Phil was my neighbor. He was a supervisor for the city bus service. Like my family, his was a typical middle class family living in an average suburban home. Shortly after we moved into the neighborhood, my wife and I ventured next door and met Phil and his wife. I also wanted to check out his brand-new car, he had just bought a Neon SRT4. Phil and I became friendly neighbors. We were never really close friends, but we talked once or twice per week. Usually the conversation turned to cars. He liked cars and knew a fairly good amount about them. He kept up with the newest models and prototypes more than I did. He never worked on cars and wasn’t the mechanic type, that was more my thing.
Phil was originally from the northeast but had been living in Florida for a few years. We had been neighbors for about two years when he got some bad news. His dad was killed in some kind of accident. We agreed to take care of their pets and get their mail for them when they went back up north.
About a month later Phil began talking about supercars. Specifically, he was interested in late model (not new) Lamborghinis. It turns out that Phil’s Father had a half million dollar life insurance policy. Phil’s mother, sister, and he were co-beneficiaries.
I advised Phil to stay away from exotics because of the high maintenance costs. He said that he could afford the maintenance (but his wife had mentioned tight finances to my wife more than one time before). I was trying to steer him toward a Caddy CTS-V – they were new then. He said he wanted something with “more panache.”
I’ll never forget the sound of the exhaust. The week after Christmas, 2006 he came down our street with a brand new 2006 Ford GT. Manufactured in the summer of ‘06, it was black with double white stripes. To my eye, it looked extremely dark blue, but either way, a gorgeous vehicle. If memory serves, it had approximately 150 miles on it. He was not shy about the monetary details; the dealer wanted $167,500 but he was able to get it for about $161,000. This was nearly his entire share of the insurance settlement. He had to use the Neon as a trade-in to pay the taxes.
I remember the car was amazingly low to the ground. The door frames were cut into roof, and I had never seen that before. He took me for a ride and it was a blast. The handling was like riding in an oversized go cart. The supercharged 5.4 V8 right behind your head had a marvelous roar. He said he would let me drive it “after the newness wore off.” It was arguably the best production American sports car ever built – to that date. Ford had done it. They captured the essence of the Le Mans winners of the 60s.
Phil’s car insurance premiums shot up. The Ford GT was his daily driver. I did some math, and was trying to convince him that if he found some cheap transportation, it would essentially cost him nothing because of the savings he would realize from reduced usage on the GT. He was bothered. “Why would I stop driving it?” he asked. He said it reminded him of his father. I told him that it would retain more value if he weren’t putting so many miles on it. He said it made him happy, and he frequently quoted the phrase “You only live once.”
Over the next two years or so my neighbor’s GT accumulated a lot of miles. Much more than the other 4,000 or so of these that were made. It accumulated some other things too; paint chips across the front, a scuffed front corner and some electrical issues.
At some point I noticed the GT was staying parked in the garage. Phil was riding an older model Kawasaki. He came over one evening and asked what I knew about bent rims. Could they be straightened? Where might a used wheel be obtained? I went over to have a look. The front passenger rim was badly warped. Making matters worse, when he started it, there was a tick coming from engine compartment. I couldn’t tell if it was a simple exhaust leak, or something more serious and internal. And I still had never gotten to drive it.
In the summer of 2012 Phil and his wife announced they were moving back, to near Hoboken, New Jersey. Phil’s mother was getting older, and she was alone. He contemplated selling the GT to help pay for a new house. I thought it would be hard to sell without some reconditioning. Furthermore, he would not get the price he expected because of the miles it had on the odometer. I seemed to always be the bearer of bad news, but the way I saw it, I was just the voice of reality.
In the end, Phil elected to put it on a trailer and tow it behind their moving truck. The day I helped him load it I noticed into what poor condition it had become. The interior looked used and dirty, two of the tires were worn down to the cords, and it definitely needed an alignment. Other than sporadic oil changes, it had received virtually no maintenance. I didn’t know if I even wanted to drive it now. It was sad witnessing that beautiful supercar deteriorate.
My wife and Phil’s wife keep in touch. Hurricane Sandy hit them hard later that same year. There was high water and a lot of destruction where they were. Thousands of peoples’ cars were scrapped. The GT was flooded. It was supposedly completely submerged under water. Of course, it was declared a total loss. I never found out the details, but I’ve always wondered if the insurance company knew of the condition of that Ford GT before the storm finished it off.
To me, Phil is an example of buying a car beyond your means. While he technically could afford it, he couldn’t really afford it.
One last thing. Don’t be too hasty in passing judgment on my old neighbor. He was grieving. Also, remember this was a difficult time economically for our nation. I know Phil and his wife were also having some issues with their kid during this time too.
Oh, have any of us taken perfect care of our cars? I haven’t. Is there anyone who has done every bit of recommended maintenance, on schedule, every time?