Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baby you can drive my car...

(Updated in 2015. Originally posted Jan 13, 2006)

As I dropped off my car at the dealer for some maintenance work today I started thinking about all the cars I've owned - and how many of my memories, and how much of my history, can be mapped through the vehicles I've driven. You could say my personal reality (though not necessarily my "personality") was reflected by my choice of ride.

In my driving age life I've so far had the experience of owning (in one form or another) twenty-two vehicles - if you allow the motorcycle. Some were purchased, some were acquired, some were used and some were new. Not all were what could be considered my "first choice" in an automobile. But all were compelling enough that somehow the cash left my wallet and the keys went into my hand without any embarrassment or remorse... well, with one exception.

And of course, all have stories.

So what does a vehicle mean about you? I don't know. The best I can do is provide a brief snapshot of where each car came in my life. I'll let you figure the rest out.

The tour begins...

1979: '65 Ford Galaxie 500
My first car - inherited when my uncle died. It had 150,000 miles and spark plugs that were fused to the engine casing. After 30 days of trying to get it running right, it dies a horrible death when the engine seized. Let that be lesson #1: oil is important.

1979: '70 Chevy Vega
After the Galaxy died I purchased my neighbors rusting out Vega for $200, until I could find that "cool" car I wanted. I ended up having the Vega through two years of high school and the beginning of my dating life. Damn stick on the floor put a damper on a lot of things. So did the water leaking from the windshield onto the passenger seat. When three engine mounts rusted out and the engine would smack the inside of the hood when it would start it was time to part with it. Got $50 from the salvage yard.

1980: '72 Chevy Malibu 4dr
Had a $50 deposit down on a 70 Mustang and needed Mom to go up and sign for it. She came home with the banana boat - big yellow ("cream" I insisted) 4dr Malibu. I was mad for years. But the Malibu ended up being a great car for a high school senior, and college freshman. Big bench seats, a big V8, and a smooth ride. Didn't look cool, but it acted cool. Got my first experience with installing a stereo and with doing fiberglass body repair on this one. As with all 60s and 70s Chevys, rust was its ultimate demise - but not before it lasted a good 3+ years. It was the car that made the infamous NYC tour in 1981... but that's for another story.

1983: '78 Toyota Celica hatchback
First car I purchased on my own, during my second year of college. Used my student loan to buy it (since "transportation" was a valid expense). Famous for one drunken night in the middle of winter, at 1:00 am, when at a friend's house I declared "let's put a sunroof in" and we proceeded to cut a hole out of the roof with a single old jigsaw blade. Believe it or not, it was one of the only sunroofs I've ever had that didn't leak. Backed it into a tree at a party and got my first experience with dent pullers. I think it would have run forever - it's probably still out there today.

1985: '85 Toyota Celica GTS
My first new car. I guess I thought my current college debt wasn't enough. Didn't think the dealer would finance it and was just having a little fun test driving cars on a Saturday (I didn't have money or a job) and ended up driving home a $19,000 car. My first manual transmission. And what a screamer it was. The most fun to drive car I've ever owned. But in my early 20's I was lucky to live through the "immortal phase" with this car. Passing a semi at 115MPH on the shoulder was a blast at the time. Went flying past two highway patrol cars doing 120MPH and they never pulled out. Must have been break time. Finally run over by a semi... at a traffic light. Never quite the same after that. Had it for four years - longest I've ever driven a car. Finally sold it when I quit my high paying job to go back to school.

1987: '79 Jeep CJ7
Still had the GTS, but bought the Jeep to fulfill a promise to my roommate at the time. If he'd buy a boat, I'd buy something to pull it with. So, the idiot ran out and bought a 21' Bayliner. The other idiot, thought it would be cool to have a Jeep. It was - just not to pull a 21' Bayliner with! After numerous incidents, and near incidents (sinking the Jeep in the river trying to pull the boat out) the roommate and I finally parted ways. I kept the CJ7 a few more years and enjoyed the hell out of it. What a blast. 25, single, sports car, Jeep and a motorcycle... I was lovin' life...

1987: '70 Pontiac GrandPrix
What do you do when you're 24, you have a motorcycle a sports car and a Jeep and your insurance rates are astronomical? You buy a $500 beater and insure it as your primary vehicle and get a "fleet rate" on the rest of your fleet. Bad brakes and a bad engine, this one sat parked on the street for about two years. In the end it had it's roof cut off with a chainsaw and sacrificed its life to become a fraternity float car.

