Reading through the comments under Loose Linkage, where I pointed to Jalopnik’s What’s the oldest car you’ve ever owned, I got to wondering if I could remember every car I ever owned, and what happened to it. Here’s a try:
- 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. Black. 1200cc engine. A loaner from my parents. Rolled it during summer school after my freshman year in college. In fact, it rolled over three times before coming to rest right-side up. I remember trying to hold onto the bottom of the seat, watching the pavement come up to the window and disappear overhead, over and over again. I was fine, but the bug was totaled. Still, it brought $425 at auction from a guy who cut it in two and attached the front end of it to the back of another one. New it was $1250 or so.
- 1960 English Ford Consul. Black. Leaked oil from everywhere. Bought it for $400, and sold it for almost nothing, which is what it was worth. The low point came when it croaked in Hickory, NC, where it limped after the alternator belt blew up on the Blue Ridge and where no replacement could be found, so we had to hitch back to Greensboro. In the rain. As I recall no belts could be found to fit around the alternator pulley, and for a while we used some nylon hose tied into a loop.
- 1958 Mercedes 220S. Midnight blue. Bought it for $250, needed new upholstery, which I put in. Had a “Hydrak” semi-automatic transmission, which was a 4-on-the-column, no-clutch-on-the-floor thing. The couchlike seats reclined all the way, making the interior into a double bed. This made it a very romantic car. Alas, the transmission went bad, and I sold it for $75.
- 1963 Chevy Bel Air. 283 V8. Rochester carb. My parent’s old car, and the first new car they had ever bought. Drove it to 125,000 miles, when the transmission started to go. Sold it.
- 1966 Pugeot 404 wagon. Bought for $500. Had dents in all four doors, and lots of stupid “features” such as screw-on hubcaps and spark plugs hidden down inside the valve cover at the far ends of bakelite sleeves that would break. Got rid of it after driving it from New Jersey to North Carolina, in the middle of which a resonator can on the exhaust manifold blew off; and, in an unrelated matter, large hunks of the floor between the front seat and the pedals fell out, so I could see the pavement under my feet, hear the engine noise bypass the exhaust system, and breathe the exhaust, all at once — for another 400 miserable miles during which my hearing was permanently diminished.
- 1966 Volvo 122S. Bought it from my parents, who bought it new in Belgium. Great car, very solid. Ran out of oil once, however, and damaged the engine. Sold it with 110K miles on it to a guy who replaced the engine.
- 1967 (?) Austin America. Belonged originally to my sister. I got it on loan from my father, who later sold it for $10. An early front-wheel drive, it had lots of good ideas but terrible construction. For example, the wheels sometimes fell off. That’s because a cotter pin was all that cinched the splines of the hub to those of the axle, with bad metal on both sides. As driving loosened the hub, the cotter pin would break under pressure. The only way one knew this was happening was by hearing cotter pin fragments clinking around inside a hubcap.
- 1971 (?) Datsun pickup. My father’s, actually. But I drove it for a while. It had two sets of points in the distributor. Very confusing. Mastering those helped me later when I manfully helped a girlfriend keep her Datsun 610 wagon on the road.
- 1969 Chevy Biscayne. Snot green. Black vinyl seats. Looked like an unmarked cop car. Developed leaks in the roof that would soak the front floor rugs, so that turning on the heat would evaporate water from the floor and steam up the windows. Don’t remember how I got rid of it, but I do remember backing into another car in a parking lot because the windows behind me were frosted with moisture.
- 1978 Volkswagen Squareback. Bought it from a buddy for $200, and sold it for $225. My buddy and I fixed it more often than we would have, had beers not been involved in prior fixes. A few months after I sold it, cops showed up at my door to tell me I needed to get its corpse out of the woods, where somebody had set it on fire. Still had my plates on it. Fortunately, I had the paperwork for the sale, relieving me of responsibility for it. For all I know, it might still be there.
- 1969 Pontiac Catalina. “Big White.” Bought if from my uncle. The trunk would fill with water in the rain, making it useless for carrying stuff in there. Not sure what happened to that one, either.
- 1980 Chevy Citation. This famous “X car” was created to compete with Chrysler’s equally bad “K car”. It had front-wheel drive, which was new in those days, and a roomy sloping hatchback. But it was crap and didn’t last long. The main weird feature was a vertical radio. Gave it up in a divorce, in trade for my ex’s old Pinto.
- 1974 Ford Pinto wagon. One of the worst cars ever made. This one had been in an accident at some point in the long prehistory before I came into possession of it, and the frame was bent, so it moved crabwise down the road. Every once in awhile it would start to veer wildly out of control, even on the straightaway. It did this once on the boulevard between Chapel Hill and Durham, hooking bumpers with another car, sending them both spinning. Fortunately, the Pinto’s bumper bent completely while the other hardly had a dent, which was both strange and amazing. The lady driving the other car wanted money anyway, and I paid. At some point, the car died, and I had it towed for scrap.
