Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Cars

That “Which Sports Car Are You?” quiz got me to thinking right after I took it. Bad thoughts. Thoughts about replacing the Green Hornet with a new Miata, even though the current one, with only 38K on the clock, is in immaculate condition and is eminently serviceable in each and every respect. I did all the usual things: went to the Kelly Blue Book site and found out what the Green Hornet is worth (always a shock), what folks are paying for new Miatas (also a shock), and fired off a request for a quote to the nearest Mazda dealer. Yesterday I came to my senses and put those thoughts out of my head. Why replace a perfectly good thing with something that’s gonna cost you a lot of money, relatively speaking, and provides only limited advantages over what you currently own? Crazy, is what that is.

What I really need is a new motorcycle!

But back to cars. How well traveled is your car? I’ve owned some cars that have been exceptionally well-traveled. The Green Hornet is probably typical. I took delivery in SFO and have driven it as far north as the central Oregon Coast, south to the Mexican border, east to Houston, and lotsa points in between, especially in New Mexico. My Corvette, on the other hand, didn’t get out a lot. I took delivery in Detroit, and drove it all over Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, west to South Bend, IN and east to New York. The ‘Vette was a toy, pure and simple. The most well-traveled car I’ve ever owned was a 1983 BMW 320. I bought it while living in London, took delivery in Munich, drove it through Germany, Holland, and all over the UK before bringing it back home. Once in the US, that car took the Second Mrs. Pennington and me from coast to coast, New Jersey to Los Angeles, all over Michigan, south to Oklahoma City, and more than a few points in between. I owned that car for nearly ten years, getting rid of only after it had well over 100K on the clock and maintenance costs began to exceed operating costs. I replaced it with a SAAB 9000, which was one of the worst cars I’ve ever owned, and my first and last front-driver.

So, apropos of nothing, here’s the inventory of cars I’ve known and loved or hated, from first to current, with a few comments on each.

1950 Buick coupe, yellow with a black top, straight-eight with a slush-o-matic Dynaflow transmission. The engine never changed pitch and there were no perceptible shift points in that car. Very weird, very geeky. Like its 18-year old owner.

1957 Triumph TR-3. God, I loved that car! It was a chick-magnet! It had a short life, and very nearly ended my own. I managed to toss it off a 50-foot embankment just outside of Lompoc, CA. Rolled it three times, once laterally and twice end over end before it came to rest.

1964 Chevy Impala. Technically not my car, it belonged to the First Mrs. Pennington. But it was the family car for a few months after we were married. I walked between totaling the TR and marrying TFMP.

1965 VW Beetle. A thoroughly utilitarian, forgettable automobile, no matter what Bug-lovers say. Cramped and underpowered.

1967 Chevy Malibu SS396. 350 hp, three-speed Hydramatic, great looking, wonderful car. One of the few automobiles I wish I still owned.

1970 Dodge Dart Swinger 340. 275 hp, four-speed. The best way to get more than 275 hp out of that car was to turn the ignition key to the right. VERY quick. Sold it during the First Great Oil Crisis, coz it got all of ten mpg, highway.

1972 (maybe 1973, I don’t really remember) Mazda RX-3 station wagon. Very powerful and very smooth, for its size. About as reliable as a hand grenade; Mazda put two replacement engines in that car under warranty, TFMP put one in it on her dime.

(Following my first divorce I went about three years without owning a car at all. I had a succession of motorcycles for basic transportation. An interesting period in life, to be sure.)

1972 Chevy Nova, bought used in 1977. Straight-six, three-speed stick. Best value for money in a car I’ve EVER had. Bought it for $750.00, sold it in 1979 for $500.00. It took me from South Bend, IN to North Dakota, to Florida, back to ND, and out to Oregon. I sold it once I could see my feet while looking down into the trunk. Serious rust-bucket, but it sure worked.

1978 Ford Courier pick-up. Another utilitarian vehicle. Four-banger, four-speed. Took The Second Mrs. Pennington and me from Oregon to the East Coast and all over the UK for a year or two.