1987: '80 Kawasaki 440 LTD
Weekend fun and easy parking... need I say more? Never ran great, and 55MPH was about its limit. Wife to be loved it, Mother-in-law to be hated it. But it was fun while it lasted. In 1991 (when I was preparing to get married) after I watched a muffler kick out from under an 18-wheeler, hit about 20 feet in front of me and bounce right over my head, I knew it was time to hang my helmet up...

1990: '80 Dodge (Shelby) Charger
Quit my engineering job and went back to school while working at the Disney Store (Really!). Sold all my other stuff, including the GTS (although I kept the motorcycle) and bought this from a "friend". Okay she was someone I was trying to get to be more than a friend (this was a few weeks before meeting wife to be of course) but alas... Anyway, bought this thing for $500 as a tie-over. The only thing "Shelby" about this puppy was its paint job. Worst car I ever owned - and the scariest too. Thought I was going to die on more than one occasion in the snow. Just up and died after about 5 months. Good riddance.

1991: '91 Hyundai Scoupe
Almost married, with a dead Charger, I needed something cheap - but didn't want an old beater. Got a brand new Scoupe for $8K. Say what you like, it was actually a good little car. Had it four years - and then was married, had a house, and was ready for a change and something a little nicer.

1991: '85 Ford Mustang
Okay, I didn't really own this one - it was my wife's car when we got married. So I acquired it through marriage. What a lousy car this was. Thank god it finally got hit from the rear and everything started dying at the same time. (Too bad when it got hit we were inside it.) Nothing like having to have the heater on full blast in 95 degree weather so the damn engine wouldn't overheat. Good riddance to you too.

1993: '93 Mazda 626 LX
Replaced the Mustang as my wife's car (I still had the Scoupe). She loved it and it became mine years later - when it should have been traded in. All in all, it was a great car for about 125K miles - and it will always be our first "family car" since our first child was conceived in... oops, I mean was born when we had it...

1995: '95 Toyota Celica ST
So, we had the family car, and I felt the need for a "me" car again. Enter the new Celica. 30 days after buying it we found out we were having a baby and an infant carrier/seat wouldn't fit in the backseat. Went on the auction block and was sold 2 months later. Only had it for 3 months, but one thing was painfully evident: it wasn't made for people over 5'7", and don't ever buy anything below the GTS model. I'm actually glad I had a reason to sell it.

1995: '95 Mazda Protege LX
After ditching the Celica, I decided to get another "family" car, but a cool one that young people drove. So, enter the Protege. Cheaper, roomier and better equipped at the time than the Civic, it was a bargain at $12,500. It truly was a great car. Probably the best all around car and value of any of the bunch I've owned - really. Unfortunately, when the "minivan" came into play we made the mistake of selling this and keeping the older (but paid off) 626. Should have kept the Protege as the 626 went downhill quickly at 7 years old.

1999: '99 Honda Odyssey
Ahh... the minivan. Gotta have one. And in 1999, this was *the* one to have. With a 6-9 month waiting list in town, we bought one sight-unseen over the internet at a dealer 300 miles away in another state. You have to remember that in 1999, this was not common practice. We were treated as odd celebrities at the dealer and came home with the van of vans. Not the most luxurious of the minivans, but I'd buy another one in a heartbeat. Even that magnet-like fire hydrant at the end of the driveway can't stop this van - although it sure can do it's share of damage.

2001: '01 Nissan Maxima 6-spd
Third child and a visit to Mr. Snippy equated to a need for horsepower... When the 626 died it was the "Year of the Altima" with its new redesign at Nissan. Went up looking to buy an Altima and came home instead leasing a Maxima for much less than the Altima. This was my first taste of leasing - and trying to justify leasing to my wife. To say I was anal about the condition of the car is an understatement. When my 6 year old son spilled red Kool-Aid all over the carpets and stained them permanently, I experienced my first ever conniption-fit. 265-hp, 17 inch wheels and a 6-spd stick... Wow. But it sucked in the snow! Sold it in 2004 (instead of giving back to Nissan) when the lease expired.

2004: '04 Honda Accord EX
Another new car acquired on lease. I have to admit this is a nicer car than I thought it would be. Great in rain and snow, 255 hp V6, heated leather and XM radio. Well, at this age I deserve a few perks, right? Hopefully this will be great for the next few years. Especially since I know a new van will be in our future soon.

2007: '07 Honda Accord EX
Okay, took the easy route at lease end and just flipped into a new Accord - exactly the same as the '04. Same color, same amenities, everything. While still a nice car, I learned early that I preferred the '04 better. Maybe the larger 17" wheels give a rougher ride, something was "less" than before. Or maybe I was just finally getting tired of the Accord - my ability to like a car lasts anywhere from 24-48 months. Not bad, but I'll be ready for something new before the lease is up.

