The Green Mamba is one of Africa’s deadliest snakes. It’s related to the cobra and like the cobra the venom affects the heart and breathing. It can kill within 30 minutes. It is a slender elegant snake with a light apple green skin. It’s also the nickname for the only car I have ever hated which hated me equally in return.
The Green Mamba was a bright apple green BMW 518, I think it’s year was 1974, but I can’t remember exactly. My dad had been doing work at a BMW showroom when the manager mentioned to him that the display car in the main window was going on sale. Would he be interested? An almost brand new BMW 518 for the less than half the normal price? What a question! .. and that was how the Green Mamba came into our lives.
My mom adored that car. It had real leather seats in palest cream and all the BMW trimmings. I liked it at first, but things would change as the years went by. Admittedly the apple green colour was rather bright, but since there were only two apple green BMWs ever made by the BMW factory in South Africa that kind of made us feel rather unique. It also made us stand out like a beacon in our small hometown which was a mixed blessing. You could never go anywhere without the entire town knowing about it.
Amongst my friends it got mixed reactions. A lot of them disapproved of me now being driven to school in a “snob” car. These were the same friends who didn’t mind quite so much when my mom took us all through to the movies in it. For the record you can fit seven teenagers, one dog and one mother in a BMW 518.
Our pet poodle hated the Green Mamba. It had bucket seats and a raised centre for the gear lever that made the front floor area very restricted. His first car had been a Ford automatic where he used to lie in the centre of the wide open front floor with his nose wedged against the air vent being force-fed the outdoor smells. The BMW had side air vents and nowhere for a dog to lie in luxury. Added to his misery there were no little side windows to poke his head out and the back window was angled to a degree where the sun came in and heated him up like a pie in a warming drawer. He’d spend an entire trip in that car moving from place to place sighing and glaring at us as if to say, “I’m in extreme discomfort and it’s all your fault!”
I can’t remember exactly when I started hating the Green Mamba, but I can tell you why. Within a year or two it started acting up. We’d stop at a shop or a friend’s house.. and it just wouldn’t start again. At first my dad tried to figure it out himself, then he called in friends and they would stand in the garage and stare into its unfathomable depths. When all their tweaking and fiddling left us no better off the Green Mamba was sent to the mechanics. Over the years that car was to visit every single mechanic in our area, and beyond. We even sent it back to BMW themselves. Everyone had theories about the ailment, but no one ever cured it. Thinking back the warnings signs had been there from pretty early on. A German mechanic friend had a look at it just after we bought it. He said the engine had been damaged and patched and we should sell it. It seemed crazy at the time that this sleek shiny new car could be “impaired” so my parents decided to keep it against his advice.
Whatever happened to it before it came to us it we’ll never know. All I can say is that it never worked like a sane normal car. You’d go for months with everything perfect and then one day you’d turn the key and.. nothing. We had the starter motor replaced as well as all sorts of other bits I have no names for. Car innards aren’t my strong point.
The weird thing is it never refused to start at home, it only saved this for humiliating annoying times and places. It would usually start if pushed and I have pushed that @#%* car more times than I even want to remember. I’ve pushed it in high heels and evening dress in the middle of the night, I’ve pushed it in pouring rain and gale force winds, I’ve pushed it uphill to be able to get to a downhill and I’ve pushed it across a main road in full rush hour traffic. It’s favourite trick was to "die" parked facing down so that you had to struggle, gasp and sweat to get it up and out before you could even begin pushing to start it. My personal all-time favourite memory is a day when I went with my mom to the doctor and had to push it wearing summer slip-on sandals. Every time I pushed I shot out my shoes. It was hilarious.
It’s also interesting to see who will stop and offer to help and who won’t. My all-time thanks goes to a lovely lady in gold jewellery and teeny gold sandals who pushed us when my mom came to get me from hospital once. I couldn’t push or drive and we were totally stuck that day until our glittery guardian angel arrived on the scene. How she managed to push us in those sandals is surely a miracle.
It had another sneaky trick too. Sometimes it would start if you let it stand a while, but there were no guarantees. So you could sit there like an idiot for an hour and still find it wouldn’t start. Plus pushing didn’t always work. Then you’d still be stuck, but now you were also stuck in the middle of a road. As this was in the days before mobile phones if we were stuck one of us would have to hike off to find a payphone. Can I now say to the mean old man in the video store who wouldn’t let me use his telephone even though I offered to pay - GO SUCK LEMONS! :-P I had to walk miles further to find a phone that day.
Why didn’t we get rid of it? Optimism kept us trapped. It looked so good and it sounded so good and to be honest is was a very safe and pleasurable car to drive - once it started. It had a way of hugging the road when you turned corners and a deep rumbly purr that made you feel you were driving something special. BMW is a first class car. Ours just never was “right”.
Which brings me to my statement that the Green Mamba hated me. I learnt to drive in that car, but once I had my license I rarely drove it. The Green Mamba had other ideas. I’d say, “I’ll drive to town today” and we’d walk outside and find a tyre was flat, or the battery dead. The only times it ever refused to start at home was on days I tried to drive. Once, when I got really mad and said, “I’m driving it tomorrow no matter what!” the water piper snapped while we were out. The engine block cracked and the entire engine had to be replaced. That was my wake-up call. I finally admitted defeat and stopped trying to drive it. From then on I only ever travelled as passenger and emergency pusher, never as driver. Over the years I got into the habit of going with my mom just in case she needed someone to push start.
My parents finally decided that the time had come for the Green Mamba to move on. A young enthusiastic friend begged to buy it. We tried to put him off, but he was convinced he could turn the old girl around. Life was busy and time passed. Then one day a family friend phoned to say, “Have you seen where the Green Mamba is now?”
He said he’d been on his way to work at about 5:00 am when he’d seen “them” . Three “ladies of the night” PUSHING a bright apple green BMW. We phoned the young friend and he confessed all. He’d sold the Green Mamba to an escort agency. A unique ending for an admittedly unique car.