COAL: The Strange and Obscure Cars of My Father

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“When accountants buy cars dude.” My brother said to me with a mild undertone of disgust.

We were looking through old photos of my dad and the cars of his past ownership. I thought I would share with you some of the strange, obscure, but mostly terrible cars my dad has owned.


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His first car wasn’t so strange or terrible. It was a 1966 Beetle. He thoroughly enjoyed this car. The simplicity of the mechanics is what turned him into the fearless do-it yourself mechanic he is today. I can’t recall how many times he has reminisced about how a perfectly tuned air-cooled VW engine will have a unique whistle to it.

Triumph 1966 spitfire

He later owned a 1966 Triumph Spitfire. Unfortunately there are no photographs of this car. He spotted the Spitfire sitting in the back lot of a car service shop when he was driving to high school. It looked like the car had been sitting for quite a while. One night a friend and my dad climbed the fence to the back lot and rigged up the car to start. The motor fired up just fine. They even sneaked it out of the lot and drove it around the block to see if it would move under its own power.


triumph spitfire-

They parked it back where they found it and the next day made an offer to the mechanic for $300. The mechanic told my dad he couldn’t remember the last time the Spitfire ran so he accepted the offer. The stories I remember most of this car were of dad and his brother reminiscing how that Triumph tried to kill both of them multiple times. Once when the driver door flung open during a high speed turn and one time when the bald tires randomly let go, leading to an unexpected 360 degree spin while turning through a busy intersection.

He owned the Spitfire and VW during his last couple years of high school and throughout his college career. After college he sold both to acquire needed cash. He found a good paying job soon after graduation and started to save more. He picked up his aunt’s Ford Falcon and drove it for a short amount of time until he was able to purchase his first brand new car…

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A Datsun F-10.

I am unsure of the year of this car. He fondly remembers the Datsun. Being the odd person he is he bought it because the F-10 was the first front wheel drive, five speed on the market. Something truly unique he thought. He drove this car all over the country, helping his friends move, road trips, to see the girlfriend every night. But unfortunately, the corrosive Midwest climate annihilated the minimally protected body of the F-10 in short time.

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The girlfriend turned into the fiancée, then wife. My dad was a newlywed, things were moving fast and the F-10 was falling apart from rust. A new job allowed him the opportunity to upgrade his ride and he chose…

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A 1980 ‘Dodge Challenger’

I actually do have some faint memories of this car. But I was very young when it was sold. I remember my father talking about constant fiddling with the carburetor. (Something about the intake metal being too soft causing fuel issues?) I also remember sitting in the back seat, windows down, muffler rusted into oblivion, the engine bellowing down a country road as my mom drove to do grocery shopping.

The last I saw of the Challenger was when my Dad sold it at a neighborhood garage sale. My last memory of that car was it leaving our driveway, near death, covered in rust, driven away by a man sporting a healthy mullet and complementing cut off jorts.

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But I am getting ahead of myself. There is one other car, bought and sold before I was born, during the same time my dad was driving the Challenger. My older brother was getting bigger and I would soon be accompanying the family. My dad started searching for a competent vehicle for hauling around this growing family. Unfortunately he listened to the ONE person to recommend a diesel Chevrolet Caprice wagon. How he missed a conversation opportunity with a co-worker, a neighbor, anyone who saw the light of quality Japanese imports is beyond me.

But no, he listened to a delusional neighbor who owned two of these dreadful wagons. The story the neighbor told my dad that ultimately sold him on a diesel GM was about a time he rigged up a second fuel tank on one of his wagons.

“We were driving across the U.S from the East Coast. It was when we got through St. Louis I then realized the needle on the fuel gauge finally budged from full…” He claimed.

I am not sure how that claim resonated so well within the brain of my Dad (I blame it on his lifelong career as a penny-pinching accountant), but like all owners of 80’s GM diesels the purchase was soon filled with regret. Nicknamed ‘The Mothership’ the only redeeming quality my dad recalls was the brutal punishment he could bestow upon tailgaters. Flooring the throttle released a think black cloud of smoke so powerful it would block out the headlights shining from the victim behind.   Other than that, it was an unreliable, slow, noisy, smelly piece of crap. A new 1987 Chevrolet Astro soon replaced The Mothership.

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At this point the purchasing of cars ceased as financial priorities shifted towards raising a family. The Astro hauled my siblings and I around until the early 2000’s when it was replaced by a second hand 1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette that perpetually smelled of hot coolant and suffered chronic transmission issues. We also had to clean the HVAC ducts once a season or else when first turning on the A/C an awful, pungent, sweaty sock smell would emit from the cabin vents.

My dad was driving a fifth or sixth hand Acura Legend at the time. He later sold it for a 1997 Buick LeSabre. The car all the kids learned to drive with. A car which suffered such unbelievably numb steering and idiotic transmission tuning that every vehicle I have driven since then I have secretly mumbled to myself “Oh, so this is how a car is supposed to drive.”

Lately, his car purchases have been getting better. As the family got older, the oldest moving off to college, myself getting ready to graduate high school, the youngest not far behind me, we started to downsize. First to go was the minivan, replaced with a 2006 Mazda 3 hatchback for my Dad. Then the LeSabre was replaced by a 2012 Fusion for my Mom to drive.

A Datsun F-10, 1980 Dodge Challenger, and a diesel Caprice; sometimes I am very happy car taste is not genetic. Then again, I am still young, and we have the internet classifieds now. A place we all know is a hive of terrible choices waiting for us to whip out the checkbook. Luring us in with pixelated .jpgs and cryptic vehicle descriptions. A siren song I know I will inevitably fall victim too.