COAL Update: 2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES – Passed Down to Three Generations

When I wrapped my COAL series in 2013, I had just bought this 2006 Ford Focus as my daily driver and had demoted my 2003 Toyota Matrix (COAL story here) to be my emergency backup car. I sold both of those cars in 2018, ending an important era in Grey family motor history. So it’s time to tell this Ford’s story.

Courtesy Wikipedia

My dad was driving a big Windstar in 2007 when his 50 years of smoking caught up with him. With no other warning, one morning he coughed up blood. He went straight to the ER in South Bend, my hometown and where my parents still lived. An X-ray showed a spot on his lung. He hightailed it to the VA hospital in Indianapolis, where by the next morning they had removed half of that lung.

I can’t decide whether my parents were just old-fashioned or my dad was too controlling, but my mother didn’t drive. She had secured a driver’s license some twenty years before, but Dad insisted he should still drive her everywhere she needed to go. Mom got him to let her drive a few times, but he was so critical of her driving that she gave up.

Dad’s mortality now staring him in the face, he suddenly insisted, and urgently, that Mom begin driving. He had me take Mom out in the Windstar a couple times, but we never made it far. Mom judged that beast “way too big” and insisted she would never pilot it again.

So Dad immediately traded it on a much smaller car: this 2006 Ford Focus.

This little car pleased Mom’s senses as it was top of the line, with power everything, a sunroof, and leather seats. It wasn’t great leather – I’m pretty sure the seat backs were vinyl, and the leather seating surface felt only marginally better on the fingers. But who knew that you could get a Focus with leather at all?

Dad was such a stoic that he was loath to admit when things pleased him, but I think he really liked driving this little car. It might have been the one he enjoyed most in his life. Or perhaps it was the ’57 Ford sedan with the police interceptor engine in it, which had been his first car. I heard lots of stories of that car. But as I can attest in my middle age, what brings driving satisfaction tends to shift as a man grows old.

Mom never did renew her driving skills, at least not in this car. Dad remained critical of her while she was behind the wheel, and one day she reached her limit. She threw up her hands and declared she would never drive again.

Dad owned this car while I owned my two Matrixes: the red one (COAL here) and the blue one (COAL here). He was retired and didn’t drive much, except on errands and occasional trips to Indianapolis to check with his doctors at the VA hospital. So I was surprised in 2012 when he told me he thought it was time to buy a new car. “This Focus is getting up there in years,” he said. “I’d hate to have it strand me halfway to Indianapolis one day.” I told him that his little car, which had rolled to about 70,000 miles, still had at least 100,000 miles left in it. He wasn’t buying it.

My blue Matrix was getting way up there in miles. It would make a perfect second car, one my sons could drive when they needed it. So I offered to buy his car from him when he bought his new one. I told the story on my blog (here): he chose a 2012 Ford Focus. I wrote him a check and drove home in his old Focus.

This being my daily driver, most of the miles I put on this car involved driving to work and getting groceries. It did that stuff just fine. Its wayback wasn’t nearly as roomy as the one in my Matrix, but I could still stuff fairly large packages back there with the seats folded down.

But the car also took my sons and I on vacations. Our first came shortly after I bought it: a week exploring Route 66. We started in Joliet, IL and wrapped up in Oklahoma near the Texas border, which was as far as we could get before our time ran out. Here’s the Focus in Cuba, Missouri, parked in front of our cabin at the famous Wagon Wheel Motel.

The Focus was a wonderful car for my arcane hobby of exploring old highways. Here it is on an abandoned brick segment of US 40 near Marshall, Illinois.

And here it is on an abandoned segment of the old Dixie Highway near Martinsville, Indiana. What made this car so brilliant on the old roads was how beautifully it handled. It was so easy to get in and out of any tight old-road situation.

Longtime Curbside Classic readers with good memories might recall that from the start this car gave me trouble. I had a solid two years where this car was in the shop every other month. It left me stranded by the roadside twice. I dumped probably $3,000 into keeping it running during that time. Dad was wise to move on from this car – and he felt terrible that he had foisted these problems onto his son.

But then the automotive gods smiled down upon me, and my Focus’s troubles abated. I just kept driving this little car. It was just so entertaining to drive. I really enjoyed throwing it into a twisty back highway, as it hugged the curves so well. I also thoroughly enjoyed how quick it was. I’m that guy who likes to get to speed right away, and this car was always willing and eager to oblige. I’ve owned a number of basic small cars in my lifetime, plus a midsize wagon and a minivan, and this was by far the most enjoyable driver.

Dad had three other bouts with cancer, costing him the rest of that one lung and putting him through several rounds of chemotherapy which robbed him of some of his cognitive abilities. After he crashed his Focus in the summer of 2017, he admitted that his vision had gotten very bad. My brother and I leaned on him hard to see his doctor, and when he finally did the news was bad. His cancer had spread to his liver and his brain – there was a tumor pressing on the part of his brain that regulated vision. The doctor gave him weeks, maybe months. He hung on until the day after his birthday in January of 2018. This is the only photo I have of his car, and it’s a great one because it was on a trip he and I and my sons made to his hometown of Handley, West Virginia. That town is a short drive down Highway 61 from Charleston. You’re looking down the hill toward the Kanawha River from the four-room schoolhouse he attended as a boy.

Mom ended up having to drive after all. She always hated that ’12 Focus so she sold it and bought a little Nissan Note. My wife and I took turns helping her relearn how to control and navigate a car. Almost a year after Dad’s death she is still tentative as a driver, never straying more than about a mile from home on familiar roads. But she’s able to manage her whole life that way, and she’s doing okay without the only man she ever loved.

In 2016 I remarried and moved in with my new wife. Long story short, our family’s needs and our cars’ old age brought a bunch of changes to our fleet in a short time. My wife had been driving a 2010 Ford Focus, which she sold to her daughter. My blue Matrix was absolutely on its last legs, needing several repairs that cost several times its value. So I traded it in on a 2013 VW Passat. I’m coming up on a year of ownership; I’ll write a review of it soon.

Margaret started driving my Focus, which had rolled to 150,000 miles. The car was starting to give us regular minor troubles again, and it had developed a number of annoyances from failing auxiliary systems. One of them was that it was murder trying to get the interior fan to switch to the two end settings. You had to wait for the car to get warm and then wiggle the knob gently until it finally eased over. That was a real problem in the winter when you needed to defrost the windshield. Repairing it involved removing the dashboard, so I decided to just live with it. There was also a leak somewhere that left the carpet in the wayback wet every time it rained heavily. I didn’t mind dealing with all of that but I didn’t feel good about sticking my wife with it.

Then the main belt snapped on a frigid cold day, stranding us by the side of the road. I had it fixed, but I didn’t want to have Margaret be stranded alone someday. As soon as we could we went car shopping. We bought her a 2017 Kia Soul, which is a ton of fun.

Shortly I sold my Focus to my son Garrett at the bargain price of $100. It’s great basic transportation for him, letting him drive from his dorm room to his job and also home to see his old dad. Three generations of Grey men have now owned this little car. Just yesterday Garrett gave me some sad news: he was in an accident, the other driver’s fault. The damage isn’t severe, but it doesn’t take much to total a 13-year-old Ford Focus. We’ll see if it survives. Regardless, this little car has served the Grey family just fine.

All photos are of my actual car. Because of my hobby of collecting and using film cameras, I might have the most-photographed Ford Focus in human history.