COAL: Epilogue To A Life Of 30 Cars

It has been a long road from February 1977 and a Lime Gold Galaxie 500 convertible to February 2023 with a Honda Fit and a Kia Sedona.  That comes to 46 years and 29 30 cars.  Which is certainly less than the 2x/year early on, but far more frequent than the recent practice of buy and hold for a decade+.  In his prime, my father did “new every two” and I have certainly averaged a churn rate higher than that.

I like symmetry and order.  Too much of my life lacks those things, so I appreciate them (and help make them) where I can.  One of those places is here.  For example, this Furious Odyssey from a Galaxie far away to a Fitting Sedona began with a prologue, so an Epilog seemed appropriate to tie up some thoughts that have rambled around in my head since this process began.

I began this trek with the idea that there was such a thing as a permanent car.  A lifetime of experience in a midwestern climate that requires the use of road salt has disabused me of that notion.  And cars that get normal use are a lot like we humans.  We may take excellent care of ourselves by eating right and getting lots of exercise, but all of us has an expiration date no matter how much effort we have taken to put that date off.  Cars are more or less the same way if used as everyday transportation during periods of life when career and family obligations can push car care down the priority list.  I have concluded that a car will serve me for its season and will then move on to serve someone else.

I also had early on the idea of perfection in a car.  There may be a few people out there (and even readers here) who, by the combination of temperament and climate, can keep a car forever young for many, many years.  I eventually concluded that I am not one of those people.  I truly appreciate a car where everything is clean, straight and working as intended.  But I have developed patience with those who put up with cars that are not these things.  Life is about priorities.  and have found that I lack the time (and the funds) to do everything to/for all of those parts of my life that I might like.  So I have taken care of my cars so that most of them have had lots of life left when they move on to the next owner, but they are almost always a little older and a little more used than when I got them.

Writing this series has made me notice some things that I had not really thought of.  For one, owning cars is not as central to my sense of self as it once was.  I love cars and always have, but I also love my wife, my family and my home.  I used to want to experience as many cars as I could.  Now, I am content to get an occasional turn behind the wheel of something new or unfamiliar, and to enjoy the cars I own.

Hobby cars were also central to my life.  But hobby cars have kind of become like my relationship with dogs.  I like dogs.  As long as they are other peoples’ dogs.  I don’t get all of the enjoyment from old cars owned by others that I got from my own, but then again, I don’t get all the time-suck and expense of dealing with their needy natures, either.  I have concluded that I have owned two of the best old cars it is possible to own.  The Ford Model A cannot be beat for pure visceral enjoyment and simplicity.  Alternatively, the Miata is wonderful for being more usable as the occasionally daily driver and still simple and durable for its era.  If I ever get another toy car, the list of candidates gets ever shorter.  Those still in the running: a Studebaker of some kind, just because.  A Fluid-Drive Chrysler.  Or maybe a Fox or later Mustang GT convertible, or even a later model Challenger.

I have learned that I have little patience for a car that does not make me feel good – I have driven them and gotten good use from them (GM B/C bodies) but in a very utilitarian way.  There are a lot of things we settle for in life, but that is something to be avoided if possible.  I also lack patience for cars that I want to like but that irritate me – the ’85 Crown Vic and a certain Buick Lacrosse come to mind.  But for a car that makes the cut, I will now keep them around, and maybe for longer than I should.

My current garage is in a state I would never have expected even a few years ago, with cars aged 16 years and 11 years.  In truth, I have the most trouble-free fleet of my life.  So far, at least.  And a fleet that I find satisfying.  My grandfather used to say that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, and my garage reflects my living under this rule.  My quandary right now is that I really don’t know what I would want to buy next.  There is so little that really interests me in modern showrooms.  Some recent writing here about the Mazda CX-5 has me wondering if one of those could be in my future.  Also, I would like to have a relatively new car and no car payment for when I retire, an indeterminate date that is getting ever closer.

