Cars Of A Lifetime: So Long And Farewell

Over the past year or so I have written a COAL every Sunday. It has been a lot of fun (most of the time) and I really appreciate Paul for giving me the opportunity. Having written my last COAL last week I thought it might be fun to look back over all the cars I have owned. Some cars have been fun, some not so much. Some of them have been exciting, others boring, and so on. Let’s review…

Most dependable car.

Volkswagen Quantum diesel wagon. Yes, that’s right, a VW Quantum. What can I say? It never needed anything, always worked dependably, was wrecked and kept on going. It was efficient, comfortable, roomy, and easy to maintain. What more could one want from a car? Well, maybe styling, or fun, or class, or… But it was dependable.

Least dependable car.

Peugeot 504. The 82′ Suburban would be here except that having owned another Suburban and being closely associated with them, I know that it was only that particular truck. And that low dependability was not indicative of the breed. On the other hand, the Peugeot 504 lived up to it’s breeding. There was never a moment where everything worked at one time. Either it was not charging, or it was overheating, or something else. But we loved it.

Ugliest car.

1981 Volkswagen Rabbit. Sure it only started out as a not so good looking car. But after we were done with it, it was certifiably ugly.

Best looking car.

Peugeot 504 wagon. Once again the Peugeot is superlative in another category. It wins this category mostly because I have never owned a Fleetwood 75, 1920’s-1960’s Mercedes, a Rolls Royce, etc.  But it was a beautiful automobile. The 504 sedan had a sort of foreshortened looking hunch back, but the wagon was long and graceful. Even better looking than its competitors over at Mercedes, in my opinion.

Fastest car.

Saab 9000; I have not owned any really fast cars. The Saab was not really quick, but it’s top speed of 140 mph was fast enough. Not fast enough to get away from its problems though.

Most fun car.

1948 Willys Jeep. Top off, sunny day, windshield down, wind in your hair, four wheel drive… What could be more fun?

Least fun car.

1985 LTD Crown Victoria; you might expect the Jeep in the winter time to be here, but at least it was an adventure. The Crown Vic was never an adventure in that sense. In fact it was no fun in any sense at all.

Cheapest car.

1978 VW Rabbit; excluding the free ones and the ones sold for a symbolic amount, this would be it; at a mere sixty dollars. With minimal investment and wrenching, it was a solid runner.

Most expensive car.

2000 Land Rover Discovery; I have not purchased anything expensive and the only new car was purchased by my wife before we were married. So at a mere four thousand, that makes the Land Rover almost double our previous record of two thousand-five hundred. If I had lots of cash to spend on a new car; there is damn few I would even consider buying. There is the New LR4, Range Rover, Bentley, various sports cars, but as far as anything really practical? Hmm, maybe a Toyota Prius, a Ford Flex, or a Sprinter van. But really, I do prefer most of the older vehicles and if I had to choose to replace my Discovery with anything I wanted, it would have to be an older Defender 110 diesel.

Biggest car.

Dodge M886; excluding commercial vehicles that were not daily drivers, this has to be the overall largest. Also my wife’s personal favorite to drive, second only to the Peugeot wagon.

Smallest car.

Subaru Justy; we have owned two Justys. The first one was not very dependable and was a classic penalty box. But there were redeeming qualities, like high miles-per-gallon and four wheel drive. But the second one proved to be just as undependable, so we gave up on them.

Most useful.

The Toyota 4×4 vans excelled here. We have owned two and they were great, although boring and a bit ugly. Decent miles per gallon, four wheel drive, reasonably comfortable, plenty of space, good load capacity, and high maneuverability. Overall, very useful vehicles.

Least useful.

1948 Willys Jeep; since I try to avoid useless vehicles, the Jeep is it. Why? Because the fuel mileage was poor for its size, it was slow, could not carry much etc. But of course, we loved it.

Most efficient car.

1984 Volkswagen diesel pickup. Forty or more miles to the gallon and lots of cargo space. The only thing was that there wasn’t much space left for the occupants. But it was a good little trucklet until it met its untimely demise.

Least efficient car.

1971 International Travelall. Yes, with all of nine miles per gallon city or highway, it was the worst. But it was also the second longest owned of all of my vehicles. That truck took us on more adventures than I can count. And though it was a rattle trap I will always remember it fondly.

Most favorite cars.

1948 Willys Jeep. Yep, it was horribly uncomfortable, cold and wet in the winter, and couldn’t go over 45 mph, but it was really my favorite. I can’t quite explain that je ne sais quoi but I can tell you how it works. I once heard about a French man who won a new car. He tried it out for awhile, but did not like it and went back to using his old 2CV. Someone asked him why he went back to that old rattle trap and he said, “When I start it up in the morning, it takes just the right amount of time to smoke one cigarette to warm up in. The seat is broken in  just right, so I can reach the radio knobs but I am not leaned back enough to be sleepy. And it fits into my parking spot between the trash cans and the fire plug.”

