I’m not sure why I never really connected with my third car, but on three separate occasions I contemplated selling it. When an annoying front suspension knock emerged and quickly became too loud to ignore, I finally followed through and sold my Calais after two years of ambivalence.
The front suspension knock wasn’t anything that affected driveability or safety but it alternated between a repetitive, loud knock, much like the sound of driving over a series of hard speed bumps, and a hiss akin to an electric kettle coming off the boil. I had registered to become an Uber driver and was ready to start driving passengers around when the noise started to occur. My plans to earn a little extra money on the side had to be put on hold, for obvious reasons.
I went to my regular mechanic and was quoted just over $AUD1,000 to fix it. Seeking a second opinion, I went to another mechanic and was quoted $1,500. Oh dear. The Calais had around 170,000 kms (105,000 miles) on the odometer when I bought it in September 2014, higher than I would have liked but I considered the car overall a good deal given its price and condition. But by 2016, my car had over 200,000 kms (124,000 miles) on the clock, therefore having surpassed what I consider the psychological high mileage barrier.
On a lark, I sought the opinion of some dealers who offered as little as $4,500 for a car valued by Redbook as being worth at least $8,000. One dealer justified this lowball trade-in value by saying the GM 3.6 was known for eating timing chains. While that may be so with some of these engines, mine had been trouble free but for an incident in 2015 wherein a radiator hose burst, leaving me stranded and requiring the installation of a new radiator.
You can see where Holden designers received their inspiration. I believe the Calais is better proportioned than this A6 and wouldn’t look out-of-place with a European badge on it.
The Calais was frustrating me more and more to drive and I didn’t want to sink money into repairs that I wouldn’t recoup upon selling the car. While I had always loved the way the Calais looked inside and out, there were certain flaws that had always bothered me and after the suspension noise had started these flaws were now infuriating. Despite solid build quality overall, I hated the sound the doors made when they closed as there was no solid ‘thunk’; a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. But that was nothing compared to the aggravatingly stiff ride of the car, owing to the use of the Commodore SS and SS-V’s FE2 suspension tune in 2006-07 Calais models.
On the plus side and rather amazingly for a large sedan, the handling on the Calais was brilliant. The steering was meaty and well-weighted, turn-in was crisp and the car stayed flat in corners with no perceptible body roll. Taking the Calais for a spin around Mounts Nebo and Glorious was a delight, and I would pop it into the excellent manual shift mode and have an absolute blast in the twisties. The problem is, I needed the car more for commuting than I did for mountain drives. And on my daily commute on Brisbane’s mediocre roads, the stiff ride bothered me.
I had found myself longing for my old Falcon, a car I had always adored and had sold with great regret. As I wanted a Calais replacement promptly, I didn’t have time to do my usual list-writing and extensive research. Instead, I scoured Carsales, set a maximum price of around $10,000 as with my last two cars, a maximum age of 10 years (so I could drive it for Uber), and left all the other parameters untouched. I was approaching this process with an open mind and no specific preferences, although I did hold out hope for finding a 2007 Honda Legend (Acura RL) in my price range.
My finds included: a Holden Cruze 1.4 turbo, fully-loaded and with a dramatically slashed price due to the owner’s pending overseas move; two Mitsubishi 380s; a Renault Fluence; and a Suzuki Kizashi. The critically-praised Kizashi proved to be a disappointment, with a dull interior, an oddly springy and uncomfortable ride but a rorty and delightful four-cylinder engine. One 380 had disastrously faded paint, while the other was a lowly base model in refrigerator white. The Fluence was a wildcard, but I decided not to go ahead despite its lengthy features list because nobody knows what a Fluence is and it would have been hard to resell (for reference: it’s a Korean-built Japanese car with a French badge). It also didn’t help that the owner had no clue how to respond to messages. Finally, the Cruze was only two years old and dirt cheap but I just didn’t click with it and didn’t want to be stuck with another car I didn’t love.
I even revisited the same old well and looked at two Falcons. One was a mid-range FG G6, but the interior quality disappointed and the price was too high. Also, beige velour trim? What was Ford thinking? Finally, I looked at an earlier BA XR6, like my old one albeit with an automatic. Inspecting it on the dealer’s forecourt, I realized that perhaps I had romanticized the first car I had ever purchased. The doors? They didn’t close with a solid ‘thunk’. The features list was short. Some of the interior trim pieces were cheap. Then, I remembered that the Falcon had always rode about as stiff as the Calais. The Falcon I had put up on a pedestal had really been no better than the Calais in anything other than low-end torque. In the space of just a few years, I had put on rose-tinted glasses.
My beloved Sooty, shortly before her passing
I continued to lower the price of my Calais online and even paid for an ad on Carsales. I fielded the occasional phone call from slow-talking, tedious buyers who never ended up inspecting the car. In the interim, I purchased a replacement car. The eventual buyer contacted me via my free ad on Gumtree (of course). He was a nice, young Estonian man who appreciated my honesty. I even showed him the quotes for the repairs and told him about the one other issue I had experienced (the radiator hose incident). Being without wheels and relying on his friend’s ute, he was eager to seal the deal and so was I. The next day, he came by with his friend and paid me in cash; he had negotiated a lower price, but it was still well above the dealer’s insults offers. With that, the Calais was gone. Coming so shortly after losing my last grandparent (my mother’s mother) as well as my 16-year old cat, Sooty, whom I had owned since I was a child, I had no tears to shed for a car.
My initial article on my Calais was clearly written too early during my ownership. That initial glow of enthusiasm elicits a shaking of the head from my present-day self. Having learned from this, I shan’t discuss my current vehicle with you just yet.
I had purchased the Calais in somewhat of a rush and initially loved it before its flaws became more apparent. My adoration turned into ambivalence, even if it was a fundamentally decent car and with some truly praiseworthy attributes. Its replacement was similarly purchased with haste but, for the first time, my acquisition of a car came with little excitement or fanfare. The replacement was an exceptionally sensible, practical choice that has stirred no emotions. I have decades ahead of me in which to buy exciting cars that ignite my soul. In the meantime, I have a car that drives well and doesn’t sound like it’s about to fall apart. At this point in my life, that’s good enough for me.
Jim Klein’s Cars of a Lifetime: 2014 Chrysler 300C V8 AWD