After moving to Colorado for a fresh start, both personally and professionally, I figured that should also include a new car. Why? Well, why not? Not that there was anything really wrong with the Sentra that brought me to town, but it was possible that a need for four doors would crop up now and again. So, back into the market I went…
I arrived in Denver in August 1993, and I pretty much started scoping out the local car dealers after I got settled. I had a couple of requirements this time around – 1) 4 doors; 2) stick shift; 3) cheap. While my payment on the Sentra was reasonable, I now had rent, utilities and other living expenses to worry about, so cutting that payment would help. I didn’t want to give up the row-your-own transmission, but as I was turning 30 later in the year, I figure something more, er, “mature” might be in order.
As is the case with things that happened 25+ years ago, I don’t remember a lot about the search itself. Turns out there were more manual transmissions available then than there are now, so finding possible replacements was not that hard. It was the budget that was stretched (gee, where have we heard that before?).
Eventually, I wandered onto a Honda lot and spotted what was probably the last 1993 Accord there. This was the DX trim, which meant no real creature comforts. Burgundy, with the black bumpers that told the world you didn’t (or, couldn’t) spring for the LX trim that had pretty much everything you were looking for. Only sported the left mirror, too. But the test drive blinded me. The 2.2L engine made 125HP, and the transmission was a joy to operate. The dealer made me an offer – to lease. The payment was right, they agreed to add a second mirror, and a stereo, so I signed.
One thing I learned was that California and Colorado approached license plates and registration differently. In CA, the dealer handled all the registration paperwork and interacted with the DMV – it was part of the deal, and you picked your plates up from the dealer. In CO, each county manages their registration and plates, which meant you wrote a separate check to obtain your plates. And, CO has a personal property tax, which meant that the check was bigger than I expected.
The Accord was truly my commuter car. I lived in suburban Denver, and the office was downtown, so I spent 30-40 minutes a day, each way, in the car. No highways, all surface streets, so I had plenty of opportunity to use the transmission. Well, 1st and 2nd gear for the most part. You read about cars that have transmissions that you can guide with a single finger – the Accord was one of them.
As was the case with Hondas of that era, everything worked, everything was logically laid out and easy to use. The sight lines were amazing – for those of you reading this who are used to cars with restricted visibility (i.e. pretty much everything now), you should try and find one of these relics to test drive. Big windows, narrow pillars, great seats.
Having lived exclusively in California and Arizona up to this point, I was blindsided when the weather turned. I remember it was 90+ degrees on Labor Day weekend; a week later, I woke up to snowflakes falling from the sky. The drive to work was much slower than normal, natch. The snow didn’t really stick – the first one of the season rarely does, but I was amazed by how fast the seasons changed.
The four doors came in handy when my mom, sister and son came out for a visit. The Accord had plenty of space for them and their luggage, and the car seat that A needed at the time.
Fall turned to winter, and the Accord started spending a fair amount of time in airport parking lots, as the amount of travel for the new job ramped up. This kept the miles down – I was allowed 15,000 miles per year, per the lease agreement. Home, work, airport; there really wasn’t a lot of time for anything else, though I was able to explore the different parts of the metro Denver area.
I had made plans to fly back to California for Christmas that first year; about a week or two before I left, we had another snow storm. This time, the snow had accumulated on the asphalt. The road out from my apartment was curvy, and empty, and… well, let’s just say my car control under those circumstances wasn’t as good as it needed to be. I spun the car, and took it across the curb at precisely the right angle to bend the left rear wheel and suspension. It was towed to the dealer, where it spent the holidays getting repaired. No body damage, thank goodness, so the total bill (covered by insurance) was minimal. The folks at the dealer put the car back together well; I never noticed any problems with driveability after I got it back.
Soon after, I started dating a lady who had two kids from a previous marriage; one day we were all in the car and the kids were acting up. Mom wasn’t having any luck getting them to calm down, so I turned around to encourage better behavior. Wham! Rear ended the car in front of me at a speed of probably 30-35 MPH. Everyone was fine, thank goodness. This was my first accident with a car equipped with an airbag. The front end was pretty much demolished, but not so much to have it declared a total. The cost to repair it was about $5500; of that total, close to a grand was to replace the airbag and its related components. Again, the repairs were done well and I noticed no mechanical or cosmetic issues when the car was returned to me.
Relationships come and go, and I dated another lady for a time before I met C. C also has two kids from a prior marriage, and this relationship had legs. When I met her, C was driving a 10 year old Ford Tempo with over 90,000 miles on it. Gold, tan interior, stick shift, and on its last legs mechanically. I let her drive the Accord for a bit, since her drive got longer when she took a new job, and I took the Tempo. It started acting up even more, so C made the decision to get a more reliable car. As she was a Ford girl, she ended up leasing a 1997 Ford Escort LX (also with a stick shift). The Escort had AC and cruise, which put it two up on the Accord, and it quickly became the family car, despite it being smaller.
C and I got married in 1997, and we settled into a new routine. Her commute was about 30 minutes, one way, while I continued to commute into downtown, when I wasn’t traveling. That October, one of the biggest fall snowstorms struck the Denver area. I was flying back from the east coast that Friday night. I changed planes in Chicago, and C told me that the snow had just started falling, but it wasn’t too bad, just yet. Between then and the time I landed in Denver, all hell broke loose. I had parked my car on the top level of the parking garage, and everything was the same color – white. Once I dug it out and got in, the traffic was about as bad as I had ever seen it. It took me 4 hours to get home – a trip that would normally take 45 minutes. My wipers froze solid, so I was driving by following the taillights of the cars in front of me. About a mile from home, the last car I was following turned off, and I immediately drove into a snow bank. Fortunately, there were roving bands of teenage boys roaming around in 4×4 pickups, digging folks out. They got to me, eventually, and I finally got home, where the 24” of snow we received snowed us in the entire weekend. The kids had spent the night with friends in the foothills, where they received much more snow – 40”, I think.
The Accord continued to soldier on, though little things started to happen – the left rear window wouldn’t roll down, for example. It never left me stranded, and I always enjoyed the transmission and sporty feel from what was a mundane family sedan. The large trunk came in handy, and I always enjoyed the ergonomics of the dash, the pedals and the gear lever.
Eventually, the lease was coming to an end (as was the lease on the Escort), and decisions had to be made as to what was going to replace them. C woke up one November Saturday morning with a great idea… which I’ll report on in the next installment.