|Our "new" car.|
It also has fewer than 100,000 miles and it's an Audi, a solid car for the twisting mountain roads around here. And when a gallon of gasoline goes for around $6.50 in France, the cheaper and more efficient "gazole" has its advantages. Driving will be limited to trips to castles and countries when Europe's excellent public transit, bicycles or shoe leather, doesn't suffice.
The Audi got me to thinking about my transportation choices over the years, which haven't always been the wisest or most exciting. You get what you can afford, or borrow, and 40 years ago a beginning newspaper reporter's salary usually didn't put a new Bimmer in the driveway. Then later there's the partnership of marriage and the responsibility of family. But to every car is attached a memory or a page in our lives.
Here are mine:
|Mine was baby blue, like this one.|
I hooked up an 8-track sound system; the new Aerosmith album was the music of choice. I kept the car, inside and out, as clean as possible. I had been told young women appreciated a guy with a spotless ride, if not hot wheels and a stuffed wallet.
The Cougar also was the first car in which I was in an accident. I had driven Dad to pick up his work truck at the repair shop. Dad was a talker so he and Steve, the shop owner, chatted over a few long-neck Wiedemanns. When it was time to leave I was waiting for traffic to clear and felt a shudder. Dad had backed his truck into the Cougar.
Obviously, I couldn't leave the cold metal interior alone. I immediately installed plywood floor, walls and ceiling covered with sculpted orange carpeting and wired my 8-track to a Toyo quadraphonic speaker system. Christened "The Ghost" the van was party central. I learned a lot about life inside that box.
I kept the exterior the original bland white; no airbrush murals or mag wheels to draw the attention of police. That didn't stop U.S. Customs from strip-searching the van after a day-trip to Windsor, Canada.
"What were you doing in Canada, son?"
"Nothing, sir, just wanted to say we were in Canada."
"Pull over there."
Finding nothing, they grudgingly sent us on our way. A few miles down the road, my buddy Rick reached between the carpeted floor and carpeted wall to pull out a bag of weed he had hidden. He came close to walking the rest of the way to Ohio.
Everything was modular so I could remove my handiwork and haul the belongings of my sisters, who now were moving about the country or Dad's tools when he did side jobs. I tired of the process after a while and soon the wood and carpet were repurposed as an oil-changing pad.
|A stock photo showing a Bel-Air in cherry condition.|
|This could be my '72 Impala.|
Every cub reporter needed a notebook, a pen, change for the pay phone and a reliable car. I had the notebook, pen and quarters. The car was a 1967 Chevy Bel-Air, another loaner, this time from my brother. It was about as basic as you could get but it got me to and from work at the Ohio Statehouse.
|Yeah, I was never that cool. If that was cool.|
|Obviously I was over trying to impress women.|
|Oh! Brava mia amore!|
As for the Torino, my Dad, who favored land barges such as Ford LTDs and the longest Thunderbird ever made, expressed interest in my old car. I gave it to him, though I don't think it was a fair exchange for my years with the Cougar or Econoline.
|The Pinellas hotbox.|
The sun took its toll on the cloth interior and paint. I gave the car with some trepidation to the parents of a fellow reporter. I was relieved to later hear that they had survived the deteriorating vehicle, including bad brakes.
Only new car
|First baby carriage|
In two years, our first child, a girl, occupied a baby seat behind me. The small cargo space came in handy on trips from Florida to see our families in the Midwest. When the second child arrived, the family was outgrowing the Bronco.
We needed a stopgap and again my brother-in-law came through, selling us their 1980 Ford Explorer. Our third child arrived but in a few years the Explorer was showing its age. What came next was the oddest but best deal we ever made.
We decided it was time to buy a minivan to give the kids, and us, more space.
Paulita mentioned a place in Kentucky where her cousin had worked that sold used cars. Cousin Mike is one of those people whose opinion you instinctively trust. A detail-oriented, precise guy (former Air Force pilot) with a calm demeanor. Not a speck of bullshit. When he recommends something you should check it out.
|The finished work of art.|
Jim the salesman knew what I wanted and we walked to see the vehicle in its "before" state.