2010: '10 Honda Odyssey EX
Well, the desire to get into a new car early came unexpectdly as the '99 Odyssey started exhibiting signs of sudden death. So... still need a van, so Honda took the Accord back 6 months early and we now have the joy of having 2 Odysseys - one a new lease and one which we thought would soon be on the For Sale page of the paper. Of course, 2 weeks after doing this deal, we find that the dealer was wrong and $500 fixed the '99, not $5000. So, guess we'll make the best of it. Have to say, just like the Accord experience, I actually like the old van better than the new one. Handling seemed better and a lot of the cute quirky little features were removed from the '10 - like the pullout center tray and the reversible rear seat (to face backwards with hatch up). And, since this one is leased, that means it's going to be mine for 3 years. Ah, the joy.

2010: '11 Subaru Outback SE
Well, only a few months into the 2 van "odyssey" (pun intended) and my wife totals the '99. Okay, it doesn't take a lot to total an 11 year old van without comprehensive insurance, but totaled nonetheless. So, we ventured out of our longstanding Honda relationship to go with my wife's new choice: the Outback. With the Outback you get a lot for your money (wow, did that just sound old) Seems like a great car, and the only one I know of that gives you seat heaters with cloth seats. Very nice amenities and a comfortable car. The 4 cylinder engine is powerful enough for my wife (I'd prefer the 6), and it does take a while to get used to the CVT. All in all though it seems like it will be a great alternative to a van - which unfortunately I'm still driving.

2011: '04 Mazda6 S V6
I haven't bought a used car in decades, and so I was a bit wary of buying one when my 16 year old started driving, so of course I got one I liked. While this Mazda needed a few fixes, it runs beautifully and I have to admit this is one fun little car to drive. Tricked out and a nice V6 and 5 speed manual, this Mazda 6 S is one of those rare older inexpensive sports cars. Reminds me a lot of the old Celica GTS. I drove it for 4 months prior to handing it over to my son, and I was very sad going back to the van. But, I sneak weekend drives every now and then.

2012: '12 Infiniti G25x
Ah, okay I finally got so tired of driving a van I started looking around and dreaming a year early. Infiniti to the rescue. They bought the van outright 11 months early and I even came out ahead. Walked out with a G25x and paying less than I was for the Odyssey each month - gotta love leasing if it's a good fit for you. The G is a very nice car. I wanted all-wheel drive, so wanted an X model. And since my daily commute is a whopping 8 miles each way, I opted to save money and go with the G25 and not the G37. Yes, that's the decision an old person would make! Same car except for the engine - and Yes, it is a huge difference in engine (320 hp vs 210). 20 years ago and I wouldn't have touched the G25 because of this, but times and priorities change. Bit of a compromise, but for driving 20 miles a day I couldn't justify the extra monthly $ just so I could have a better chance of getting a speeding ticket. Beautiful car, smooth engine, and still fun to drive. This one will have to last me till the Mercedes, or whatever comes next. Look for an update in 2015...

2015: '15 Honda Accord EX-L
"This one will have to last me till the Mercedes, or whatever comes next. Look for an update in 2015..."  So said the man who had yet to have kids in college! Welcome to three years later, and tens of thousands in college tuition payments due, and, well... it's time to be a little more practical for a while. That's not to say I feel like I've downgraded in any way (other than the badge) - this 2015 Accord is extremely nice, and actually feels an upgrade to the Infiniti. Nice roomy interior and upgraded security features (Lane-Watch is very cool). Wow, the Accord has come a long way since its inception - and just as far from the frumpy 2009-2012 model. Okay, and I have to admit, after 3 years of an underpowered engine mated with a poorly-matched transmission, I was ready for a change.  But who would have thought that a 185hp Honda 4-cylinder with a CVT would be this smooth and would blow away a 210hp V-6 Infiniti? Plus, the Infiniti averaged a whopping 18mpg on premium gas on my commute. So far the Accord is averaging 28mpg on regular - and its performance (0-60) is 2 full seconds faster than the G25x. My only gripe is that in 2015, HondaLink still sucks with an iPhone... Ah well, always have to have some reason to trade it in in 3 years! 

So, that's 23 vehicles in 35 years (and that Porsche is still as much out of reach as ever). That's quite a bit of personal automotive history.

Does that all tell you anything? Probably not. But damn it was fun to remember!