COAL: 1990 Mercury Sable Wagon – We Thought We Were Getting A Toyota Camry Wagon

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In late 1986, I had a Manhattan co-op near Union Square, an Irish princess wife, no car, no pool, no pets, and soon no job due to Sony buying my employer Columbia Pictures from Coca-Cola.

I was only 42. I still felt that there was a lot I could do in my chosen industry somewhere.

But where?

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My manager Catherine at Columbia Pictures went to work with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where her husband was in sales. She told me DEC wanted to compete in the business/commercial side of technology and was looking for IBM oriented users and technical sales support personnel to help them in that effort.

DEC was big in the technology computing field where most of its customers knew more about DEC hardware and software than, well, than the DEC sales people. The DEC sales people were more like order-takers than sales personnel. But to sell to business/commercial computer users, DEC needed an IBM-like approach to both sales and technical sales support.

That’s where I came in; two interviews later a start date was set. I was a technical sales support person who knew little to nothing about DEC’s technology. But I had been on both sides of the sales effort in business/commercial technology and I could write and deliver presentations to potential customers who were doing the same things in their work that I did at Columbia Pictures and at Grumman.

The first thing I noticed at Digital was a little thing called DECnet. Digital had offices all over the globe and although the “Internet” was years from being introduced to the technical world, a Digital employee anywhere could communicate to any other Digital employee anywhere instantly. Why was this a big deal to me? Wasn’t e-mail starting to become common in most corporations?

When I say instantly, I mean INSTANTLY.

DECnet is described at here .

Today’s and yesterday’s email systems are almost all store and forward. Hit send and you message will be processed, digested, broken up into packets here and there, and later reassembled, and then arrive at its destination. Fast, but not immediately.

VTTerminal

With the 1987 version of DECnet, there was no store; there was just forward. Using a Digital dumb VT terminal and talking to a co-worker in Singapore on the phone, I would say “here it comes”, press Send, and almost immediately on the phone I would hear a beep on my DEC co-worker’s Singapore terminal; my file had arrived.

Speed was important. As someone writing sales proposals and needing technical input from, and questions answered by, co-workers all over the globe, I could get information, ask questions, develop drafts, make revisions, and get the final documents completed more quickly and easily than using a regular PC email system.

Digital’s internal corporate DECnet network reached over 10,000 nodes by late 1986, making it one of the largest computer networks in the world at that time.

This appreciation of office automation technologies came in handy very soon. In the summer of 1988 my first big solo assignment was to help The Port Authority of NY and NJ IT department justify to their management the starting of the second phase of a Digital office automation implementation.

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The PA offices were located in the North Tower (the one with the antennae) on floors in the mid to high 60s. DEC had wired these floors with DECnet Ethernet cables and networking hardware and implemented phase I of the full PA Office Automation project.

Ethernet is described here .

The PA customers wanted Digital to do a detailed cost justification before starting Phase II. PA management wasn’t sure how much the office automation system was saving them in time and money, and how much it was helping increase worker productivity.

Today the answer to that concern would be obvious; back in 1988 people still weren’t too sure.

I had full access to anyone I wanted to speak with and I spoke to a lot of PA people. This was a real “consulting” assignment and doing it was a joy. It took me most of two months, often walking directly to the North Tower from my home on 16th street in the mornings and meeting my wife TIP (The Irish Princess) for lunch at the PA lunchroom in the sky overlooking NY Harbor.

There were PA sponsored concerts on the ground level plaza between the twin towers at lunch time; I even saw Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) and the Four Tops there. For readers not at or near retirement age, ask someone older and wiser who Cousin Brucie is, or go to here.

PA management accepted my report and the subsequent oral presentation, funded Phase II of the OA project, and requested a second report from me on recommended future uses of the OA system.

J24atDock

During the same summer in 1988 I joined the one year old Manhattan Yacht Club (MYC) (now called the Manhattan Sailing Club – a much more accurate name). Back then the MYC had twelve J24 sail boats docked at the South Street Seaport on the East River between the museum’s two tall ships The Wavertree and The Peking.

The MYC was a way for New York City folks to race J24 sailboats in NY Harbor on weekday evenings, and take out boats for pleasure sails almost any time.

RailPotatoes

As a newbie I was initially relegated to the position of rail potato, but quickly qualified to captain a boat myself with just TIP and me. TIP was fearless on the water; I was not. Falling into the rapid currents of the East and North (Hudson) rivers could overwhelm even the strongest swimmer. We always wore life vests.

It was kind of neat to sail under the twin towers just an hour after working 67 stories up in the North Tower. Our three race buoy markers were usually set west of the Twin Towers, east of the Colgate sign in Jersey City, and north of Liberty Island.

My racing mates were very competitive; many were from Wall Street and they wanted to win at all costs. There were a few incidents of over powered sails, an accidental-gybe, and one collision that de-masted two boats at the starting line as J24 “captains” jostled for position just after the one minute cannon signal.

