Monday, November 9, 2009

Confessions of a Car Guy

Folks around the old radio station often approach me (and I've asked them countless times not to do that) and ask for car advice. It seems everyone knows me as a "car guy" so they think I might be able to impart some special wisdom about cars, be it their purchase or repair.

Okay. That's not entirely true.

It would be more factually correct if I were to describe myself as a "car nerd". Furthermore, I have the most-assuredly annoying habit of trying to turn any conversation about anything into a chat about cars.

Boss-type person: "Did you see your latest ratings? The numbers are not pretty."
Me: "Not pretty? I'll tell you what's not pretty . . . the Pontiac Aztek"!

Believe it or not, occasionally someone will actually ask me for some car advice. So, in the interest of full disclosure for anyone who might seek my counsel, I thought I'd run down the list of every car I've ever owned, along with a brief explanation as to "why".

1) 1965 Dodge Polara 4-dr sedan

My first car. And truth be told, I loved it. It was an "old man's car". I knew that because I bought it from an old man. For $75. Metallic tan with a tan interior. Bench seats. Loaded (except for a/c, of course). And under the hood . . . Mopar's legendary 383, with a 4 barrel carb. I don't like to brag, but I dusted a Mustang Boss 350 once on Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore County. So why I sold it and a bought a . . .

2) 1963 Volkswagen Beetle

. . . I'll never know. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually, I always like Beetles. They were light, easy to work on, got great mileage (back when gas was 50 cents a gallon that was important), and a ball to drive. So what if you couldn't turn the radio and wipers on at the same time? I do remember selling it for more than I paid for it (a feat I've never repeated).

3) 1971 Subaru FF-1 2-dr sedan

I bought this car from my dad. That's right . . . he made me buy it from him. For $500. My father had a genuine affection for unusual cars. Our driveway was always festooned with Ramblers, Studebakers, Checkers (yep, the people that made cabs), Citroens, and, yes, Subarus. One of the area motorcycle dealers decided to add the Subaru line. And when nobody would buy them (1971, remember?) they sold every one they had on the lot for $1,900 cash, your choice of color. Dad brought home a white one, I guess because it resembled a refrigerator. I learned to drive a stick in that car. And it was the car my wife Kathy and I drove from Baltimore to our new life together in Virginia Beach.

4) 1971 Chevrolet Nova 2-dr coupe

So, we set up house in Virginia Beach. My first radio job had me working in downtown Norfolk so the plan was for me to use the car and for Kathy to take the bus to her job. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Bus? What bus? Coming from Baltimore, we figured every city had great bus service.

"Hello, Tidewater Regional Transit. May I help you? You want to go from where to where? On one of OUR busses? Really? What made you think you could do that?"

So, off to the dealer we went. And we found a nice clean Nova at Beach Ford. It had a 250 straight six and a two speed automatic transmission. Let's count them together. One and . . . two. That's it. Consequently, it got horrible mileage. I remember stopping for gas about every eight blocks. As an added bonus, the car began to shed it's paint shortly thereafter. We had it painted at Earl Scheib (remember him?) for about 99 bucks. And I can assure you that it looked exactly how you would imagine a $99 paint job would look. And the most atrocious shade of Kelly green ever. We kept leaving it unlocked with the keys in it, hoping it would get stolen. Fat chance.

5) 1976 Honda Civic 2-dr hatchback

Our first new car! A real sweet little ride. But mostly little. A Mini Cooper looks like an Escalade next to a first-generation Civic. Drove it til the engine burned up. Twice. Then traded it for . . .

6) 1979 Honda Accord 2-dr hatchback

This was the first year for the Accord and dealers couldn't keep them on the lot. We literally took the first one off the truck that wasn't spoken for. It didn't matter to me, unless it was a beige one. I hated the beige one. Guess which one we got?

