“Can I drive your car?”
“Sure, why not?”
And with that, I was on the driver’s seat.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune of finding myself in the land of the free for business. Naturally, the second that my relatives got the tiniest hint that I was going to a place an hour from them, the whole “business” thing quickly got transformed into a five day career/family/friends/sightseeing extravaganza that concluded on a red-eye back to La tierra madre while loaded with so damn many books that the TSA decided to have a looksie around my bag.
It was one of the best times of my life; the work was light, and the miles walked and driven go by in a blur when you’re doing great things with great people. Great people who will tolerate you getting distracted every five minutes by some random car they see a million times a day (Sorry everyone, it’s in my genes). In a blink of fun, Saturday was upon us, and I was enjoying the final hour of the single day spent on my American family’s home where we enjoyed a banquet of Chinese food. (The definition of simple pleasures: being giddy at the fact I finally ate out of those little boxes of Chinese food you see on the movies all the time.) With one of my cousins’ long time friends.
Said friend owns a 2002 Crown Victoria.
Even if the chances of her actually saying yes were incredibly slim, every moment of my adult driving life was preparing me for this moment. From going through the extra hassle of getting an international license even though I had no reason to think I would leave the country when I got it, to the fact that I’ve formed part of that select group of people my age that actually like the Panther cars instead of being disgusted by their size, their boxy design and the fact you can’t Snapchat an Instagram of a corn flake that looks like Robert Downey Jr. from the infotainment system. I had to ask, even if I had only known her for about 45 minutes at this point.
Fortunately, it seems as though she saw a lot of my family in me, because…well…look at the first two lines of this article.
And so it was that with only a couple of minutes before I was due to leave and prepare myself for the flight home, that I slid into the magnificent and incredibly wide bench seat of the Toreador metallic beast. And instantly, I was reminded of just how big this car is, the seat was nowhere near all the way back and yet I had to move it about an acre or so to reach the pedals and move it up a bit (at 5’9” I’m the very definition of average height).
Okay, let’s start it up. Left foot on the brake and I heard somewhere that modern Fords only need you to move the key to start for a bit and then they crank until required. That didn’t work, and by this point I think that the owner, right next to me, was probably rather wishing she had said no. But finally, after reacquainting myself with the American way of laying out controls (where’s the handbrake? Oh, the pedal. Where are the lights? These are the wipers? Oh right, dash.) and enjoying my first proper experience with a column shifter, I was off.
How was it? At first I was incredibly confused. This is a Crown Victoria, the steering shouldn’t be this darty. Then I remembered that my daily my driver has about ten degrees of play on the steering wheel and realized every correction I did was like making it do a tiny little elk test. After a couple hundred yards, I got the hang of it. Right at the moment I was to stop for an intersection. I tapped the brakes. For years, I heard car reviewers complain about mushy brake pedals, and right now I was getting a lesson on what that meant. It was like pushing into a bag of flour. The only reason I knew I was actually stopping was that the car did a bit of a nosedive. It was all very comfortable mind you. After experiencing all these motions I felt like I had to give some commentary.
Tiff Needell would’ve been proud.
The nosedive and early cornering woes also game me other insight: what you people actually mean when you call cars like this “Landyachts”. With all the body motion and roll, it really did feel like I was driving a firm waterbed. This wasn’t helped by my realization that although the steering was very precise compared to one in a car from the eighties, it wasn’t actually telling me anything about the road. Any rumbles, grooves or pattering that it could’ve presented to me were quietly silenced somewhere before making their way to the steering wheel. It wasn’t the best of first impressions and it lasted all the way to a gas station where I experienced transcendent joy at pumping my own gas (La tierra madre is like Jersey that way) and caused sensible chuckling from the owner by taking the pump out of without shaking those last few drops out of it.
We climbed aboard and checked the clock, which told us it was already way past eight o’ clock. My time left in the country had long since been reduced to single digit hours and just the trip back to the hotel would take an hour of those. Time was upon us, and we had to make up for it. We quickly left the station and I pointed that enormous red and chrome nose back home. And then, in the middle of a country road with American Classic Rock FM on the stereo, was when I realized I was in the middle of an American movie. And this is the part of the movie where the driver puts his foot down.
Who cares about the mushy brakes? who gives a toss about it being a landyacht? A yacht is comfy, a yacht is big and right now, as the 4.6-liter Modular thanked me for unleashing it with a delicious growl and a willingness to punch through the horizon, a yacht is fast. Never meet your heroes? Pah! They may give a bad impression at first, but give them enough time and they will likely remind you why they are your heroes after all. And then your passenger will remind you that in this country speed limits are actually enforced. At which point the brakes will, finally, make sense.
After an unsurprisingly short amount of time we arrived back home. I thanked her and apologized for scaring her, at which point she said it was actually very fun. Sadly, we didn’t have any more time to relax, as I had to do many quick goodbyes and climb into another car with my family to take me back to the hotel. All the while feeling amazing about all the good times I had that week and thinking about ways to get a Crown Victoria back home. The CVPI should make the steering more precise and the brakes less spongy right?
I’ll find a way around the fact that it doesn’t fit in most local parking spaces.