This was competitive sailing; I usually came home from races covered in bruises. While it was interesting and mostly fun, one summer of the MYC was enough.  I clearly was not the competitive type the MYC attracted.

Besides, TIP was pregnant.

After the PA study my biggest sale ever, and it was a team effort as I was just one member of the proposal team, was to the New York City Department of Correction (no “s” at the end of Correction).

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The DOC put out an RFP (request for proposals) for an inmate telephone and commissary management system for NYC jails, including the 10 jails on Rikers Island and the smaller jails in each of the City’s boroughs.

It was a long and complicated technical proposal and sales effort.

The final competition came down to DEC, IBM, and one of the big Bell companies, I think Southwest Bell. These were exactly the companies DEC hired people like me to compete against.

No one thought we could win the business. Certainly not against IBM and SW Bell.

We won the business.

It wasn’t an easy or a fast win. We had to wait almost a year while the new NYC mayor David Dinkins took office and reviewed all pending contracts awards and announcements. My management was so concerned about the wait that I tried to avoid them in the hallways because they always asked me “Plaut; the DOC; we need this business; you need this business; what’s going on; we really need this business… “.

While we waited for Mayor Dinkins’ advisors and commissioners to approve the contract, TIP gave birth to a boy; we named him William after a Catholic priest that was an important influence in TIP’s life.

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I was there at the birth and have some observations from that experience:

  1. If men had to give birth, humans would have died out as a species a long time ago.
  2. Delivery rooms are really cold.
  3. Umbilical cords are really strong.

When we brought William home in the back of a yellow cab TIP cried. She explained “I’m crying because we’re bringing William home now, but someday he’ll grow up and leave home forever.” It made sense to me and I too started to worry about it.

After looking at larger apartments in New York City we decided that maybe a move to the suburbs was in order. TIP did not have a driver’s license; she had spent her adult life in NYC and never had the need to get one. If we were going to move to the “country” she would need to learn how to drive.

TIP started taking driving lessons. Each Saturday morning she would eagerly wait in the lobby of our building and take a full hour of lessons on the quiet weekend morning streets of Manhattan. She always returned from the lessons excited. TIP must have been a natural because she got her NY State driver’s license rather quickly.

To celebrate, we reserved a car to drive to Long Island for a family get-together. I had the tolls ready and would be the navigator. TIP said she said she could handle the Queens Midtown Tunnel, which I thought would be the hardest part, but we left early anyway to avoid traffic.

Queenstunnel

TIP handles the tunnel and its curves just fine. We paid the toll, and then came a long gentle rising six lane sweep to the left and up of the start of the Long Island Expressway (LIE). TIP seemed to freeze, white knuckled the steering wheel, and went straight starting a right drift out of our lane. I gentle nudged the wheel to the left keeping the car heading in that gentle left arc and again the drifting of the car to the right. Adjust, drift, adjust, drift …

“You OK?” I asked. “Want to pull over and switch seats” (not a good idea on the LIE but traffic was light).

Then she relaxed.  “Gentle turns” TIP said. “I never did gentle turns; all the turns I did were right and left 90 degree turns around corners.” “Wow. What will they think of next? I think I got it now.  OK.  I got it.”

All of her driver’s training was on the street grid of Manhattan; all the turns she practiced were 90 degrees.

From that point on, the only fears I had regarding TIP’s driving was her penchant for speed, fast acceleration at green lights, and ignoring the gas gauge.

We looked in Westchester and Long Island for a “country” home but nothing struck us as what we wanted. Then a co-worker recommended his town of Basking Ridge in NJ. “If you don’t mind that some of the high school kids will drive better cars than you will ever own, it’s a nice town, almost bucolic.” He gave us the name of a real estate agent and we drove an Avis Tempo/Topaz out there to see for ourselves. I missed the older Avis 302 Fairmonts.

The town of Basking Ridge looked like something from Martha’s Vineyard, where we had honeymooned. This is where we wanted to live. After a few weekends of looking we found an expanded three bedroom, three bath cape on two thirds of an acre.

Shleppers2

We hired “Shleppers” to move us from NYC to NJ. Our other choices were “Nice Jewish Boy With Truck” and “Mother Truckers”. It would appear NYC moving businesses are not without a sense humor. “Shleppers” did the job nicely.

1990Camry

Before the move date I called the local Toyota dealer and said I wanted to test drive and buy a Camry station wagon; we made an appointment to meet a sales person there on the day of the closing. I had done my research and the Camry was the car of choice. I even called to confirm the appointment.

On the appointed day and at the appointed time we drove our wine red Dodge Dynasty rental (a really nice car btw) to the Toyota dealer. They we busy, no one was expecting us, and they had a hard time finding a demo station wagon. Finally we got our test drive and I mentioned to the salesman that the car seemed a little rough and noisy and dirty. “Maybe it needs a tune up or some kind of service – not sure which” he answered. Anyone who knows cars knows that relatively new cars almost never need “tune ups”. This guy did not know cars; I suppose many car sales persons do not know much about cars.

