Journal

My Automotive Adventures: My Long Road to Ford – Part 1

by | Sep 14, 2014 | Editorial

If you happened to be in the big parking lot behind the one remaining bookstore in my vicinity on any given sunny summer Friday afternoon, you might well see me helping several of my grandchildren in or out of my little car.
And then you might well see a curious sight. Another car will pull up close by and stop. The driver – male – will roll down his window, tell me how much he likes my car and offer to buy it on the spot. Sometimes said male will ask me how much I want for it; sometimes I will be offered a specific dollar amount. I always smile and thank him and say, “No, I’m not selling it.” My grandchildren, having witnessed this scene numerous times, think it’s hilarious. Why would anyone want to buy Nana’s ancient car?

And you, dear Reader, might well ask what sort of car this is that garners such attention. Why, it’s a Mustang 5.0 convertible in a color they call deep jewel green, but that is actually teal – believe me, it’s my eye color; I know. It’s a 1991 and I’ve been driving it since I bought it new off the showroom floor twenty-three years ago. You might well ask why a redhead who gets migraines from the sun and who never, ever speeds would be driving a 5.0 convertible muscle car. Good question. And a story goes with it, a long one which has its genesis back in time, way back before 1991.

Our tale begins, you see in 1973. My husband and I had just moved to California from New York for his medical internship and my master’s degree program. We had little money and tried for a time to get by with the small stick shift Toyota Corona that my husband adored and that we had stuffed to the rafters to drive cross-country to get here. But this was Southern California we’re talking about – not exactly a densely packed urban center with superior public transportation. It was more like an endless sprawling suburb with buses that ran reliably – whenever they felt like it. We needed a second car desperately. My husband, ever resourceful, threw himself into a flurry of research.

He went to his second Bible, Consumer Reports, and concluded that our best option was the Dodge Dart. It was about their most highly rated economy car that year. I wasn’t thrilled with the white color they had on the lot, but it was, indeed, a great buy. And just the right size. A perfect starter car for me.

Well, not exactly. Not if you actually wanted the car to start. Most days. In your driveway. Or at school. Or at the market. Which it didn’t. Very often. For years. Some ignition problem, they said, but could somehow never fix. I got very friendly with the AAA guys. The dispatchers were nice, too.

Fast forward one child, another on the way, and the gas crisis in full swing. For those of you too young to remember, let me just recount. You had to block significant time on your calendar for the activity of getting gas. The lines (at least in LA) stretched around the corner and down the street, the wait between one and two hours. I would take my very pregnant self and my toddler daughter into the car at naptime, drive a few blocks till she fell asleep, then head for the gas line. She would have a nice long, air-conditioned nap and I would grade two classes worth of high school English essays before I got my turn at the pump.

But hark, halt! There was another line that had almost no wait. Was this some sort of VIP line? No. It was for the enlightened ones who had gone out and bought diesel engine cars. There was no line for diesel. General Motors began rolling them off the assembly line. Consumer Reports approved. We decided to be enlightened.

And there it was. A beautiful, coppery-brown Oldsmobile big enough for the two carseats I would soon need. Maybe a third if we were so blessed. A perfect family car. Well, not exactly. Not if you actually wanted the car to go. And keep going. Without stalling all over town. Which it did. A lot. GM said we had a lemon. But this was before the Lemon Law, so all the repairs – unsuccessful though they were – were on us. They never did manage to fix it nor did they seem to care. As an aside, they had outright refused to fix the bumper that was crooked right off the showroom floor. They claimed it didn’t keep the car from running. I kid you not.  The arrogance was mind-boggling. We vowed never to buy another GM car. We couldn’t have been the only ones. Ahem… could that be part of the reason why – oh never mind.

Fast forward to 1984. I am now the mother of four. My dear husband agrees it’s finally time to buy a new car. Chrysler has come out with an entirely new species, designed to replace the unwieldy station wagon, which I had never wanted. This new creature is called a … Mini-Van!!! Small on the outside, amazingly roomy on the inside. A seven-seater! All those car seats! I was the first one in our school parking lot to have one. It caused a sensation. “What was it?” people wondered, and came running to take a look inside. Amazing! A dream come true! Well, not exactly. More like a nightmare. Where to begin?