1979 Volkswagen camper bus. Another less than likely one. With the bus it was that same je ne sais quoi but it had the additional benefit of being very useful. If I wanted to go fishing, all I had to do was head out to the river. I was sure that I could scare up some food in the recess of its cupboards and cabinets, and then there was the fish to cook on the stove as well. If I was tired, I need only fold down the seat and have a nap. If I wanted to play cards, just fold out the table and sit down with a friend. All this in a mostly convenient take-anywhere package.

Peugeot 504 diesel wagon. What, I can’t be serious can I!? Yes, another car with that certain something. Maybe it’s how I resurrected it from the grave, or how smooth it drove. I can still remember how it smelled inside, a fragrant mixture of vanilla, vinyl, and diesel. Everywhere one goes in an old Peugeot is an adventure and we went a lot of places in that car. My advice to you is to never drive a French car. Not because you will hate it, worse; but because you might love it. And soon you will find yourself saying things that most people say in therapy groups say. Like: it will change; I know it’s a good car, or, but I love it, I can’t get rid of it! It really is trying to get better!

Least favorite cars.

1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. Yes, I know, it was a good car. That of course, all depends on what you consider good. Just like Peugeot is a very reliable brand in Europe, big old American cars are great, in Detroit, in 1968. I guess if you like driving around on a sofa surrounded by plastic chrome and kitschy trailer park accoutrements then this might be the car for you. But not for me.

1982 Chevrolet Suburban. It was not the make or the model in this case, it was just this particular truck. Not fun to drive, lacking the fuel efficiency of a wagon, not as much room as a van; what’s the point?  And it was as lemony as lemons get. Maintenance was like playing whack a mole with a wrench. As usual I don’t try things just once and I later had great success with a ’79 Suburban.

1982 VW Vanagon diesel. Disdain, utter disdain, that’s what wells up in me when I recall that horrid beast. No greater implement of evil was ever created in a two ton candy bar shaped package. Horrendous vibration, check, black smoke, check, utter lack of motivation, check, obnoxious rattling, check…what’s not to hate?  Sure it had the good points of a Vanagon, lots of room (all diesel flavored), comfortable seats (with diesel powered massage), seating for eight self-flagellating VW devotees! Once again, I gave Vanagons another try but without too much success.

Shortest owned car.

1991 Lexus ES250; sure it was a good little car. But oh so boring. I owned it for maybe a month before trading it away.

Longest owned car.

1979 Chevrolet Suburban; full length roof rack, room for nine, four wheel drive, lots of power, very dependable, not much more to ask from a car. Except the horrid fuel mileage, rusty parts, and typical Chevy starter problems. We owned it for at least five years and still think fondly of it. I hate to think of the money I spent on fuel over that time though! But it sure was a far cry from the ’82 Suburban.

Well, that about sums it up. What, might you ask, have I learned from owning all of those cars? Well, I have learned that there are no free lunches. If you want something nice, either you have to work to get the big bucks to pay for it, or you have to work to get it fixed up. I have learned that a car is more than mere transportation, at least to us. I personally think automobiles are a terrible idea, they are polluting the earth, killing people left and right, and are generally the least efficient form of transportation imaginable. But like I told my friend once; even if there were no roads, I would still own a car, just to tinker with. Because, to us, a car is more than its intended purpose. In the end, whether it’s dependable or not, efficient or otherwise, makes no difference to how you end up feeling about it. And how you feel, not how it measures up on graphs and reviews, is what will determine whether you are happy with it or not in the long run.

So if I can leave you with a word of advice; buy what you like, as long as it doesn’t become an unbearably miserable owning experience. You need a commuter car for work? Sure a Geo Metro is great on paper, but how much more would it cost to drive a 1970’s Mercedes 250s or an original Mini Cooper?  Do the math, ask yourself if your happiness is worth that small (or large) sum. Recently I saw a picture on TTAC of a Bentley Arnage parked in front of a so-so apartment house. Readers were bemoaning the owner’s lack of priority management. Personally, if I were without children, and it were just Michelle and me, I would do that exact same thing. Why not? It is all a question of priorities; not whether you have any or not, but what they are. I for one, would rather spend less time sitting around watching TV and more time tackling a twisting mountain road in a classic sports car. How about you?

Next week I will begin a three part mini-series on buying used cars, I hope you all will stick around and check it out. Thanks for your loyal readership.

[ED: All 46 of Michael’s Cars Of A Lifetime are archived here: Auto-Biographies]