1983 BMW 320. See above. Another car I wish I still owned.

1984 Nissan pickup. TSMP’s daily driver. Utilitarian. Forgettable.

1991 SAAB 9000. Four-banger, five-speed, hatchback. Front-wheel drive. I seriously disliked this car, even though I kept it for four years.

199X Mercury Cougar. TSMP’s daily driver; I drove this car rarely. Don’t even remember what year it was.

1992 Corvette. I owned this car for seven years and I LOVED it. Technically TSMP’s car, I inherited it in the divorce.

1996 Chevy Impala SS. The last big-assed, RWD, ‘Vette motored Impala. Great road car! Another one I wish I had back.

1999 Dodge Durango. TSMP’s vehicle, I rarely drove it.

1953 Cadillac Four-door sedan. Hobby car, money-sink. TSMP christened it “The Smokin’, Drinkin’, Partyin’ Car.” And so it was. It was fun, but I won’t go there again.

The Green Hornet. 2000 – current. Reliable, fun, good looking. This car STILL gets approving comments and glances from all sorts of people, from nine-year old boys to Sweet Young Things, to Grandmas.

The bold-faced cars were my favorites. And there you have it.

Update 1/29/06: I forgot the "other 'Vette." The Corvette was TSMP's daily driver and she didn't want to drive it during the Detroit winters. So I bought a "winter car," as lots of Michiganders do, and the 'Vette was garaged "for the duration." The winter car was a 198X Chevette, maybe an '85, maybe an '86, I don't know. It's hard for me to express just how BAD that car actually was. A Chevette would give the Yugo a run for its money for the title of "Worst Automotive Abomination, Ever." If ever there was a reason to be glad to see Spring, it was the fact I didn't have to drive the again until November.

More needs to be said about that Cadillac, too. That thing was HUGE inside. TSMP and I used to joke that if we fell on hard times and lost the house, we could always live in the Caddy. I also imagine a lot of kids were conceived in full-size American cars of the early and mid-'50s. TSMP and I split the back-seat upholstery of that car one afternoon (the upholstery was old, we were "exuberant"), and that became an inside joke between us concerning "the best thing about the Caddy."


  1. They don't make 'em like they used to do they Buck? I loved my 64 T-Bird the most. I called it the batmobile. Good-night Buck. Same bat time, same bat channel.

  2. I learned to drive in a 55 GMC pick-up truck (four on the floor).Then my grandfather gave me his 63 Chevy pick-up (three on the tree). I drove trucks for years hauling kids and horses to rodeos and 4H events. Now I have a Toyota Camry (five speed). There is just something about shifting gears!

  3. What a coincidence, BB! I learned how to drive in a '52 GMC pick-up, the three-rear-window variety. My first employer taught me how to drive, at age 15. He was a landscaper and insisted he needed me to drive, so he taught me. This wouldn't happen these days (imagine the liability issues), but I drove that pickup, plus '49 Studebaker and '56 Ford dump-trucks, for TWO YEARS all over San Jose, CA without a drivers license or insurance.

    I didn't get my drivers license until I was 18, something I'll hold against my father FOR EVER.

  4. Funny you should ask that. I just bought a car yesterday, an '04 Taurus with 18k on it. They gave me $500 trade-in on my '96 Grand Am with 144k on it. They are delivering it tomorrow.

  5. Cars are more than the sum of their parts... I've bought 16 cars (so far), currently have five. I have to take some exception to the VW comment since I have a 1974 Karman Ghia in my garage and really love to drive that car. Since moving to Maine I've bought two Sabaru Legacys (for my wife and daughter). My favorite is my Camaro, a highly modified street machine that is truly a money pit, but it moves me in more ways than one.

  6. Hey...I wasn't slagging VWs in general, just Bugs. A Karmann-Ghia ain't a Bug, it's a fun car!

    My favorite memory about just how marginal a car the Bug was/is was when I had to run my buddy Ivan and one of his brothers from Vandenberg down to LAX. There were only three of us in the car, plus luggage, and yet I had to take the Camarillo Grade in THIRD gear, doing all of 35 mph, all the way to the top. People were laughing and pointing at us as they zoomed on by... Hell, I even got passed by frickin' TRUCKS! Now THAT's inadequate!

  7. Quite a line up my were also blessed with great rides.


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