With the windows, I suppose. Sleek, tinted – something new and highly touted in those days. Until they smashed to smithereens. Over and over. But I get ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the sliding side door, the only way to enter the second and third rows of seats. There was only one on the passenger side. And it was big. And heavy. There was no convenient high tech little button to push to open or close it with safety mechanisms and a soft, sliding, swoosh-and-click sound. Oh, no. What there was an arm that would yank it open and slam it shut at the appropriate times, triple checking that there were no limbs in the way. So far, so good. Except that the requisite slamming maneuver was prone to causing the huge glass window on said door – or even on the opposite side – to shatter. Often. And I don’t mean the modern day create cracks-that-look-like-your-frosted-shower-door sort of shattering. I mean full-on smashing and spraying shards of glass all over your children, and into their backpacks and lunch bags. I kid you not.

There were no recalls in those days, but Chrysler fixed those windows with a smile. Every time. And never charged us a penny. They knew they had a problem; we weren’t the only ones with broken windows. So points for them. That puts them notches above GM in my book. But really? They couldn’t figure out they had this problem before they touted their new Mini-Van as the greatest thing since disposable diapers and sent it out into the world for its glass to go smashing into thousands of hapless backpacks? Really?

A final word about that sliding door. One day we arrived home and all piled out of the car. My arms were full of backpacks and half-empty over-ripe lunch bags, so my then eight-year-old daughter decided to step up and help by closing the door for me. And lo, the windows did not shatter. Instead, the entire huge sliding door came off. Into the arms of an eight-year-old. I…kid…you…not.

Then there was the matter of the lift-gate in back. There was no tidy little button to open or close that either. Remember, we’re talking Ancient Times here; you had to do it all by hand. There wasn’t even a pull-strap. At five feet tall I had to stand on tip-toes and really stretch and then yank to get that huge piece of metal down. My lower  back already had issues. This did not help. Perhaps in a misguided attempt to come to my aid, the lift gate began closing on its own – when it, not I, was ready. Or rather, it morphed into a latter-day Madame Guillotine, slamming down on whatever body part happened to be in its way. It narrowly missed my neck and bludgeoned my shoulders several times. I couldn’t let the kids anywhere near it. I eventually learned to hold onto it with one hand while maneuvering backpacks or shopping bags in and out with the other. I lived in terror of what might happen if someone forgot.

But that’s not all. There was also the matter of the power. Or lack thereof. It was underpowered to begin with at four cylinders, but it got worse with each passing year. It went from being adolescently lumbering to geriatrically stumbling in a very short time. By the fourth year it had so little oomph that I was afraid to make left turns if I could see an oncoming car anywhere in my visual field. My husband used to call me Eagle Eye. I could see very far. So I basically stopped making left turns.

And then one day, somehow, my oldest child turned sixteen and four days later was in possession of a driver’s license. In Southern California this milestone not only heralds the semi-emancipation of the teen but the parent as well.  There is now back-up, another driver in the family, someone who is absolutely thrilled to run errands and drive herself to school. So, like so many parents happily anticipating this milestone, we did what seemed the most sensible thing. We bought a safe, simple car with the intention (eventually fulfilled) of passing it from one child to the next on through all four.

And very soon thereafter I had an epiphany. Our oldest daughter could drive herself and next younger sister to high school. I could drive the two younger ones to the elementary school. We were done with car seats (for this generation at least). Many of our vacations involved plane trips back East to see family, and for the occasional road trip we could take two cars or rent something large. In other words, after seven long years I could finally junk the Chrysler Mini-Van. “Junk” being the operative word.

With absolute glee I set out to find a new car. And how, exactly, did I end up with a convertible muscle car? Well, for once I was determined that this car would be mine. Exactly what I wanted. Oh, it had to be safe, reliable, reasonably priced. I wasn’t in the market for a luxury car by any means. But I was determined to buy what I wanted, not what Consumer Reports recommended, not what my husband thought was good bang for the buck, not what made sense for a mother of four. Been there, done that.

