COAL: 2012 Ford Focus – World Car IV (Part 1)

Tabby, my 2001 Focus was nearing a decade old and while it was still in good shape, it was starting to need many small repairs. I found myself in the same situation as I had been in with the Contour – no easy way to make those necessary repairs without paying a mechanic’s shop-rate. By this time I had a steady well paying job (not in the museum world as it turns out) as did my wife, A. My father again agreed to co-sign the loan note on a new car for me.

I was fortunate that by 2011 car companies incorporated “build” sections into their webpages, and I made great use of this feature, configuring and re-configuring all of the options and packages for the Mk. 3 Focus. I had the car specced out exactly as I wanted it, and went down to Tasca Ford in Cranston, RI with my build. The salesman was a little surprised that I knew more about the ’12’s than he did, but he was able and willing to work the order forms with me to build the exact car I wanted.

Then came the hard part – five weeks waiting for the car to come in. Towards the end of that five-week period, I drove down to Tasca to see if the car had been unloaded. And then late one Thursday night, I saw it! My Focus had come in! I went down on my lunch break the next day and begged the dealership to let me take the car around the block, even though the dealer prep hadn’t been completed yet. I drove it a few miles away and played around with the SYNC, pairing my phone and marveling at the technology. I reluctantly took the car back to the dealership and was then told I would have to wait until Monday to pick the car up. The agony of waiting continued…

The first time I laid eyes on my Focus, it had been off the delivery truck mere hours.

In October of 2011, I took ownership of my second new car. I had special ordered a five-door hatch, five-speed Focus SE in Kona Blue with the winter package (heated seats and mirrors). The car also had power windows/locks/mirrors and the aforementioned SYNC system (funny side note, when the salesman was showing me how to use all the feature of the car, he wanted to show me how to pair my phone. He was perplexed why my phone was already linked…I finally told him I had already driven the car!). The original color that I wanted was a slightly different shade of blue, however, there were issues with the paint production that necessitated the change. Because the blue paint reminded me of cloudy skies and a lightning bolt, I christened the car Elektra.

Changing of the guard.

For those of you counting, my 2012 Ford Focus would be my fourth Ford “World Car”. This wasn’t planned, but I am a Blue Oval man and I am proud of my record of enjoying the fruits of Ford’s worldwide products and Alan Mullaly’s “One Ford” plan to reunite the Focus family. Many would rightly argue that the Escort was not really a “World Car”, but it did have a little globe Escort emblem (at least for the year), so it was intended to fill that role as a one-car-for-all-markets.

Elektra settled in as my daily driver. I enjoyed having a car that I didn’t fret about errant noises or what might break next, along with the novelty of heated seats and USB/Bluetooth connections. I never did quite get the hang of the voice-command system, but it was a fun toy to play with while driving. One of the first negative things I noticed was the dearth of storage space. Those of you that have driven this generation Focus know what I’m talking about – weirdly shaped storage pockets and bins that don’t hold much and are oddly placed.

One of the first trips my ex-wife and I took in the Focus was to Mt. Washington. Unfortunately, it was late in the season (November) and the road had closed. We managed to drive half-way up and we took a short hike. We then decided that drinking beer and having warm food was a better use of our time. Many other road trips followed, mostly in the Northeast corner of the United States and Canada.

The dunes on Cape Cod near Provincetown.

Somewhere, Ontario Canada.

Roger Williams Park, Providence RI

And then the inevitable happened:

Elektra was my second new car, so I was aware that the first ding or dent can be upsetting, but this one was a big one. My ex-wife managed to swipe a concrete post with the rear of the car when pulling out of a parking spot. It looks worse in the photo than it really was. The white paint rubbed out and the sheet metal wasn’t too damaged to be noticeable. Unfortunately, this car would be the focus of many a lot of minor accidents over the years. Some were my fault, some were other drivers fault, but it seems like it was just a magnet for careless people.

While Ford has taken a hit recently for quality issues with the transmissions in this generation of Foci, with the five-speed I was spared those problems. That’s not to say there weren’t other niggling issues. I had to fight with Tasca Ford to have a control arm replaced that failed just outside of warranty. I did get to have a loaner car for a week while they replaced it, all on Ford’s dime.

I didn’t really enjoy this Fusion as it was an automatic and had the three-bar electric razor front end. But hey, it was a rental.

While solidly built Focus was racking up the miles, my personal life was crumbling. My marriage was falling apart and I was struggling in my career. Within a few months of purchasing my previous Focus I lost my job, and the same thing happened with this car. I floundered around trying to figure out what to do with my life and this was the start of a few dark years for me.

I managed to scrape by with help from my parents and with the support of my friends, but it wasn’t easy. At least I had a reliable car that allowed me to do the one thing that always helped me through dark times: drive. In the Fall of 2013 it was time for Elektra’s first major road trip, and finally time for me to cross off Michigan from my list of states. As often as I have driven west, Michigan had always been elusive. Taking I-90 due west means skirting just to the south, and there was never a good reason to do so.

My friend S. decided on a jaunt out to Michigan and Wisconsin for a few days. We headed westward on I-90 from Massachusetts and into New York State. I’ve driven on the NY Thruway many times, but every time I have to go from the furthest East to West it is an incredibly long and boring drive. We stopped at Buffalo’s Central Terminal, one of my favorite urban decay ruins.

It’s such an amazing place to visit, even if you can’t go inside. Situated in the middle of decaying two-story houses far outside the center of Buffalo, it looms over empty lots and abandoned houses. The original idea was to situate the “new” train station in an area that would be ideally placed for future population growth, it opened on the cusp of the “rust-belt” era of Buffalo, and the people never came. It’s a wonderful relic that is worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Return of the yellow tent!

We were camping on this trip, but this would be one of the few nights that we could actually use the tent. The fall weather was uncooperative and it was cold and rainy for most of the trip. Sadly, we couldn’t have a campfire at this campground either.

I’m a huge fan of rest-areas in general, and being able to stop and have lunch is an added bonus. You’ll note that I go all out with the tablecloth and all…

One of the places I’ve always wanted to visit is the Studebaker Museum in South Bend. It was well worth the wait and I highly recommend a visit, even if you’re not a fan of Studebaker. There are so many neat cars in the collection and on display that a car buff could easily spend an entire day and not see everything. I plan on going back when I have more time.

We looped around out to Wisconsin to visit S’s sister in Madison. I had never been there before, but it is such a lovely city. Madison is sandwiched between two lakes and has a small-town vibe that I enjoy greatly. I don’t do well in metropolises (NYC, Chicago, LA) as I need a connection to the countryside and nature. Madison is one of those cities that provides a strong link between country and city.

After two days in Madison, we headed north to the Upper Peninsula of MI. I figured if I was going to visit Michigan, I might as well do it properly! The U.P. is a pretty desolate place, filled with hunting and fishing camps and mosquitoes. We drove over the impressive Mackinaw Bridge and visited Mackinaw Island.

We ended up camping in a cabin as the weather had turned absolutely awful, and the remainder of the trip would be overcast and dismal. We spent the next day wandering around Michigan before heading over into Canada for the return trip to RI. During this trip, I recorded the two highest miles per gallon I ever would see in the Focus: 39.9 on the westward trip and 46.1 on the eastward trip.

I’m going to conclude part one of this COAL with this story as there is much more to tell, including two RI – CA and one RI – FL road trip. Stay tuned!