Clothes may make the man, but the car he drives makes a even more profound statement about who he is.
In my case, I think it means I’m growing up. Or maybe just growing old.
A 1968 Mercury Cougar was my first “real” car. I had been sharing a olive green Chevy station wagon with my father with had zero-minus-zero coolness factor to it. The Cougar was nothing but cool. It was painted blue with a white vinyl roof and that little bastard could get up going down the road.
The proof of that was I got pulled over twice for driving too fast within the first three months of driving the car. Seems I had a bit of a heavy foot, but hell, I was still a young man in 1976 and I had places to go and people to see. I needed to get from here to there in a hurry and I was driving one fast cat.
That car also got me through the one crash I’ve ever been in. I was driving to a morning class at Ohio State University to take a test. As I went through a green light, a small foreign car, maybe a Honda, tried to beat the light and I hit it broadside.
The impact smacked up my fender, smashed in my headlights and bent a tie rod in the right wheel. But that was nothing compared to the other car. It crumpled like a cracker box, spun around in the intersection and came to a rest on the sidewalk in fromt of a carry-out.
What was ironic was the car was driven by a girl who was in the class I was trying to get to. She was in a hurry too. Turns out we both made it to the test late.
I ended up selling the Cougar to some good ol’ boys that lived around the block from my off-campus crib. I may have gotten $700 bucks for it. A few weeks later they had it up and running again, though it was looking a bit beat-up. It was a little bit like seeing your old girlfriend with a new boyfriend.
Not being a car freak, I’ve never cared much about how big the engine is or how much horsepower it had. Usually my car purchases were based on what I could afford as much as I much I wanted. That’s the only excuse I have for ever buying a Chevrolet Chevette.
This is the only car I can safely say I’m embarrassed I owned.
I have a unpleasant memory of taking this small, underpowered, cramped piece of crap and driving it to Atlanta. You don’t know how a car performs until you put it out on the highway and find out it doesn’t. My wife is still traumatized by that trip.
The Chevette got great gas mileage, but mileage doesn’t mean a helluva lot when you’re either crawling up a steep hill in Tennessee or praying for your life as you’re going down a even steeper hill in Tennessee at night with a 18-wheeler dead on your ass and nothing but a sheer drop to your right. That is a “come-to-Jesus” moment for you.
With only a weak 4-cylinder engine, the car had no pick-up, never got warm in the winter and the air conditioner was merely a suggestion in the summer. The only real air conditioning was when you rolled the windows down on both sides. Getting rid of that car was like getting rid of a bad habit.
For the last eight years there was a 1995 Ford Thunderbird LX in my future. This was the only car I knew I wanted to the exclusion of anything else.
I loved my T-Bird, but I can’t say I always liked it. Despite its V-8 engine, it seemed to strain to pass trucks and other cars and when you’re driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike as I often did, that’s a big problem.
The T-bird served me well for eight long years, but this last winter in Columbus really drove home its limitations. Over a month’s time I had to put a new battery, three new tires, oil change, tune-up and it was towed twice.
The list of what was wrong with the T-Bird was longer than what was right with it. When I traded it in this week the only thing I knew I would miss about it was the new car stereo system I had bought two years ago. I tolerate factory stereo systems up to the point where I can afford to have them ripped out and a real one installed.
The Thunderbird was never a family friendly car. The only person who could sit it in comfortably was me. For everyone else it was too small in the front, too cramped in the back and when the sun came out on a summer day and heated up those leather seats, too damn hot.
So this week I bought a practical car, not a cool one. “Practical” is a much more polite word than “boring” wouldn’t you say?
I guess when you get to my age, you’re not as big of a hurry as you once were and if it takes you a little longer to get there, so what?
The Sebring is a “nice” car. Nice like a woman who is by no means ugly, but she’s not drop-dead gorgeous either. This car is like that.
When I drove the car home the other night I was thrilled or even excited. I felt satisfied. Satisfied the way you feel when you’ve eaten a competent, if undistinguished meal at a Friday’s or Red Lobster.
Is this as good as it gets? I’ve been tamed to the point that just being satisfied is enough?
Well, not entirely…
Before I bought the Sebring, we test drove a BMW 3 Series i sedan and it’s a sweet machine.
But while it was a car that is both far more sophisticated and sexy than a piece of Detroit steel like a Chrysler, all I could think of was two things:
1. I don’t have a garage so where am I going to park a BMW?
2. How much blood would I have to sell to afford a oil change on this bad boy?
As it turns out being a 2003 model, I couldn’t get the financing or the monthly payment at a rate i could reasonably afford.
Plus, without anywhere to park it but on the street, I’d spend every night sleepless worrying over someone steeling the BMW insignia hubcaps.
Ahhh…but it’s nice to dream isn’t it. Maybe by the time I’m ready to say “bye-bye” to the Sebring, I’ll have a house, driveway and garage more appropriate to park a “Beemer” in front of.