I set my priorities: after safety, my first criterion, my one non-negotiable, was that the car had to be…green. The color of my eyes: But that’s a story for another time. Stay tuned.

And then you might well see a curious sight. Another car will pull up close by and stop. The driver – male – will roll down his window, tell me how much he likes my car and offer to buy it on the spot. Sometimes said male will ask me how much I want for it; sometimes I will be offered a specific dollar amount. I always smile and thank him and say, “No, I’m not selling it.” My grandchildren, having witnessed this scene numerous times, think it’s hilarious. Why would anyone want to buy Nana’s ancient car?

And you, dear Reader, might well ask what sort of car this is that garners such attention. Why, it’s a Mustang 5.0 convertible in a color they call deep jewel green, but that is actually teal – believe me, it’s my eye color; I know. It’s a 1991 and I’ve been driving it since I bought it new off the showroom floor twenty-three years ago. You might well ask why a redhead who gets migraines from the sun and who never, ever speeds would be driving a 5.0 convertible muscle car. Good question. And a story goes with it, a long one which has its genesis back in time, way back before 1991.

Our tale begins, you see in 1973. My husband and I had just moved to California from New York for his medical internship and my master’s degree program. We had little money and tried for a time to get by with the small stick shift Toyota Corona that my husband adored and that we had stuffed to the rafters to drive cross-country to get here. But this was Southern California we’re talking about – not exactly a densely packed urban center with superior public transportation. It was more like an endless sprawling suburb with buses that ran reliably – whenever they felt like it. We needed a second car desperately. My husband, ever resourceful, threw himself into a flurry of research.

He went to his second Bible, Consumer Reports, and concluded that our best option was the Dodge Dart. It was about their most highly rated economy car that year. I wasn’t thrilled with the white color they had on the lot, but it was, indeed, a great buy. And just the right size. A perfect starter car for me.

Well, not exactly. Not if you actually wanted the car to start. Most days. In your driveway. Or at school. Or at the market. Which it didn’t. Very often. For years. Some ignition problem, they said, but could somehow never fix. I got very friendly with the AAA guys. The dispatchers were nice, too.

Fast forward one child, another on the way, and the gas crisis in full swing. For those of you too young to remember, let me just recount. You had to block significant time on your calendar for the activity of getting gas. The lines (at least in LA) stretched around the corner and down the street, the wait between one and two hours. I would take my very pregnant self and my toddler daughter into the car at naptime, drive a few blocks till she fell asleep, then head for the gas line. She would have a nice long, air-conditioned nap and I would grade two classes worth of high school English essays before I got my turn at the pump.

But hark, halt! There was another line that had almost no wait. Was this some sort of VIP line? No. It was for the enlightened ones who had gone out and bought diesel engine cars. There was no line for diesel. General Motors began rolling them off the assembly line. Consumer Reports approved. We decided to be enlightened.

And there it was. A beautiful, coppery-brown Oldsmobile big enough for the two carseats I would soon need. Maybe a third if we were so blessed. A perfect family car. Well, not exactly. Not if you actually wanted the car to go. And keep going. Without stalling all over town. Which it did. A lot. GM said we had a lemon. But this was before the Lemon Law, so all the repairs – unsuccessful though they were – were on us. They never did manage to fix it nor did they seem to care. As an aside, they had outright refused to fix the bumper that was crooked right off the showroom floor. They claimed it didn’t keep the car from running. I kid you not.  The arrogance was mind-boggling. We vowed never to buy another GM car. We couldn’t have been the only ones. Ahem… could that be part of the reason why – oh never mind.

Fast forward to 1984. I am now the mother of four. My dear husband agrees it’s finally time to buy a new car. Chrysler has come out with an entirely new species, designed to replace the unwieldy station wagon, which I had never wanted. This new creature is called a … Mini-Van!!! Small on the outside, amazingly roomy on the inside. A seven-seater! All those car seats! I was the first one in our school parking lot to have one. It caused a sensation. “What was it?” people wondered, and came running to take a look inside. Amazing! A dream come true! Well, not exactly. More like a nightmare. Where to begin?

