COAL: You Bought What? – Automotive Sins of My Parents


Run. Hornets!

The AMC Hornet. Just talking about it still makes my father wince.

(Note: All of these pics come from the internet)

Now, my grandparents on both sides always had decent luck with their cars. My father’s parents had the big Fury, the Rambler and the Malibu, which later became my car. My grandfather was a NASA and Navy engineer, who researched everything ad nauseum. My mother’s parents just bought whatever they always bought, always used, usually a Ford truck or a huge Chrysler sedan.

My folks made only one purchase I can think of that was absolutely out of sight.

Gorgeous 240z

Even though they were relatively broke, my father’s career was looking up and they gave into temptation. My mother, who grew up with dowdy sedans and sputtering pickups that had never been taken out of second gear, was now enjoying the clean lines and power of the best Japan had to offer. Not bad for a newly-married 23 year old.



Flash forward to 1975 and I came along, making a two door sports car impractical. I do not know what possessed them, but my father went out and picked up a silver Mustang II coupe. He says he loved that car, and they did drive it to the Grand Canyon in 1976, when he was due for a round of National Park Service training. Apparently, it was comfortable ride out back.

As I grew older, I showed an interest in art by licking the end of a Cheeto and writing all over a rear window. I guess it couldn’t be Windexed off, and it stayed there for a while, at least until one of the Mustang’s flaws was exposed. My mother hydroplaned and rear-ended someone. No one was hurt but they couldn’t straighten the frame, and the car was a write-off. Remembering how much they loved the Rambler, my parents decided on a blue 77 AMC Hornet Wagon.

From the beginning it had all the makings of a top-drawer lemon. It took leaded gas and backfired at will. A set of plastic bushings would go south every six months. It had all the zip and pickup of a wet towel. As a three year old, a little friend and I crawled in and took apart a large part of the driver’s door handle.

Datsun 210 wagon ad

My mom got pregnant again in 1981 and they were both done with the wagon. So, remembering the 240Z fondly, they traded the Hornet on an ’81 Datsun 210 wagon that looked pretty sharp. It was silver with a blue pinstripe. The Datsun made the big move with us to Clarksville, TN. My mother’s orange Bug could not, so they sold it and eventually bought a 1982 Mercury Lynx 2 door in bluish-green. Special order. I still have the payment stubs.


Both cars proved very reliable – if oddly matched – while we lived in Tennessee. But the school quality and general quality of life in the Army town left little to be desired. My mother was especially unhappy and wanted to move to New England, where we ended up in the summer of 1985 after a little extended driving vacation. We ended up in a hilltown close to Springfield, MA and the Datsun became the commuter car for my dad. Both of them were very impressed by the Lynx’s prowess in the snow. I remember watching cops write tickets as cars without snow tires struggled up a hill at Holyoke Mall. The Lynx, snow tires on and revved, made it to the top with ease. The police clapped and waved at my mother.

Even without my mother around, my father still makes insanely bad car choices. Right now he’s making payments on an ’04 Sentra that’s been wrecked twice. My brother’s first car was a horrifying Mercury Topaz, cream colored with a baby blue landau roof, luggage rack, pinstripe and ancient car phone hookup. Once my brother left for the Air Force, my father drove that car until the entire thing literally fell apart.

Whatever lunacy my parents had didn’t rub off. My brother has a sensible Camry and I have a boring Mercury Sable. Neither backfires. I guess neither of us want that much excitement in our lives.