Then he looked at the Dynasty parked near the door and said with a sneer “You’re complaining about this Toyota and you came in that?”

TIP was holding one year old William who was getting fidgety and I was feeling that we were not going to buy a Toyota wagon from this guy. We left that dealership. went to a diner for lunch, called our real estate agent and asked her from whom she bought her cars. She gave me the name and location of a Mercury dealer and said she would call her friend there and tell him we were looking for a station wagon.

SableAd1

When we arrived at the Mercury dealer a few hours later, we were welcomed like family, and shown to a washed and ready brand new Sable wagon. It was perfect, smooth, quiet, and roomier than the Toyota. He said it was basically a Taurus which were very sturdy and reliable cars, but the Sable was a bit nicer, and we would love their service department.

The next day we dropped off the Dynasty rental near our new home and were picked up by an employee of the Mercury dealership in a service car.  Our new Sable wagon was shinning and waiting.

Sable-Rear

The Sable had an interesting tailgate. Turn the key one way and the glass back light opened up. Turn the key the other way and the entire rear, tailgate and window together opened up.

SableThirdRow

The Sable also had the backward facing third row so it was technically an eight seater. This photo is of a later model year, but that backwards facing seat hadn’t changed.

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The front drive Sable had the 3.0 liter fuel injected overhead valve Vulcan V6 and a four speed AXOD automatic transmission. The Vulcan developed 140 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 160 lb. ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm. The Sable weighed about 3,250 pounds.

The optional 3.8 Essex V6 was much more powerful torque-wise but that engine was plagued with head gasket issues and as a result I learned to appreciate the sturdy, reliable, and pedestrian Vulcan.

I noticed that the valve covers were plastic and wondered when that came about.

While Taurus and Sable sedans had struts at the front and rear, Taurus and Sable wagons had struts at the front and regular springs and shock absorbers at the rear to provide more floor and cargo space in the cargo area.

Cargo capacity was 45.7 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seat up, and 81.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.

Our Sable also had a very visible rear anti-sway bar. For a large-ish station wagon, it handled very well.

Laurence Jones wrote up an earlier version of the Sable here.

Brendan Saur wrote up a 1990 Sable wagon here.

Jim Grey wrote up a 1990 Taurus wagon sister ship here.

SableLights

The sable had a light bar between the headlights that went on with the parking lights and stayed on with the headlights. For some reason the little bulbs for the light bar were more expensive than one would think and hard to find outside of a dealership. I always made sure all four lights in the light bar were working. I thought it looked nice with just the parking lights on (upper left photo).

1990SableInt3

The Sable had a power driver’s seat and was as comfortable as any car I had previously driven. I tried sitting in the backwards facing third row just for kicks, but given a choice, I would prefer to walk than ride back there. Of course I would have no problem with my Irish in-laws and relatives sitting back there.

These Taurus and Sable wagons were all over Basking Ridge so we felt we had made a good choice because other people had made the same choice. Either that or we all made the same bad choice.

I had taken off three weeks for the move and was going to be walking to the train station to make the commute back to Manhattan and TIP needed to make a few solo runs in the Sable to get herself comfortable. William and I watched her pull out of the driveway and proceed up the road at a crawl as she got used to the car that was a bit larger than the cars we had previously rented.

Suddenly, I saw a gold Taurus/Sable wagon crest the hill in front of the house at a frightening speed and swoosh past the house going 30 or 35 mph on the narrow country road and heading for the road’s end and an “T” intersection less than a quarter of a mile away.

Widower-hood with a one year old child and a home in the suburbs flashed in my mind.

Then TIP’s gold Sable slowly appeared at the same hill going all of 10 mph, maybe not even 10; it was hard to tell. I remember the relief I felt seeing her smiling face as she pulled into the driveway.

“There’s another car in this neighborhood just like ours. Did you see it?”

“We saw it”.

It was a Taurus.

TIP and Will went all over the state of NJ and beyond in the 1990 Sable Wagon. For the first three or four years it was fine. I occasionally had DEC company cars which were always Ford Taurus sedans and I noticed DEC did not keep them more than three years.

As nice as the Sable was, four years on it had started having issues with the A/C, the power steering pump, and some of the AXOD down shifts, especially the 2 to 1 going around corners were becoming long and rough. I would have been happy to keep it a long time as our primary vehicle if these issues were not regularly popping up.

Then DEC eliminated the company car plan as part of their “industry standards” cut backs, so I made plans to use the Sable for work and TIP went looking for a reliable and safe faster and sexier car.

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It didn’t take long. One day she said to me “I found our next car; I already drove it. It’s really fast!”

“Oh goody” I replied, seeing more visions of widower-hood.

Dhani Harrison sure looks like his father!