When Ella Noble attended her high school formal in 2010, it was in a Toyota Corolla her mum bought for $200.
“I don’t know how they afford it these days,” she says.
“I’m from the South Coast, and the arrival wasn’t big back then.”
But times have changed. High school formals seem to have become a mini red-carpet affair, where students vie for the grandest entrance. Suave suits and swishing dresses are still the order of the day, but above all, a set of Insta-worthy wheels.
According to Ella, this bit shouldn’t cost a bomb. In a post to the Canberra Notice Board Group on Facebook, she offered her loud and proud (and very low) Ford Focus RS to those who can’t afford to be “chauffeured in some of these cars that kids are rocking up in”.
The cost is nothing to those who really need it.
“If you’re just trying to save money and could afford to pay someone then please move on,” she wrote.
“One, I will know, and two, please don’t take away from someone else less fortunate.”
What might be called a ‘Noble gesture’ was met with many messages, and Ella is now locked in to pick up four teenagers from their homes and drop them at formal venues that range from the National Arboretum to the National Museum of Australia next month.
The car is a 2018 ‘Limited Edition’ model, set apart to boffins by a limited-slip differential and gloss black roof and mirror caps. It had 30,700 km on the clock when Ella bought it last November, as a car she’d been eyeing up for some time as a replacement to her Ford Ranger.
Since then, she’s added aerodynamic splitters to the base of the car, inlays to the badges, mud flaps, a new air-intake system, and a short shifter that “limits the throw in the gears so you don’t have to move the lever as far” and last, but not least, an aftermarket exhaust.
“I’ve probably spent about $10K,” she says.
“It’s very fast, but there’s probably not quite enough power now – you get used it. It’s not quiet either, so it gets quite a lot of attention. I’m grateful for the tinted windows.”
It’s a daily driver first and foremost, complete with car seats in the back for her two young children. But the idea to offer it up as a formal car first came to her after she unwittingly found herself in a formal-car convoy in Yass a couple of years ago.
“I heard some people were paying like $200 to $250 just to get dropped off, and to me that seems really absurd because it’s not really much out of people’s way to drop off some kids,” she says.
She decided to go ahead with her idea this year, prompted by an accident in March when she was thrown from the back of a horse and left with an arm broken in three places.
“The horse flipped over backwards but didn’t crush me, thankfully; otherwise, I don’t think I’d be alive,” Ella says.
“It’s just not healing now, and I have to do ultrasound therapy every day. I already have a nine-hole plate in my arm.”
She only got back behind the wheel recently and is itching for more driving.
“I just thought, ‘Well, I can drive now and I haven’t been able to do anything, and, you know, all these formals are coming up and I’m sure there’s people that might appreciate it.”
She says the kids are all “very excited”.
“I had a teacher contact me saying how they have some kids who can’t afford it, which I think was really nice – to have teachers reaching out on their behalf to help.”
Ultimately, she says it doesn’t matter what car you turn up in.
“Some parents got back to me, saying how they’ve done formals for a number of years in a row, and it’s a lot of pressure on the kids. And thinking back, if I had that kind of pressure and attention, I wouldn’t like it at all.”
Needing a formal car but unable to afford it? Contact Ella Noble via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.