We all have our moments where we feel that if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all. I try not to linger too long on that feeling. However, when it comes to cars, I’ve been blessed with good luck so far.
Being the youngest of four growing up, I was usually the recipient of hand me down cars. My first car was my sisters forest green 1972 VW Super Beetle. As you may know, the VW has a small rear engine that’s simple enough that even I could fix it. Pioneer cassette deck bolted to the dashboard and room behind the rear seat to fill with speakers. I could be heard miles away with Van Halen blasting at 110 decibels cruising to work. I was never stuck in a snow bank because I could almost lift the rear by myself though I lost a wheel one day going down the road. Thirty miles per hour to 0 mph in 18” is possible. Trust me! I found the wheel, put it back on, and drove away.
The next car was a 1976 Toyota Corolla because it was time for Mom to get a new Chevy Cavalier, which would follow the Corolla. I drove that car from Florida to Nova Scotia loaded with camping equipment. The fondest memory was when my best friend and I took his canoe, which was 4 feet longer than the car, over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to go crabbing. The bridge is over 4 miles long and almost 200 feet high with open grates on each lane. Can you imagine the updraft and the feeling of almost flying off the bridge? Ah, to be young and stupid again… Back then, you could catch a bushel of crabs in an afternoon and beat rush hour home in time to cook them up and enjoy. I took the Corolla to U of MD and when I was a junior, Mom’s Cavalier became my next car. I think I may have gotten $200 for the Toyota by the time I was done with it. Maybe…
The Cavalier held on until I graduated and started working. It wasn’t the best of the cars but did the job. Barely.
Once I started working, I splurged on a Nissan 4X4 because every suburbanite in the DC area needed a 4X4 for that occasional dusting of snow. Of course it didn’t take long to figure out 4X4 is worthless on ice. I loaned it to somebody to take it on a skiing trip because that’s where you need 4X4. The problem was that it was driven back in 4-wheel drive. I soon realized during the next monstrous dusting that the 4-wheel drive was toast and I might as well been on ice skates.
My wife always had nice hot rods. She had a Trans Am while we were dating and then the first Mustang GT right about the time we were married. As soon as we started having kids, the Mustang was traded for the first family 4 door – Honda Accord. The first and only new car we ever owned. It had power windows. And a moon roof. A grown up car!
I drove truck for work and put 150k miles on it until it my wife convinced me it was looking embarrassing. The truck lasted until I received a phone call from my wife from a payphone (Yes – pre-cell phone days there were payphones!!) telling me she had to carry our 2 young daughters and my golf clubs so the tow truck could take the truck to the garage to get its monthly fix. I took that as a strong suggestion that it was time for the truck to go.
The truck turned into a Nissan Rodeo because we were a family now and every suburbanite needed a SUV for that occasional dusting of snow. Now we had a Honda and an SUV. We officially reached Parenthood!
Not too long after that, my work took us to New England. We sold the Honda, which we think had probably had over 160k, but we couldn’t be sure because the odometer broke the year before at 130k. We took off over Thanksgiving weekend with two kids and an 8 months pregnant wife. The Rodeo was not made to provide a comfortable drive for a very pregnant wife.
When we got to New England with one car, the first purchase after the winter thaw was a Ford Taurus – the best car I’ve owned. After driving the 4-wheel drive truck and Rodeo, I realized the best all weather vehicle ever was the Taurus. It made it through seven brutal winters and never had an issue getting stuck by a snowstorm or starting on the coldest mornings. It quickly developed its own character with its mechanical deficiencies: only the driver can open windows, can only clean the passenger side of the windshield, etc…
The Rodeo was traded for the first minivan and now we officially reached parent status. We put over 100k miles on two different minivans. Every weekend we’d load up the van and took off for the mountains or beach along with annual drives to Florida for Winter Break and Ocean City, MD for summer vacation. It’s amazing how three kids can “break in” a vehicle when you travel as we did.
When it was time to move to the Midwest, I realized the Taurus had never been driven more than 15 miles 1 way for 7 years and yet it had 120k miles on it. The 1000-mile drive loaded down with as much stuff as possible would be the test. And it passed.
Not too long after reaching the Midwest, my daughters started reaching driving age. The Taurus was their car of the future. My two oldest daughters learned to drive in that car. They shared the Taurus because there was no way they would be caught dead driving Moms minivan! They didn’t think it was cool and we knew we didn’t want it to become the local taxi service.
The kids hoped and begged for a new car. They would drive it to school every day plotting how to get one. They named the Taurus “Yoshi” after one of the Mario Brothers characters. As the years and miles went by, Yoshi started aging and developed a 6-month self-flushing radiator – the sign to add antifreeze was when the heat didn’t work in the winter and the air conditioner didn’t work in the summer. A hot rod sound followed due to a loose muffler, which meant we could hear the car entering the neighborhood. This serves also a signal for the neighbors walking that a new driver was approaching. And if the muffler wasn’t bad enough, a screeching sound started during the winter that only appeared when they pulled into or out of the school parking – as if to say, “The Planets girls have arrived!”
They convinced me to take the car and see if it was trashed as they thought. I told the mechanic the issues and the kids plan to get a new car. He smiled and accepted the challenge to get Yoshi back on the road. Turns out the screeching was the A/C stuck on full blast but the knob was broken – super glue and turning off the A/C eliminated the screech. The hot rod sound from the muffler was fixed with two bolts. When fixed, the car purred. Best $70 ever spent. Imagine the disappointment when I had the girls drive the car home from the garage. The 6-month self-flushing radiator remained a character flaw because the repair exceeds the value of the car and eventually led to the downfall of Yoshi.
When my Dad retired, he bought himself a red 1996 Mustang convertible GT. The first person he let drive was my wife because she had experience driving a car like that. I’m proud to say I was the second, which was still before any of my siblings! When my Dad passed, the car went to my niece and she drove it thru college. When she graduated and got a new car, the Mustang came to my family. Finally, I didn’t have to share a car with the kids.
For now, one of my daughters drives the Mustang and it’s proven to be a strong car. Not as pretty as it once was and slowly started to show signs of “sell me”.
I was finally able to get a grown up car. Our plan is to trade the van inn for just about anything else but a minivan – my wife wants a Charger – take the girl out of the hot rod but not the hot rod out of the girl!
So, for all of the moments where we feel that if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all, my perspective is starting to get challenged when it comes to cars.