With the windows, I suppose. Sleek, tinted – something new and highly touted in those days. Until they smashed to smithereens. Over and over. But I get ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the sliding side door, the only way to enter the second and third rows of seats. There was only one on the passenger side. And it was big. And heavy. There was no convenient high tech little button to push to open or close it with safety mechanisms and a soft, sliding, swoosh-and-click sound. Oh, no. What there was an arm that would yank it open and slam it shut at the appropriate times, triple checking that there were no limbs in the way. So far, so good. Except that the requisite slamming maneuver was prone to causing the huge glass window on said door – or even on the opposite side – to shatter. Often. And I don’t mean the modern day create cracks-that-look-like-your-frosted-shower-door sort of shattering. I mean full-on smashing and spraying shards of glass all over your children, and into their backpacks and lunch bags. I kid you not.

There were no recalls in those days, but Chrysler fixed those windows with a smile. Every time. And never charged us a penny. They knew they had a problem; we weren’t the only ones with broken windows. So points for them. That puts them notches above GM in my book. But really? They couldn’t figure out they had this problem before they touted their new Mini-Van as the greatest thing since disposable diapers and sent it out into the world for its glass to go smashing into thousands of hapless backpacks? Really?

A final word about that sliding door. One day we arrived home and all piled out of the car. My arms were full of backpacks and half-empty over-ripe lunch bags, so my then eight-year-old daughter decided to step up and help by closing the door for me. And lo, the windows did not shatter. Instead, the entire huge sliding door came off. Into the arms of an eight-year-old. I…kid…you…not.

Then there was the matter of the lift-gate in back. There was no tidy little button to open or close that either. Remember, we’re talking Ancient Times here; you had to do it all by hand. There wasn’t even a pull-strap. At five feet tall I had to stand on tip-toes and really stretch and then yank to get that huge piece of metal down. My lower  back already had issues. This did not help. Perhaps in a misguided attempt to come to my aid, the lift gate began closing on its own – when it, not I, was ready. Or rather, it morphed into a latter-day Madame Guillotine, slamming down on whatever body part happened to be in its way. It narrowly missed my neck and bludgeoned my shoulders several times. I couldn’t let the kids anywhere near it. I eventually learned to hold onto it with one hand while maneuvering backpacks or shopping bags in and out with the other. I lived in terror of what might happen if someone forgot.

But that’s not all. There was also the matter of the power. Or lack thereof. It was underpowered to begin with at four cylinders, but it got worse with each passing year. It went from being adolescently lumbering to geriatrically stumbling in a very short time. By the fourth year it had so little oomph that I was afraid to make left turns if I could see an oncoming car anywhere in my visual field. My husband used to call me Eagle Eye. I could see very far. So I basically stopped making left turns.

And then one day, somehow, my oldest child turned sixteen and four days later was in possession of a driver’s license. In Southern California this milestone not only heralds the semi-emancipation of the teen but the parent as well.  There is now back-up, another driver in the family, someone who is absolutely thrilled to run errands and drive herself to school. So, like so many parents happily anticipating this milestone, we did what seemed the most sensible thing. We bought a safe, simple car with the intention (eventually fulfilled) of passing it from one child to the next on through all four.

And very soon thereafter I had an epiphany. Our oldest daughter could drive herself and next younger sister to high school. I could drive the two younger ones to the elementary school. We were done with car seats (for this generation at least). Many of our vacations involved plane trips back East to see family, and for the occasional road trip we could take two cars or rent something large. In other words, after seven long years I could finally junk the Chrysler Mini-Van. “Junk” being the operative word.

With absolute glee I set out to find a new car. And how, exactly, did I end up with a convertible muscle car? Well, for once I was determined that this car would be mine. Exactly what I wanted. Oh, it had to be safe, reliable, reasonably priced. I wasn’t in the market for a luxury car by any means. But I was determined to buy what I wanted, not what Consumer Reports recommended, not what my husband thought was good bang for the buck, not what made sense for a mother of four. Been there, done that.

I set my priorities: after safety, my first criterion, my one non-negotiable, was that the car had to be…green. The color of my eyes: But that’s a story for another time. Stay tuned.

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