- 1979 Honda Accord hatchback. A very nice, smooth-running car that went completely dead on a winding coastal road in the black of night, and then produced light in the form of a flame coming up from between my legs. I slowed to a stop as quickly as I could while feeling the shoulder of the road like I was reading braille through my right tires. When I fished a flashlight out of the glove box and got out of the car I found the car had come to rest exactly one foot from a parked car in front of it. A look under the dash revealed a hot lead (from the + side of the electric system) to Everything else that ran on electrons. It had been cut at some point in the past, spliced poorly and wrapped in gooey old black electric tape. As the splice came undone, electricity passed through an increasingly sphinctered path until it turned into a light bulb filament, caught fire and fell apart. So it was easily fixed. But the car, in a very un-Honda-like way, was cursed with problems. I sold it to a young woman for whom it performed fine until the engine blew up. She contacted the mechanic who sold it to me in the first place, found that he had misrepresented the car (saying the engine was original, for example, when it wasn’t), and then sued me rather than him because I had sold her the car. It was a small claims case in North Carolina. I was by then living in California. So I settled. By then, fortunately, I had bought my…
- 1985 Toyota Camry. Basic model with a stick. My first and only new car, and the first that had working air conditioning. Best car I ever had. Gave it to my daughter when I got the Subaru in the early 90s. I think it went way past 200,000 miles. It may still be working, somewhere in Santa Cruz, which is where she donated it to a local public radio station, deeply rusted but still functioning.
- 1986(?) Subaru 4Wd wagon. Tried to drive it into the ground but failed and gave it to a friend earlier this year. It’s still going.
- 2000 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Bought for $5k from a friend who was moving out of the country. Put another $3k into it, to bring it up to top shape. Wish it was a stick, but otherwise it’s a great little car. [Summer 2009 update: I have since put another $10k into it. I’ve never known a better-made that required more work.]
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few, but that’s an outline for countless stories.
[Later…] Fun comments below. By far the most entertaining (or frightening, or both) pointage goes to the Head Lemur’s list. Wow. Reminds me of Hot Rod Lincoln, one of the Great Gassed Insanity Songs. Those linked lyrics, by the way, are from the Commander Cody version. The Commander gives the definitive performance of the piece (I just went through the karaoke exercise supported by the audio at that last link, and The Kid said he was glad “nobody was here” to hear it), although full props go to George Wilson for writing (and living) the original.
[August 2016 update…] Still driving the same VW Passat wagon, nine years later. It has 206,000 miles on it and runs like a top. Hasn’t needed much work in recent years either. I should add that my wife is still driving the 1995 Infiiniti Q45 that she bought used for $5k after her 1992 Q45a died, around 2004. That one has about 200,000 miles on it too.
[January 2019 update…] The Passat died of a bad transmission (or so we were told) last Spring. We sold it for $125 to a guy who replaced the transmission fluid and told me it ran fine after that. I haven’t kept up, so I don’t know, and don’t want to know. It has been replaced by a 2005 Subaru Ouback with 85k miles. It’s fine so far. Then last Fall the Infiniti died too. Fuel injection. We donated it to a local public radio station and haven’t replaced it. For the price of even a beaten up used car, renting and ride sharing are far more economical.
[June 2021 update…] When the pandemic hit, we left the New York apartment to others who could use it, and went to our California place for the next fifteen months. There we borrowed or rented cars until my wife bought a 2020 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid, which so far has been terrific. The ’05 Subaru, however, sat still under a canopy of juniper trees in a Manhattan parking spot for most of the year, and hadn’t been driven at all for ten months. It was so deeply covered in rotted juniper berries and needles that the coating had turned to soil and things were growing in it. The battery was also stone dead and needed to be replaced. After that, the battery clamp kept coming off and the AC leaked water onto the passenger side floor. Also the brakes were fully rusted. All that got fixed for about $600, which is cheap, considering. Took a lot of work to de-soil the body and the engine compartment, but it seems functional now.
[February 2023 update…] I’ve had the Subaru cleaned up, with lots of minor fixings addressing the concerns listed above, with costs totaling around $2k. Today it lives with us in Bloomington, Indiana, and is well-suited to its main purposes, which are helping us carry stuff home from stores and to and from garage sales. Still, it’s a matter of time before the leak in the steering rack and the aged catalytic converter will need to be addressed. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a good used station wagon of some kind. That’s a form-factor I like much more than the SUV one, though that seems to be the only available choice these days.
Image by Hugh MacLeod, aka @Gapingvoid