"We don't usually show people the car until it's finished," Jim said. I soon understood why when we stopped at one shed where a gray 1998 Plymouth Voyager that had been T-boned in the sliding door rested.
"That's the front," Jim said. Excuse me? He walked me around to another shed where a white 1999 Voyager that had been in a front-end collision was parked. "That's the back half."
He explained the '98 would be cut at the seam behind the driver's seat and married with the undamaged cargo section of the '99. Whatever was soiled or damaged inside the vehicle would be replaced, the inside cleaned and the outside repainted gray.
"Still interested?" Jim asked. I nodded. I had to see the finished product. Come back in a month and the hybrid Voyager would be ready, Jim said. I could drive it home to Columbus and if I liked it, he'd cash our check. If we didn't, drive it back "when you can" and he'd tear up the check.
A month later we came down to visit family and stop at Hamm to see the car. It was beautiful. New paint, clean interior. It had a six-CD changer, power seats, gizmos galore. A like-new two-year-old minivan. (The title had to go with the year of the engine.)
|Soft-top fun again.|
We would do more business with Hamm, including buying a red 1996 Plymouth Sebring convertible he got as a trade-in. When Hamm delivered it in Columbus Paulita drove up to The Dispatch top-down (the car) with wind-tossed hair and sunglasses. All I could say was, "Wow" and smile.
When we moved to a job in Michigan in 1992 we decided to buy our first house. The Mustang was sold to pay off bills and help with the down payment.
I felt bad that Paulita had to give up such a cool reminder of her previously single life.
One more SUV
Six years on and our Voyager was beginning to show its age. We decided to consider another SUV, if we could find one with enough room for a family of five, including three kids destined to be on the tall side. We pulled into the church lot one Sunday and parked behind a Honda Pilot. Paulita said she liked Pilots.
|Fortunately, the safest vehicle we ever owned.|
Years later she was driving on an icy freeway about to exit when her friend in the passenger seat screamed that a car was in the right lane. Grace over-corrected and the Pilot spun out. It hit one side on the exit lane's guardrail, did a 180 and crashed into the concrete median. Our daughter suffered a bloody nose when the air bags inflated, her friend was unharmed (turns out there was no car in the other lane), but the Pilot suffered irreparable damages. Try as we did to save the Pilot, the insurance company insisted on totaling it. However, the Honda's value provided enough money for a down payment on our next vehicle.
Still in the family
We returned to Hamm's before Ohio banned out-of-state salvage titles and purchased a vehicle that had been on a lot that flooded but had not been damaged. It was our last purchase in the States and was titled in Ohio as a "SW," a station wagon, like the 1970s Olds Vista Cruiser or Ford Country Squire. Paulita insisted we declare our ice-blue 2008 Ford Taurus X as the newly minted descriptive "crossover."
|Our last car in the U.S.|
Like everything else we stored, gave away or trashed before heading to
France, the Taurus had to go. It was handed to a appreciative nephew, who continues to sing its praises.
The road ahead
With a road trip to Italy coming up the Audi needed an oil change and a tire check. A local garage (associated with a dealer other than Audi) charged 89 euro, 99 if I wanted a filter. I went with the filter (total $113). I don't know why you wouldn't always change the filter but I was told that some French don't. The price was about $50 more than I ever paid in the U.S. I was told a diesel oil change is more expensive so maybe that's the difference. I hope to find an owner-operated garage with a mechanic like the one I had in Grandview Heights. (Chris at Clark Automotive.) The Audi's previous owner, Maurice, had paid for the mandatory biennial inspection, which it passed.
I always admired the sensible styling of the A4 and its reputation as a real road car. We're hoping for the best.
Safest and all-around winner: 2004 Honda Pilot
Most fun: 1978 Fiat Brava
Wish I still had: 1967 Mercury Cougar
Best family car: 1989-99 Plymouth Voyager
Prettiest car: 1996 Plymouth Sebring
Prettiest woman in a soft top: 1963 Paulita
Feel free to add you memories/comments about vehicles you've owned.