When it came time to trade in the VW Rabbit on something newer, and nicer, I wasn’t exactly sure what car I wanted. I knew I didn’t want a new Golf; I definitely wanted something with more power and a car that was somewhat larger. The mid-eighties, at least to me, was not a high point of automotive design; things were starting to move out of the malaise era of the seventies but nearly all cars (at least the ones I could afford to buy) seemed both underpowered and bland.
One Sunday, Easter Sunday as it happened, my future wife and I were just out riding around after church, killing time until we went to her parents’ house for dinner. For no reason other than it was someplace to go we drove to Owensboro, Kentucky, a largish (50,000 people) town in the next county east of my hometown. I drove past the Chevrolet dealer to look at Camaros but none of them impressed me enough to get out of the car; did I mention that it was spitting snow, in the last week of March! On the way out of town we drove past the Ford dealer and I saw a 1984 Mustang GT; it was silver and had T-tops but what really caught my eye was the “Price Reduced” painted on the windshield. I stopped and gave the Mustang a quick look, enough to note that it had a 5 speed manual transmission, factory air and the AM/FM/cassette combo.
Although various friends and family members had owned generation one and generation two Mustangs, and I had driven them frequently, I had never owned an example of the original pony car. That was about to change; on the Wednesday after I spotted the Mustang I took the afternoon off from work to go car shopping. I really don’t know why the dealer had not been able to sell this particular car and it had lingered on the lot until the spring of 1985. It wasn’t painted an ugly color, it had all the right equipment, it didn’t have any body damage; for whatever reason it just didn’t get sold. This worked to my advantage as I was able to purchase the Mustang (which stickered right at $15,000) for $11,500 and the Rabbit; they allowed me $1000 as the trade in on the VW so the dealer was willing to knock $2500 off the sticker. If they were happy, I was happy.
Carol and I had only been dating for a few months at this time but we seemed right for each other. She was even interested in cars; her current driver was a fairly new Nissan 300Z, which had replaced a late seventies Corvette. Although she never came out and said anything I’m sure she was happy not to have to ride in the well-used Rabbit any longer. As the weather got warmer we began taking the Mustang out for longer and longer drives, on a couple of occasions we got caught in sudden showers with the T-tops off; you would be surprised how fast one can install these in the rain.
Finally, on Memorial Day weekend, we decided to drive to Lexington, Kentucky, about three hours away. She had never been there so it would be a chance for me to show her the town, the university, where I had lived, etc. It was semi-overcast when we left but we took the T-tops off anyway. We got to Lexington, I gave Carol the grand tour, we ate lunch and then started back home, tops off all the way. As we cleared the Louisville metro area on I64 she looked over at me and told me that my face and neck were getting red. Naturally I looked at her and she was beginning to turn a little red herself (we are both somewhat fair skinned). Did we stop and put the tops back on? We did not, two reasonably intelligent people with three college degrees between us kept on trucking. By the time we got back to Carol’s house we were both pretty crispy; a valuable life lesson was learned however, sunscreen is an important item when riding in any kind of open vehicle.
Having survived a short road trip we decided to plan a longer excursion; Carol was then teaching high school and I had a job where I could take a couple of weeks off, if I planned it carefully. We set off and our first stop was Chicago, where we spent a day just hanging out and then the next day went to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs. From there we drove to southwestern Michigan and spent a couple of days with my aunt and uncle. This led to the major portion of the trip, several days in Toronto and then to Warsaw, New York, where Carol’s best friend from college was then living with her husband and her two daughters.
We left my aunt and uncle’s house on Sunday morning for the drive to Toronto. We had decided to bypass the Detroit/Windsor area and instead enter Canada farther north, crossing from Port Huron into Sarnia. This was long before 9/11 and U.S. citizens could usually enter Canada and return with only a copy of one’s birth certificate to prove citizenship. We were waved through the border on the United States side but got stopped at the Canadian customs post. The only thing we could figure was that the one agent on duty (who looked to be about 18 years old) was bored and wanted something to do; in any case we had to pull over and unload the car while he searched for contraband.
After reaching Toronto we were able to park the car at the hotel and use public transportation for getting around. We were staying down the street from city hall and there was a subway stop within walking distance. Our stay in Toronto was interesting; compared to large cities in the U.S. it was clean and from what we could tell, much safer than Chicago or New York. I’m sure that one could have found some less salubrious areas but the downtown area and the lakefront certainly made a good impression.
We did have one interesting experience; one night we took the subway down to the lakefront to eat dinner. It was around 8:30 or so when we left the restaurant and we were the only two people in our car. At the next stop a cheerfully inebriated gentleman boarded our car and tried to join us in conversation. The only trouble was that he was an immigrant from Scotland (I was able to understand that much) and his version of English didn’t really jibe with the version I learned growing up in Kentucky; I could understand about every fifth word he said. This attempted conversation lasted until we reached our stop, some 15 minutes away. As soon as Carol and I got up to the street we both started laughing; we were still laughing as we entered our hotel and I’m sure the desk clerk wondered what was going on.
We finished our vacation and began the trip home from New York. During the drive I came to a couple of conclusions; one was that any car used for extensive highway driving really needed to have cruise control. Not long after this I bought and installed an after-market cruise; it worked well except that it would not disengage by tapping the brake pedal, you had to manually turn it off instead. The other conclusion was that if Carol and I were going to be married (and we were shortly after this), it would be a good thing if she could drive a car with a manual transmission. After we got married I made several attempt to teach her how to operate the five speed but didn’t have much luck; I suspect that I was making her nervous.
Eventually we decided on a system that would work; I was in the Army National Guard then and had duty on at least one weekend per month. She would take me to the Saturday morning assembly and then have the remainder of the weekend to practice driving the Mustang. She was able to progress from backing in and out of the garage, to driving around the neighborhood, to driving the car anywhere she wanted to go. It didn’t take her long to progress to the point where shifting gears was second nature and not something she needed to think consciously about. Carol got comfortable enough operating the five speed that her next driver was a Celica coupe, with the five speed manual. Of course the irony is that for the rest of the time we had the Mustang we never took it on any kind of extended road trip.