An Overly Long History of My Cars

The Detroit auto show is showing off new car designs with the hope that sales will pick up. I remember a time in my life when I wanted to be a car designer. My grammar school notebook dividers were filled with doodles of new car designs. Years later I reviewed some of the sketches to realize that some of the actual car designs resembled my doodles. Today, I can give a rat’s behind about what a car looks like. I’m more impressed by how little I have to get it fixed.

The Avalon Death Star is a few miles away from turning seventy-thousand miles. (I always thought old guys drove less.) That number began rolling in my mind as I recalled some of the cars I have owned.

The very first car that I bought was a 1959 Volkswagen bug.  That was during my “green period.” Gas was eighteen cents a gallon, and I was worried about mileage. I also preached about conservation, and pollution. Today, I choose to drive a car with the highest horsepower, and the best overall economy.

After the Bug reached sixty-thousand miles, I fell in love with the VW Karmann Ghia. I bought a brand new one for $2750.00 at a time when you could buy a new Cadillac for $2500. I owned the car for ten years. Style wise it was fabulous, but not a good family car. It was a maintenance nightmare in spite of all the cute VW ads that pointed out how many ways they had improved the car. I spent many a cold evening in a frozen garage changing shock absorbers and mufflers. Why is it that these things always fail when it is zero outside? Eventually, the head lights fell out of the fenders because of a severe rust problem. I don’t know how many miles it had on it, because the speedometer failed several times, and I was tired of paying for new ones. Besides, the superior attitude of the German mechanics who refused to believe that a German car could break always ignited my furor.

We needed a family car, so I bought a used 1960 Ford Falcon for Barb. It was an unexciting car, and we piled a ton of miles onto it. I remember hooking a baby seat over the top of the bench seat to give my kids a better view of the steel dashboard. In today’s world, I’d be arrested for that. This car was so unexciting, I have completely forgotten what we did with it.

In 1967, we got the camping bug and bought a brand new Dodge van. It was bare inside except for a bench seat. I built a bed, and storage area behind the seat, and Barb made privacy curtains to shade the sun. This little truck served us well, but it too required lot’s of maintenance. I remember teaching Barb how to lift the hood to remove the air cleaner to tickle the butterfly so the damn thing would start. (The hood was inside the truck between the front seats. You could drive and change spark plugs at the same time.) This little van is etched in my memory as one of my all time favorite vehicles. It deserves a separate story to chronicle all we did with it.

In 1969, I became the proud owner of a brand new Toyota. It was a cute little red Corolla station wagon.  It had a front engine, with water cooling, which meant it had heat. As opposed to my VW which had air cooled engine, and never had enough heat to clear the fog off the windows. Within six months of owning the Toy, I detected an engine knock. The dealer never heard the knock, and my complaints went unheeded. Finally, I decided to run the car until the knock got audible. It did. Within a few short weeks, one could hear the car from a block away. I drove it to the dealer and asked the service guy if he could tell me what the strange noise was coming from the engine. It had nine thousand miles on it. I started it up. Within a second, he waved furiously to shut it off. I left the car with them to be fixed, they finally admitted to a problem. It took ten weeks and daily harassment to get my car back. My kids wonder why I hated Jap Crap so much. I sold the Corolla wagon with twenty-six thousand miles on it.

I chose to keep my Dodge van as my commuter car, and bought a 1973 Dodge van to serve as the family vehicle and trailer tower. We were a two van family.

The seventy-three van left Barb dangling many times with a stuck choke, but the hood was outside and she wasn’t able to tickle the carburetor anymore. The driver’s side floor rusted through after three years, making me a very unhappy camper. Water leaked through the rear doors and rolled forward under the mats to settle under the driver’s feet. We kept the green van until 1978, when I switched to a GMC van.

The GMC had horsepower to spare. We pulled a very heavy trailer and didn’t even know it was behind us. It was more reliable than the Dodge, but it too had problems with rust, and changing spark plugs required as much work as an overhaul.

One evening, Barb and I were returning home from a visit to my Dad’s house. We waited at a red light when a hot rod pulled up beside us. “Watch this,” I told Barb. The light turned green. I put my foot into it, and bam. We coasted across the intersection. I blew the damn transmission. Luckily for me, I still had second gear to limp home with.

