I hate the wrong tailpipe on anything, especially my Firefly.

“Even after 80,000 clicks, there’s lots of tread left but they are weather-cracked, so no go for safety this year.” Derek has serviced the Firefly since it came off warranty 15 years ago and understands how attached I am to the oversized Michelins.

I left the Firefly in Derek’s hands not holding out much hope of him finding the coveted millimetre-wider tires. I was preparing for the worst.

When I dropped in at Bemister’s Auto a few days later Derek’s dog, Vincent, a beautiful long-legged German Shepherd, greeted me like a long-lost relative. I avoided looking at the Firefly and instead chatted with Derek about the time I hired him to help with the national media launch of the heavy-duty GM pick-ups in the Rocky Mountains.

Then we ranted about how he beat me in the race to rebuild pick-up trucks in the late 1990s. I started with a 1965 Ford F100 and he with a ‘65 Chevy short-box. OK, he has a gazillion horse-powered hot rod now and my stock rebuild job looks like a spiffy Texas farm truck.

Just before I dropped the tire size bomb, an old friend of Derek’s, one of his many drop-in visitors, arrived and held me hostage with tales of driving a 65-ton Freightliner road-train tanker supply truck between Edmonton and Fort MacMurray for 3 weeks every month.

Right about the time he and Derek got into the intricate details of turning a 4-door ’57 Chevy into a two-door post sedan, I headed for the shop to see what was up in the tire department. Vincent was right behind me, tail in full wag mode.

My weather-cracked Michelins were stacked up in the corner looking dejected. I eyed the tailpipe. Just right. From my vantage point, the tires looked about right too. Not too skinny.

I checked the sidewall. They were Hercules 155 R12s with a cool tread pattern. Hey a Firefly with a set of oversized Hercules tires? Oxymorons are OK.

“Where did you find them, Derek?” I considered the hours spent on the Internet searching for 155 R12 tires.

Derek Bemister grinned secretively. “And does the tailpipe meet with your approval, Mr. Sowerby?”

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