Article from drive.com.au
It's big and it's cheesy
By Joshua Dowling
The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday March 15 2002
It has been jumped on, set alight and driven to Broken Hill and back. It has been at the centre of a mock seige. The delivery car in the raw SBS-TV show Pizza does without special effects and, dripping fluids, turns up gamely to take whatever punishment is deep-dished out to it.
The makers of the The Dukes of Hazzard TV series had a dozen replicas of the General Lee stock-cum-stunt car; The Italian Job trashed 25 Minis to depict three terrorising Turin on film; and The Blues Brothers used 13 Chrysler Bluesmobiles and destroyed scores more police cars.
But there is just one bright yellow 1970 two-door VG Valiant in Pizza, the low-budget SBS comedy that tops a thin layer of plot with big helpings of fiction about multicultural Australia.
Masters of improvisation have nothing on the Valiant, whose biggest stunt is getting to the start of filming for each new episode.
The coupe is owned and not maintained by Paul Fenech (pictured), the show's founder, producer, writer, director and, as delivery boy Pauly, lead character.
Co-stars are grumpy pizza shop owner Bo Bo (Johnny Boxer), delivery driver and rap artist Sleek the Elite (Paul Nakad) and supermodel Claudia MacPherson (Annalise Braakensiek).
As Fenech slips into character, it becomes clear this is not going to be a regular Drive road test. Pauly suggests a cruise to Bondi, Blues Brothers-style. His only stipulation: not to venture too far from NRMA road service coverage.
Pauly opens the passenger's door and wriggles across to the steering wheel. The driver's door is held shut by Pauly's favoured fix-it, "chook wire", wrapped around the rear window winder.
Access is via the passenger's door or driver's window, a la Dukes of Hazzard.
And that's just the beginning. What viewers might not see is that the indicator globes work but the indicator stalk has snapped off. The brake lights don't work but, as Pauly eagerly points out, turning the headlights on and off has the same effect.
The side mirror has snapped off and the rear vision mirror vibrates so much that it's useless. Pauly has perfected a half-turn of his torso to see the traffic behind.
The passenger's side windscreen wiper works, but not the driver's. "I love this car so much I only take it out in the dry," Pauly enthuses.
Security? Neither door can be locked. In the driver's door there's not even a barrel. Not that anyone would steal it, Pauly says. Bo Bo's boys would be around in no time with baseball bats to sort out the thief. Remember that Bo Bo, in one episode, set about cutting up a kangaroo in his kitchen with a chainsaw.
The Valiant's front number plate is held on by, you guessed it, lengths of the ever-handy chook wire. A plastic cap keeps what little petrol is in the tank from spilling. And there are three hub caps – someone stole the fourth one.
Brakes? Pauly refers to them as "some brake" or "slowers". Seatbelt? It's a dummy, a length of seatbelt webbing that goes over Pauly's shoulder and then dangles above the floor. Suspension? What suspension? Pauly says he prefers to feel the road to help his "creative flow". Make that feel every bump in the road.
"If you want to feel the road why spend $200,000 on a Porsche or a Ferrari when you can take the suspension out of a Valiant?" he yells above the coarse burble of the engine and countless squeaks and rattles in the interior.
"Lower the seats like me and you'll be at the same level. There is no difference between this and a Porsche or a Ferrari other than the price. Oh, and they get more hot chicks," he shrugs.
Engine? "Yeah, it's got one but the oil is that thick I'm not sure what size it is. You can't even tell if it's a six or an eight." For the Valiant trainspotters, it's the Regal 770 with 245 cubic inch Hemi six-cylinder.
There's a hole in the radiator, an oil leak from the engine and plenty of rust in the bogged-up body.
The registration label defies NSW regulations by being fixed to the driver's side. How does it pass rego?
"Ma-a-a-aate. No worries. I take it to my mechanic, Habib, who registers it but he doesn't always fix the problems, if you know what I mean."
Pauly says maintenance on the Valiant is difficult on Bo Bo's low wages. "Plus he keeps docking our super, taking the GST out, everything ... We're lucky to get $4 an hour plus tips."
Despite that, Pauly says, the yellow Valiant runs like a dream. To film episodes of the TV show he drove it to Broken Hill, Surfers Paradise, Canberra and Melbourne. It broke down twice on the way to Broken Hill but hasn't missed a beat since.
