(first posted 5/26/2015) We here at Curbside Classic have spent a few years now finding classics at the curbside (and elsewhere) to bring to you for your examination and enjoyment. But as edifying as it can be to read about the CCs owned by others, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make one for yourself? Today is your lucky day, because we will tell you how.
Every publication worth a damn has the occasional “How-To” piece. We here at CC have fallen down on the job on this point, but see that we need to do better. Sure, most of you are satisfied to read about CCs that others have made and kept, but I just know that we have some moderately-skilled DIYers out there who are just itching for a project. All sorts of things can be done at home, from brewing and winemaking to cabinetry to butchering. Making your own Curbside Classic is something that anyone can do, so just sit back and see how it’s done.
First, you need to start with a new car. This may be the hardest part. Most of us want something special. A Challenger Hellcat or a Cadillac CTS-V will certainly set you apart from the other folks on your block, but they make poor CC material. This is because the best CCs are cars that nobody even sees on the dealer’s lot. I’m talking about cars that have a virtual invisibility cloak over them. The good news is that you can save quite a bit of money, because you are bartering for a commodity. “Meet my price on this gray one, or I go across the street and put money down on the white one. I really don’t care.” Trust me, this is liberating.
For our example, I will confess that I cheated a bit. Just like all of the cooking shows don’t make you wait for 45 minutes while the featured dish bakes in the oven, we have already partially pre-cooked this CC. This is actually my Mother’s 2006 Buick Lacrosse. That this is a perfect CC to make at home happened sort of by dumb luck, in her case. She has always had a thing for contests, and when GM was running its last “Hot Button” promotion, she randomly stopped into an Indiana Buick Dealership and won this one. So, this car has a little head-start in the “Every Car Has a Story” department. And it is, of course, best if you can get GM to provide you with raw material for a CC in its runup to bankruptcy. It’s too late for you to do this yourself in precisely this way, unless maybe you wait a few years and have really good luck and timing for next time. But I digress.
Mom got to choose the color and choose any options that she wanted to pay for, so perhaps this example is a little more snazzed-out than it could have been. The only two options on the car are the alloy wheels (a small price to pay to avoid the dreaded plastic wheelcovers) and the $1500 leather-wrapped steering wheel. OK, it wasn’t just the steering wheel, but another $1,300 worth of other stuff that GM force-fed her to get the leather-wrapped wheel that she had her heart set on. Otherwise, we have a completely stripped Lacrosse CX, which makes the perfect future CC.
The Lacrosse does the anonymity thing perfectly. How would anyone notice a car that is a blatant crib-job of the ovoid Ford Taurus? Not even I noticed this for the longest time, which shows just how successful the car’s styling is for our purposes. Originality in concept or design is anathema to the very best Curbside Classics. But a car made by the former undisputed leader of American automotive styling that copies a daring but unsuccessful design just in time for both of them to become completely vanilla is just brilliant. And I’m not talking Madagascar vanilla, but more like Scot-Lad vanilla.
Now that you have chosen your new car, take it home. The next step is very important. DO NOT, under any circumstances, treat it just like every other new car you have ever owned. The consequences will be disastrous, from a CC point of view. Before you know it, your ever-so-carefully chosen future CC will accumulate 150,000 miles and will then either require a repair completely out of proportion to the value of the car or will be so weathered, scraped and bent that you are thoroughly sick of it and will sell it for peanuts to the first kid with a black Megadeth or AC-DC T-shirt and $1,000 so that he can use up the remaining life of the sound system with his drug-addled friends.
Instead, you will want to take it home and park it in a suitable place. In this case, it was a garage, which will certainly keep the car the nicest. Those who like their CC with more patina can always leave it outside a couple of nights a week and drive it a little more. If you happen to live around Eugene, Oregon, the driver’s side door panel will eventually have to come off, so you may as well do this now. But we midwesterners prefer the door panels to stay in place for the more respectable look.
The early work was done by my retired mother, who kept this car in very nice shape and managed to keep mileage down to 23,000 over eight years. Her way of doing this has been by having not much need to drive a lot. I have had the car for the last seven months while Mom has been recovering from an illness, and my method has been a little different. I have kept my usage down to 1,000 miles over seven months because I Hate. This. $@#&%*. Car. So. Much.
Honestly, this reaction surprises me. I was quite impressed with it when she first got it, and Lord knows I have had good relationships with several cars sporting a AAA Plus sticker on the back bumper. But after a couple of months with it a few years ago and now my latest tour, there are things about this car that are like Chinese water torture. What sort of things you ask? First, when your main customer is likely a longtime AARP member, why make a car so hard to get in and out of? Between the high sill and low roof, compounded by a steering wheel too close and a center pillar that is as far forward as anything I have ever driven, entry and exit is like the hatch in the Lunar Module. But without the adventure after you get buckled in.
Then there’s the steering wheel. First, I thought it was just big. Then I realized that it is nowhere near round. The top half is a great big Buick-like steering wheel. The bottom half is a regular steering wheel. Sort of like that odd one Chrysler made in the early 60s, but without the personality.
Then there is the way it drives. Every single input is sloooooooowwwwww. The steering is slow. The accelleration is slow. This surprises me, as a 3.8 liter V6 ought to be plenty of engine for this car. And maybe it would be if the accelerator pedal did not have twelve inches of travel. “Engine room! All ahead slow! Ding Ding.”
Finally there is that one thing that GM has always been uniquely good it – the ablility to make every one of its cars feel as though it weighs 5,000 pounds. Don’t get me wrong, I really like 5,000 pound cars. But if I accept 5,000 pound car handling, I expect 5,000 pound car ride and comfort. The Lacrosse fails to deliver here. Give me a Honda Fit or a Mazda Miata. Or give me a ’78 Town Car or a ’64 Imperial. Either extreme is totally fine with me. It is just that the Lacrosse tries to combine the two extremes in the only way that complies with the laws of physics. You know there is a problem when you would *much* rather drive a Kia Sedona.
The good news is that the anvil-like drivetrain of the car will make sure that all of the other examples will have long and hard lives after their original retirees have moved on. This is good news for broke single mothers and pizza delivery guys, as these cars will make wonderful choices for the kinds of hard service that these folks will demand. Which makes our particular example easy to separate from the lower 95 % of the Bell Curve.
So – where were we? Oh yes, the final step. This may be the most important. The car must continue to receive loving maintenance for long after you will want to give it. “Sigh. Another oil change for the Buick. Didn’t I just do that six months ago?” But another ten or fifteen years under this program, and you will be richly rewarded, for you will have reached the payoff – a genuine Curbside Classic to call your own.
“Wow, have not seen one of those in forever.” “My grandma had one just like it, right down to the color.” “Beautiful car – how much do you want for it?” “I have never seen one of these with cloth seats and the dual-zone automatic temp system.” THIS is what owning a real, live Curbside Classic is all about. And now you have all the knowledge you need to make your very own. As for me, I sure hope that Mom has several more years of driving ahead of her to preserve this pristine Buick.
Because if the car comes to park in my driveway, the kid with the black AC-DC T-shirt could become an irresistible temptation.