It was the summer of 1972. I was 12 years old, and coincidently, so was my twin brother, Tim. One day after school, we both walked into the Fiat dealership that used to be located on the southeast corner of Bayview and Eglinton, years before the McDonald’s opened at that same spot. Tim was the daredevil and I was his agent. I asked to speak to the manager. We cooled our heels in the showroom for a few minutes before we were ushered into the manager’s office.
I had already instructed Tim to let me do that talking, so I took the lead.
“Thanks for seeing us. To get right to the point, my brother Tim here is prepared to jump his bicycle over four of your Fiats. It’s dangerous and it’s never been done before. Think of the publicity for your dealership.”
Just to give you a moment to catch up, you have to remember that back in 1973, Evel Knievel and his death-defying motorcycle jumps were all the rage. Tim and I were big fans and actually attended Evel’s 1974 jump at the Canadian National Exhibition. So, inspired by a crazy American dude in a white leather jumpsuit flying a Harley Davidson through the air, Tim and I, along with several neighbourhood kids, had been tempting gravity by jumping our bikes off a wooden ramp, soaring for quite some distance, and landing — sometimes even on the landing ramp. As the speeds, distances, and heights all increased, Tim emerged as the most skillful jumper of us all. Of course, he had saved his money and bought one of the very first bikes with shock absorbers. It was manufactured by Yamaha and was essentially a motorcycle without the motor. And man did it fly.
In hindsight, it’s a miracle none of us was seriously maimed. This was of course long before the days of bicycle helmets, let alone the laws that would eventually require them. We thought Tim just might be the next big thing on the stunt circuit. We painted the takeoff and landing ramps in a vibrant cream colour (it was the only paint we could find in the basement), and even stenciled Tim’s name in gold lettering on them. We were headed for the big time.
To stay in a jump-ready state, and to at least give the appearance of danger, we’d often stretch out a few neighbourhood kids, head to toe, between the ramps. We didn’t even make them sign release forms. Tim would soar over them and land perfectly. We even broke out the measuring tape one day and determined that Tim’s best jump covered 24 feet from liftoff to landing. And that was the moment the four Fiat bike jump idea was born. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the Snake River Canyon leap
Evel Knievel attempted some years later, but a 12 year old hurtling over four Fiats, now that would have been epic.
“Let me get this straight,” said the guy at the Fiat dealership. “You want me to loan you four Fiats so you can jump a bicycle over them?”
“How old are you?”
“Twelve,” I replied. “We’re both 12.”
“And you think there would be lots of publicity for my Fiat dealership.”
“Exactly!” I agreed, poised to close the deal.
“Well, I think you’re right. There would certainly be lots of publicity,” he said. “I think you’d better leave now.”
We were back on the street a few seconds later.
“I don’t get it. We were so close,” I said. “Let’s walk up to Rumble Pontiac Buick and see if they’ll give us their cars.”
“I don’t think so,” Tim replied. “Buicks are a lot bigger than Fiats.”
The big jump never happened.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of five national bestsellers, including his most recent, Poles Apart, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His sixth novel, One Brother Shy, was published in May, 2017.