In 1985 I became the proud owner of a Mercury Sable. What a sexy car. Ford was improving quality and I gave them a chance to show me how good they were. The Sable was a good car, but it too had moments. I told people that it is the best car I ever owned. When I really thought about it, the best car would not receive a Christmas card from the towing company. I replaced the transmission three times, and a switch failure earned a tow job three times. I was on the way to get the steering arm replaced when I slid off an icy road and hit a six by six mail box post. I totaled the Sable at one hundred and twenty-thousand miles, and after serving me for twelve years.

Barb persuaded me to buy an Oldsmobile Intrigue. The was hands down the best car I owned until it reached one hundred and twenty-thousand miles. At that point, I became friendly with the tow company again. Twice, within a year, I paid hundreds of dollars to have an intake manifold replaced. Researching the problem on the internet, I learned that the GM engine had a known problem with manifolds for years. Did they do anything to fix it? Hell no.

This saga brings me to the 2005 Avalon. I knick named it “Death Star” when Toyota had to recall them for run away acceleration problems. So far, knock on wood. This is the best car I have ever owned. A far cry ahead of the 1969 Corolla, and the UAW counterparts. I have seventy-thousand miles on it, and I expect it to go for three times that amount. That is if I live long enough to make it happen.

As I write this, I realize that each car had its own history, and each one deserves individual reflection.

There are a few I left out of the history, like the VW Scirocco, Buick Sky Hawk, and 1980’s vintage Corolla.

Ya Gotta Love Wrinkles!

     Writer’s block is a bunch of crap. I haven’t written a thing in a week because of writer’s block. Like I said, that’s an excuse for laziness. All it takes is to sit in front of the computer and start. Today, I choose to write instead of going out for my healthy three mile walk. I’ll do that a little later. My mind seems to be sharper after a night of rest, and morning is when I write the most.

     Right now, I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my second cup of coffee. Every once in awhile I stare out the sliding glass door to watch the early morning golfers drive by in their carts. Our back yard borders the approach to the third hole at Pebble Brook Golf Course.  This morning the sky is pure blue, and the sun is so bright it is hard on the eyes. The quiet of the desert and the songs of the birds are broken only by an occasional squadron of F-15 jets roaring over head.  Yesterday, during my walk, there were large billowy white clouds scattered all across a deep blue background.  Later in the day, they collected and turned the sky gray. Last night it rained again. This place is like Camelot, It rains at night. A normal rain in the desert is like a drizzle at home. A person can walk in the rain for an hour and not get soaked, only damp.  The way I can tell that it rained is from the water dripping from the edge of the roof. It has taken all morning for the water to run down the pitch of the roof.

     The temperature this morning is fifty-nine degrees. By this afternoon it will warm up to sixty-five.  Yesterday, I talked with a friend who is staying with her son in Fountain Hills. She is ninety-five, and lives near us at home. She asked where we were located relative to her son, I told her just a few miles to the west. She asked, “Is it warmer where you are?” Temperature is relative, or should I say relative humidity is relative. Sixty-five degrees seems warm when it’s fifteen degrees and the wind is blowing over your face. Sixty-five feels cool when you are dressed in light clothes.

     Last Saturday, Peggy and I were at Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes church. We arrived early to secure a seat.  We prayed and meditated while waiting for mass to begin. The church filled quickly with a parade of old timers. All of them looked so much older than us. The servers had gray hair, the ushers needed canes, but the priest was young. We are staying in a fifty-five and over community, I thought.  Most of the homes were built in nineteen seventy-nine through the mid eighties. A retired couple of fifty five who purchased would now be eighty-six. No wonder everyone looks old.  The priest announced that it was a special day because he was honored to bless the marriage of a couple celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  Back home, in Frankfort, they would have received a standing ovation. Here it seemed like  . . . eh.  

     The attitude of the people here is to have fun.  They emphasize the positive. Wrinkled skin is normal. Everyone has wrinkled skin here. What is out of place is smooth skin, young people, and babies.  Infirmities requiring canes and walkers are just part of the age. They are looked upon as a way to extend the quality of life to the next level. I don’t think I could bring myself to live full time in a community of old people. I miss seeing the youngsters, and the babies around me. Here the parking lot is filled with Lincolns, Buick sedans, and golf-cars. SUV’s and vans, are for young people.

     It occurs to me that the seniors in this community are the pioneers of the “Green” movement, but they don’t get any credit for it.  They drive golf-cars around town on errands, to church, and on the golf course too.  They do it because it is cheaper, and more practical than driving a four thousand pound car around town. Besides, the Lincoln would probably get stuck in the rough, and make grooves in the fairway. Opening the trunk each time to select a club would be a pain in the ass too.

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