Kellen was not a keeper
I frequently read about cars and personal stories that make me reconsider my entire approach to vehicle ownership, and this happened again yesterday with CCer TBM3FAN’s five-decade COAL writeup on his 1968 Mercury Cougar. In honor of his excellent reminiscences and admirable devotion to his car, I’d like to expand on it and ask a question of the CC community: What would your 50-year keeper be? I propose we follow TBM3FAN’s circumstances in establishing some criteria for answering this question.
Criteria 1: The car should have been accessible to you as a 16 year old. For me, that means I had to afford the payment, upkeep, and fuel using my pizza restaurant high school “salary”. Your own circumstances may vary.
Criteria 2: Limit the influence of hindsight in your choice. By this I mean, do not allow the current market value of survivors on Hemmings or Bring a Trailer to be the overriding consideration. We’re not talking the Apple stock you wish you could have purchased, we are talking vehicles you want in your life. Also consider your changing tastes as you aged. As a new teenage driver, what would have caught your attention back then and still been kind of fun to have around now?
Criteria 3: Given the low probability of keeping a car running after 50 years of daily driving, feel free to assume that the car was used as your daily from age 16 until natural circumstances would have reassigned it to second or third car status. Say, your first real job, the start of your family or a move to a region where the vehicle just isn’t suitable for daily use. From there it can sit in a garage and be brought out, pampered, and cruised across town on a summer evening. Or filled with firewood and the carcass of the elk you just bagged. As above, your circumstances may vary.
I’ll start. Remembering my interest set and financial ability back in 1998, this is would likely be my 50 year choice: The 1995 Toyota Pickup, 22RE 4-cylinder engine, 4WD, 5 speed manual transmission, short cab. An odd, perhaps droll choice, yes. It doesn’t “wow” in 2018 the way a 1968 Cougar does. But I’m from a different generation–the wow factor of the late 80s/early 90s is only kept from rock bottom by the Malaise Era that preceded it. So no 1960s glory for me.
I would have liked a stoplight demon at 16 years old, but this little truck is where my interests truly were at the time. I live in the Intermountain West where public lands and dirt roads intersect. I spent time out there exploring in my little car or with friends, two of whom owned Toyota trucks similar to this. Jealous is an understatement. These trucks were the ticket to getting beyond that first modest washout and into the backcountry. I lifted the pictures from a highly representative Bring-a-Trailer listing. It is specified just the way I would have wanted it, with the extravagances of a tachometer, air conditioning, and a clock.
To the teenage Petrichor, these trucks represented a state of freedom, possibility, and personal invincibility and optimism that still persists as an imprint on my psyche today. I love ’em. They looked cool then with their tall stance and mighty ground clearance. They still do. They looked good when shiny and clean. They looked good when coated with dirt and dust, and that got you respect in the high school parking lot the next Monday. And when you pulled out of that lot at the end of the day, even the weak 4 cylinder announced your departure with a guttural cooling fan roar.
Sure, they were slow. Damned slow. Four cylinder or six, didn’t matter. My friend’s ’92 with slightly oversize tires was nearly impossible to keep near 65mph on grades. You’d still lose pace in third gear. She marveled at my ability to return 26mpg on one trip, though. The truck, I told her, liked me. My other friend’s 1996 Tacoma was light years ahead with the newer 2.7L 4-cylinder (I can still get one of those in a base 2018 Tacoma if I’m feeling nostalgic). These trucks are also uncomfortable–poor seats, flat seating position, lots of road and engine noise, iffy directional stability–but that stuff wasn’t even on my radar back then.
As for practical matters, these were affordable (if barely), were OK on gas, and seem to be essentially indestructible and cheap to keep on the road. I’d have happily driven this through high school, college, and until we purchased our home in 2009. It would be 14 years old and have an estimated ~170K miles on it by then. That is the year I would be looking at purchasing my VW Sportwagen. I suspect I’d still purchase that VW, so the truck would have become a third vehicle used only on mulch runs and camping trips for the two of us. Our twins arrived a few years after that, at which point this truck would have been utterly useless for even weekend outings. I’d like to think that I still would not have sold it, but rather would have recognized its role in my life up to that point and given it a nice relaxed retirement here at home.
It would be used very sparingly during this retirement, and probably would not have crested 190K miles as of today. I would now have proper appreciation of the pseudo-cult/iconic status of the rig and would consider some cosmetic and mechanical restoration to at least keep it shiny and fully functional. Could it last another 30 years? I think so. The only question there is rust; we aren’t in the salt belt but do use some and I have to wonder if my teenage/early-20s self would have kept it clean enough during those important daily driver years. One thing I am certain of is that I would smile every time I got behind the wheel of it for the occasional Sunday drive, remembering the years and memories experienced in a simple, purpose built truck.
An adventure, courtesy of a 1996 Tacoma, circa 2000
So I pass the question off to you, Curbside readers. What would your 50-year vehicle be?