Saturday, June 13, 2009

Good Cars, Bad Cars

From an aesthetic point of view, from perspective of travel comfort and pride of ownership, I have to rate my 1962 Lincoln Continental as the one car that meets the standard. Lincoln introduced this body style in 1961 and did little tinkering with it through 1965. The simplicity and elegance of line and style make it the most beautiful car built in America. Ever. In my opinion, the 1962 was the epitome of the marque.

I traded my 1965 Mustang for this beast in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 1966. It was originally gold in color, but I had a premier body shop in Fort Wayne repaint it. I chose a medium dark brown metallic. Take a look. Was that not automotive perfection? I learned, thanks to my friendly Ford dealer in Converse, that most mechanical parts, when needed, could be had from Ford parts numbers at a considerably smaller cost than the same part under the Lincoln parts badge. The one mechanical task I undertook myself was the replacement of the nylon gears in the power window on the front passenger door, having found replacements in the wrecking yard.

When the odometer reached 139,000 miles, I traded the car for the Worst Automotive Decision I ever made. And the dealer put the Lincoln on his lot and told prospective buyers it was an "estate car." Okay, I may have been brain-dead.

I bought a brand-spankin' new 1971 Fiat 124 sedan, one of only three pieces of foreign iron I've owned. What a piece of junk. With less than 24,000 miles on the odometer and in traffic in downtown Cincinnati, 150 miles from home, the thing started burbling and steaming. Managed, with sufficient stops for water refill to get it home. But home was a long way from anyone who would work on it; and what I found when I did find a willing workman was that it had a cracked block. Fiat was willing to go only so far, and I was shopping for a replacement vehicle. Back to the Ford fold. Used, but reliable.

Among the 'good' I would rank the '65 Mustang V-8 which I mentioned in my Ford article as a vehicle which is hard to beat for sheer fun of driving and owning. And over the years I had several vehicles with the 289 powerhouse. What gems those were.

Also among the 'good' would be the 1994 Dodge Caravan. Yeah, I know it screams "Soccer Mom," but trust me, for all-round reliability and utility it was the best. For eleven years it was my only vehicle. (For a guy who often had three cars at a time that is saying something.) Mine was all-white, but I really don't need to show you a picture, because if you've seen one minivan you've seen them all; and believe me I know you've seen them.
Another fine-looking vehicle in my fleet was the 1984 Pontiac Phoenix, the first new car I had purchased in 13 years, the first GM car I ever bought, and, like the Fiat, a piece of junk. The feature that sold it (maybe) was the "five-door" or "hatchback" body. It was a unibody construction, the platform shared with the Chevy Citation, and has ever after been referred to as the "X" car. And it should have been exed out, and in fact for me it was soon my eXcar. It was powered by the 4-cylinder 151 ci "Iron Duke" engine, the only part of the vehicle about which I'd no complaints. But after only 48,000 miles and the installation of the third in-tank fuel pump I said, "No more." I hope the next owner enjoyed it more than I did.
Besides the Continental, the one car that I have owned and would buy again if Ford would make them again is the 1950 Custom 239 cid V-8. Easy to maintain, economical to drive and elegant simplicity of style. (Are you getting an idea of who I am; or at least what appeals to me?)
Don't be misled. I do like simplicity of design, but I like my women complicated. Well, "complicated woman" is a tautology, is it not?
(Next: the other foreign cars.)


Lin said...

The best car I have owned, hands down, was my Nissan Sentra. "Hoopty" went on for years--you read the post--and I LOVED that car. It was so bare mins that I didn't even have tinted windows, automatic transmission, or a stereo! I didn't mind missing all those things for a small price tag.

And for those who scream "Buy American!"--Hoopty was made in Tennessee while our Chevy was built in Canada. Go figure.

vanilla said...

Lin, yes, I read you post in praise of "Hoopty." Our affairs with our cars are seldom tepid -- they are love 'em or hate 'em. You loved your Sentra because it treated you right.

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

Tautology, indeed! :)