Of the cars that I have owned, I have enjoyed almost all of them (with very few exceptions).  I have discovered that I have liked big cruisers or fun little zoom zoom cars, with very few in between.  The the ’88 Accord (which I am still amazingly ambivalent about, despite what a great car it was) could do a credible zoom-zoom, and the others were even more fun.

The big ones with some utility have really brought out my inner dad, which I suppose was always there.  The ’86 Marquis Wagon (the small one, like a Fairmont) did a reasonable impression of a big cruiser (which had been its design brief) and My Sedona (at 4,374 pounds) weighs barely less than the ’77 New Yorker that broke my heart (4,769 pounds).  I came late to the minivan party, but then stayed and stayed.

Here are some other random thoughts:

I still like effortless torque, something that is going extinct in this new and improved era of CAFE.  It killed the enjoyment in big cars of around 1980-90 and is killing it again now.  This is why I am so reluctant to part with the Sedona.

The only GM car I have owned that I really took to was the ’63 Cadillac.  I really loved that old Cadillac and marveled at the quality and capability that an American company could put into an exclusive car back then.  That is an ability that seems to have been lost.  The other GM cars were cars of convenience or opportunity, but not cars that I really bonded with.

My Fords have been some of my best and worst, something that fits within my theory that there is Good Ford and Bad Ford.  The ’67 Galaxie and the ’68 Mustang were excellent drivers, and there is nothing like a Model A.  The F-100 was not built for the life I live and the ’61 Thunderbird could have been a joy but was not because I chose a very poor example.  The only one I really hated driving was the ’85 Crown Victoria.

The Mopars were my favorites.  There was something about those that made me fall for them and fall hard.  I genuinely loved those cars, even when they may have been pestering me with the random failures I lived with in the ’59 Plymouth.  I have wondered why that is.  Was it the image they conveyed – mostly durable and conservative, built by engineers for engineers?  Or was it the way they fit me and the way the controls felt to my hands?  I don’t know, but the products from the pre-Iacocca Chrysler make me all warm and glowy whenever I think of them.  OK, except for that ’77 New Yorker that still makes my heart ache from disappointment.

Cars built by the Asian companies have become what I have chosen when I am not in a mood to indulge sentimentality but want competent, no-nonsense transportation.  It really bothers me that I now consider cars built by the traditional U.S. companies as inferior goods to be avoided unless I plan to trade within the warranty.  But that is where I am now.  It is quite true that Honda or Mazda could be building really horrible cars right now and those by Ford or GM will become legendary in thirty years – but I doubt it.

I love cars in a good color, and I have owned very few.  Eliminate the white, black, gray, brown, beige and red (which I just have no love for) and I have owned maybe 9 – 4 blue, 5 green.  My two absolute favorites (deep maroon/burgundy) or varying shades of turquoise/teal) – zero.

I have really enjoyed writing this series.  Each week gave me some time to revisit one of my old cars, and to relive the highs and lows that came with it.  For those of us who keep coming around here, the milestones of life remind us of the cars of the time, and the cars remind us of the milestones.  The conclusion is that the Cars Of (My) Lifetime have provided me with some irreplaceable experiences and a lot of good stories, some of which I have shared with you.  It has been a pleasure to share these stories with CC’s readers, and to engage in the comments afterwards.  Who doesn’t like sitting down over a coffee or a beer and telling car stories, and your comments were perfect for supplying the other half of these fun weekly conversations.  I hope I have not run out of things to say here, and don’t want to be one of those guys who keeps droning on with the same old stories all the time (or did we cross that threshold awhile ago?)  I have now told these stories in their fullness and context and look forward to reading your COALs.

In addition to the occasional new CC piece, I would like to offer some pieces about The Cars That Got Away (TCTGA?).  Who here does not have a few cars that have  burrowed deep into our memories but that we did not come to own, for whatever the reason.  I have a few of those and would like to share one from time to time.  But I will hand off the regularly scheduled weekly slot to the next guy to come along, and look forward to more interesting lives, interesting cars and the great stories they have generated.