I owned my first car before I ever had my license. It was a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba centennial edition with a bronze coin on the fender to commemorate our nations independence. Ironic, considering the car is named for a Spanish town and whose television ad features Spaniard Ricardo Montalbon Talking about his “needs” in a car as if it were a loving wife or a seasoned hooker. It was bright hot yellow with a black vinyl landau top which featured 2 small side windows in the rear framed by ornate chrome branches. Dispite being the “small chrysler” as ads suggest this car was the biggest thing on the road A smooth ride to be sure with a big gas guzzling v8 engine with standard 8 track cassette player and Chronometer(read clock) in the black vinyl dash which smelled perpetually of armor-all and cigarette smoke.
I worked all summer when I was 15 and payed my dad 750 dollars for the car. From time to time I would sit in its huge soft Corenthian leather seats and imagine driving it around. Once I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to pull it out of the drive way and drive it a few hundred yards. I got it stuck in the ditch trying to pull it back into the driveway. I employed my friends and siblings to help me get it out before my dad got home from work. The car was broken down before my 16th birthday. My dad felt bad that I never got to drive it and pitched in come the next summer when I bought the second vehicle I owned and never drove.
This second vehicle was a late eighties modal Nissan light duty pick up. It was silver and it was missing a gear. We planned to change out the transmission and convert it to an automatic. After several failed attempts to find the tranny, I eventually sold it to my uncle who wanted to fix it. I’m not sure that he ever got it running, but for the brief moment it was mine it sat back at the top of the yard where I could point it out to my friends as we pulled away on the school bus.
By the time I got around to buying my third vehicle I was graduating high school and just got my license. It was 650 dollars, it was a 1989 ford escort sedan, it was red, and it got about 30 miles to the gallon. It had no title, instead I was given a “bill of sale” written on wide ruled notebook paper. I drove this car for the better part of my 2 years at college. I lived off campus, about seventy miles off campus and drove it the 140 miles every weekday. Most teenagers have some sort of foolish brand loyalty, it usually comes from what their parents own or want to own, and in better cases from shoddy anecdotes. I'm not proud of it but at one point I owned a shirt which depicted Calvin(of Calvin and Hobbes) urinating mischeviously on Ford's logo. I think I won it or bought it at the county fair, but why I agreed with it is still unsure. The teenage mind is capable of grand leaps of logic. Yet if fords were said to be made cheaply, this car was no exception. It did last me 2 years, though, with the exception of 2 major repairs to the timing belt and transmission.
At some point I decided it was imperative to remove the ford emblems from the car. You see during many of my junior high and high school years I had been duped into a brand consciousness. As my family was dirt poor this meant buying second hand and discounted nike shoes, and buying brand apparel knock offs and flea markets. For a while I thought this bought me a little bit of normalcy and if I could make sure no stray cockroaches were in my backpack in the mornings and try hard not to spill any any kerosene on my shoes from the space heaters then all the other kids would think I was just like them. Eventually through the help of hard rock bands and outsider friends I became enlightened and made sure to cut any and all brand signifying tags off my clothes which lead naturally to pulling the little plastic brand logos off my little escort. In the absence of the brands I placed a couple hard rock bumper stickers on there and felt pretty good about myself.
By graduation my friends and I were planning a road trip to California, for one reason or another this was going to be done in my car. Driving to and from school along the highway I noticed dark grey European looking car with a high windshield and wipers on the headlights. It looked educated, stoic, visually economic, slightly eccentric, and dark. Everything I wanted to be. It was a 1992 Saab 900 sedan, automatic, the headlight wipers were long since busted and the seat warmers no longer worked but aside from a heater core it didn’t seem to need much else. It looked exotic, it smelled classy, it had a decent stereo. I payed the man 1200 for it and drove it home.
We packed the car and headed to Jeff City to pick up my girlfriend to head west. Her parents gave us a resounding NO, and we drove it back home and took her car to Chicago. Had we tried to take it out west, the alarm system which relied on a battery in the keychain would have stopped us in our tracks as it did when we returned. We found a way around the alarm system and hooked up a push button starter. The headliner fell down and I replaced it with a rage against the machine poster; the one with the black and white burning monk in front of the old 40s coupe. This car gave me all sorts of problems but was too beautiful to just let go of. This seemed to be my philosophy with a lot of things.
It used gallons of oil monthly but it moved me to St. Louis. Eventually the waning transmission gave out completely and it sat in my dads yard where several people inquired about it but no one really wanted it. Eventually my dad used it in a trade for a minivan.
My dad loaned me his huge-ass, 5 miles to the gallon, Ford Econoline van while I was looking for another car. A ride my friends would endearingly refer to as the “stalker van”. One friend said jokingly “ I bet that thing can stop on a dime”…”oh man” I told her “ it can stop on a whole bunch of dimes” Driving back to my dads a goose hit the windshield luckily it didn’t come all the way through.
Das had a friend who worked a car auction. At these places all you can do is get in and start the car, and put it in gear and sit there. There are no test drives. This friend could drive the cars around the lot though and said he would do this for me. I found a little grey Nissan Maxima that I liked. He drove it and it ran fine. I waited for the car to come down the line and called my bid as the jabbering auctioneer dribbled out 50s and 100s I was surrounded by shifty looking used car salesmen and probably bidding against the cars owner. Luckily he stopped bidding at 750 which is where I had planned to stop and the car was mine. I came to get the car the next day which is when I realized the car was very close to the one we tested but slightly different. As we pulled out the car shifted nicely into second and the topped out at about 40 mph without shifting into third. I got out of the car and cussed at it. There are no refunds at the car auction. I was stuck with this crap car and had to do something. What followed was one of the worst ordeals of my semi-adult life and after a couple months of skeezy junkyard owners, mistaken transmissions, and big favors the car was finally running properly. This 89 Nissan Maxima was made just at the point when cars started getting curvy as opposed to the boxy style of the 70s and 80s. I hated this car for what it represented. I didn’t even like the look of it. It was a v6 and I was now an environmentally conscience suburbanite. The radio was a joke but it was a workhorse and it lasted me a few years. It still ran when I gave it to dad about a year ago.
Which takes us to the 1989 Toyota Corolla I own now. In my opinion a beautifully simple car, great on gas mileage, relatively simple to repair, I wish I owned one of these cars for every color. I got it cheap from a friend because I had to replace a couple parts to get it running. I really like this car.
The transmission went out. I replaced it. Then, The engine went out. I replaced it. Now, and this has all happened in the course of 7 or 8 months, I’ve been struck by a careless driver who gave me bogus insurance Info and a phone number that doesn’t work. My brakes are out and my trunk and bumper are smashed in. I have liability only. On the phone my dad said “Maybe your not supposed to have this car” and I’m thinking maybe he’s right…but ill try and fix the brakes and see what I can do about the trunk but she’s starting to get loud and run funny again and I foresee that after not so long she’ll be put out to pasture as well.
These cars have problems sure. But does that mean that they don’t deserve love?
I’m tired of driving half dead cars until they fall over exhausted, I want to be able to keep one running for more than a couple years. Even if I could afford a newer car it wouldn’t be the same I’ve grown an appreciation for these old vintage clunkers, which still exist in spite of bad odds and numerous owners. I can’t help from getting a little romantic.