"I top the radiator up every third time I get in it and it's fine," he says. Inside, the car has a unique odour, a cocktail of pizzas, old carpet, Valiant vinyl and gaffer tape left by the camera crew.
Pauly apologies for the lack of what he describes as a "stereotypical wog sound system".
"I've lost the remote to the stereo so I can only listen to one station. It's stuck on 2WS, which is a real bummer. Although when you get Elvis that's all right.
"Habib said he was going to get me a real hot stereo but he hasn't delivered it yet. He said it wasn't in stock for a while." There is no antenna but, Pauly says, "there's so much metal in it I think they can pick this car up from the Hubble telescope".
Pauly complains that the TV crew have ruined the car's purple interior.
"They've got no respect," he grumbles. A crude black rubber mat stapled to the dashboard covers the cracks, purple trim covers the seats.
It's a humid day for our cruise. In minutes, sweat starts trickling down my back. Which brings us to the lack of air-conditioning.
"Mate, why spend a million dollars on all those tricky pipes, this and that, when you can have a little quarter window blow fresh air on you for free? You won't get any of that Foreign Legionnaires' disease. None of that. This is tip-top."
Thanks to the Valiant's unique driving position – the seat is jammed in a low setting that doesn't suit his diminutive frame – Pauly, in a red cap, is barely visible. Some might call it the Dicky Knee position. His strong physique might come from using the steering wheel as a chin-up bar. That, and the lack of power steering.
Curiously, the fuel gauge needle is waving at us. Pauly says it's the car's heartbeat. "I know it's alive when it does that," he says.
"There is plenty of fuel in there – it just says empty. I'm a quarter full rather than a three-quarters empty kind of guy. I put in two bucks every time I go to a servo and that gets me a couple of kays and then I go to another servo and put in another two bucks.
"I'd like to say I'm caring for the environment but basically Bo Bo doesn't pay us enough money.
"My dream is to one day fill it up, although the car may go into some sort of seizure. I'm waiting for the game show, Who wants to win a free tank of petrol?
"I was actually on a similar show once with that Eddie Galah but they ripped me off. They had all these tricky Anglo questions. It's not designed for chockos, that show."
Pauly says it takes a special talent to drive his mobile, as he tugs at the tiller as if it were a tall ship. "Mate, I'd put those Formula One drivers out of business. I'll put 15 bucks down right now that says I could drive this car faster than that Nigel Schumacher whatever-his-name-is. He'd have no chance in my car.
"Those F1 drivers, they've got to have all those special gauges and special brakes. They should try getting in a car with no gauges and no brakes. That's my challenge to those stooges.
"They should try driving a car that even though it says it's got three gears on the column shift it's only really got one – and no reverse.
"Learning to drive this car is like making one of those little model boats stand up in a bottle. There is so much science in this car that even that Karl what's-his-name from Triple J would have no explanations. It's that scientific, mate."
Among those scientific advances is the way Pauly has developed one-way glass to look like a film of dirt. His windscreen is so murky no-one can see in. "When you're having a lot of hit-run accidents like I do, it's better that you have some privacy so people can't see you. This way they can't identify you in court."
Pauly enjoys not having an indicator. He says it gives him the element of surprise. "As you know, I'm a bit of a ninja plus I do a bit of kickboxing. If you're on the road and you don't have the reflexes and you can't deal with any conditions you shouldn't be out there. It's all about being ready for anything that might happen.
"Indicators take the fun out of driving: everyone knows where you want to go. I like a bit of mystery.
"I'm actually thinking of starting my own driving school called Learn Stooge because there are so many stooges about. They can have 'Learn Trent', 'Learn Apia' ... why can't I have 'Learn Stooge'?"
For series one, the Pizza crew picked a phone number at random to display on the magnetic sign on the car – but it was a home number. The number for series two dials direct to SBS. There is only one sign – it is peeled off one door and stuck to the other to suit the camera shot.
The yellow coupe is Fenech's seventh Valiant. He got it four years ago from an uncle by trading two other Valiants (a black '68 and a white '65) and $1500. He drives it daily. SBS begins reruns of series two in May and will screen series three – and the Pizza movie – later in the year.