7) 1981 Buick Century Station Wagon

We started a family. And I've always had fond memories of family vacations when I was a kid, piled in a never-ending stream of Detroit's finest 'wagons. Our Buick looked great. But as far as reliability was concerned . . . did I tell you it looked great?

8) 1985 Plymouth Reliant

Alright, I can hear you laughing. Mr. Car Guy bought a K-car? Let me explain. My beloved Accord was accordianed in an accident on I-64. We didn't have a lot of money so I found a selection of Lee Iacoca's best at Greenbrier Chrysler-Plymouth. Your choice of color. $6995. I picked a silver one with a dark red interior. I imagine it's what the Tin Man looked like after he got his heart. It was like driving a toaster oven, but it lived up to it's name and was quite reliable.

9) 1989 Ford Taurus Station Wagon

I got tired of Kathy calling me every twelve minutes telling me the Buick had failed to start, acquired a flat, or caught fire. So we traded it in (suckers!) on a new Taurus wagon. It was a very nice car with power everything and a third row seat for the kids (remember them?). But as the miles piled up, so did the repair bills. Until finally the car's 3.0 liter V-6 and it's automatic transmission decided to go their separate ways. Jon & Kate had a more amicable breakup.

10) 1991 Nissan Maxima 4-dr/5-speed sedan

Without a doubt the nicest car we've owned, so far. I was finally able to unload the Reliant and buy a car I really really wanted. Black. Sleek, fast, comfortable. And extremely well made. I literally didn't spend a penny on repairs for the first 100,000 miles. Really. And we all fit nicely plus the trunk was big enought to hold my '76 Civic, so it became our family car. The kids were older and Kathy had gone back to school at ODU, so we decided to replace the Taurus with something smaller and more economical. That's why we bought a . . .

11) 1995 Toyota Corolla 4dr sedan

This car served Kathy nicely during her college years (although it always smelled vaguely of Heineken and weed). In fact, it was the car we handed down to the kids when they learned how to drive. That meant we needed another Family Truckster, so we got a . . .

12) 1999 Ford Windstar

I've always thought that minivans get a bum rap. I know SUV's reek of manliness and conjure up images of trailblazing the wilderness. But for hauling around family and/or stuff you can't beat a minivan. When daughter Diana went off to college we loaded an entire dorm room full of belongings in the back. The Windstar has become our family adventure vehicle, taking us to the Great Smokys, Deep Creek Lake and to family gatherings in Baltimore more times than I can count. And fairly reliably, too, although we're currently on transmission #2.

13) 2001 Mazda Miata LS

It's early spring, 2002. I've been driving my trusty Maxima for eleven years. Our current vehicles are paid for and our spawn are tired of sharing the Corolla ("You take it! No, you take it!"). Time for Daddy to get some new wheels. Years before I had acquired a 1974 Triumph TR-6, one of my favorite sports cars. I drove it for fun for a few years. But it being a British car it had coughed up it's clutch. So I parked it in the garage with every intention of fixing it. Some day. It's still there, under a gray car cover, waiting for my mechanical skills to expand expotentially. So I passed the Maxima onto son Matt and bought the modern day version of a British roadster, the Miata. Without a doubt the most fun you can have in a car with your clothes on. Ask me how I know.

14) 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse 2-dr hatchback

For years my long-suffering wife Kathy had been forced into a series of "Mom" cars . . . station wagons, minivans, econoboxes. It was time for her to have a little fun of her own. So I surprised her with the Eclipse. And she loves it. It looks good on her, too. I must say it is a most under-appreciated car. Fun to drive. Solidly built. Plenty of grunt, even with the 4 banger. And you don't pass yourself on the road a dozen times a day like you would in a Honda Civic.

So there you have it. A complete (more or less) history of all my rides. Except for my Honda Shadow Spirit motorcycle. And Kathy's Kawasaki. And a Rambler American I'm trying desperately hard to forget.

So, go ahead. Ask me anything. I'm a car guy.
Trust me.