I’ve had my share of automobiles. Some very good. Some very bad. In some ways, the bad cars are the ones I remember more fondly – like the yellow Volkswagen Super Beetle that had no brakes, no muffler, and was more primer and rust than factory yellow and sheet metal. It eventually came to be outfitted with an air horn and a chrome shift handle, just to add a touch of panache.
I blew the starter on that car several times because the battery was located under the back seat, which had lost all padding between the support springs and said battery. When anyone would sit in the back on that side, the springs would be lowered onto the battery terminals and create a wonderful little short circuit. Most of the time this wasn’t an issue, because not many people would ride in a car with no apparent means of stopping, but when it was, the car was easily started with a screw-driver and a little bending under the rear bumper.
The best cars have been those that just went. Not flashy, not anything much more than utilitarian (although any additional extras have always been welcome), but would not require a lot of attention and would always do what was asked of them reliably. “Best” as used here is a subjective term, but is broadly defined as having logged the miles, required little more than routine maintenance, and generally provided me value for that which I had invested.
1989 Ford Escort LX. By the time I had sold this car, it had 138,000 miles on it. I bought it the summer before I started graduate school and it took me on more than a few 1100-mile weekend round trips, brought me to my first professional job, and my second, and my third. It saw me become a father, and made it through several apartments and a house, even came close to outlasting a marriage. It was an uber-dorkmobile, but it was reliable and I had a strong loyalty to it.
It also has the distinction of having survived quite possibly the oddest car accident in which I’ve ever been a participant. While on a secondary road on a rainy day where I was travelling toward a split where my side of the road expanded, I watched as an oncoming driver ‘” traveling toward the corresponding narrowing of the road on that side ‘” jockeyed for position with another to get in front, lost control of the rear of her car. As she overcorrected for the fish tail and as her side of the road narrowed, the swerving of the car became ever more erratic eventually turning into a complete 180 and hitting the front of my car with the rear of hers. The fellow entirely too close behind me, made the executive decision to avoid hitting me by swerving to the left, but in so doing hit her, thus allowing my beloved Escort the opportunity to serve me another couple of years.
1999 Volvo V70. By the time I traded this car in, and yes, someone actually took it, it had exactly 198,700 miles on it ‘” by far the most longevity of any automobile I’ve owned and by that metric really should be number one on my list of “best cars.” It served me well, but had long since outlived its usefulness; I guess I make the mistake of holding that longevity and my unwillingness to invest any further money into the car against it. By the end, the heat was not working and I was carting around jugs of anti-freeze to make sure I wouldn’t get caught short.
It was a sad demise, if for no other reason than I just couldn’t get the additional 1300 miles out of it for a nice round 200,000 miles. It was a sharp car ‘” white, with mag wheels and let’s face it, if you’re going to drive a station wagon, it should at least be sharp. I could deal with accoutrements that began to fail ‘” the little headlight wipers never really did work right. Other than that, this car required nothing of me, only an opportunity to go places. It was as utilitarian as they come with the added benefit of not being an uber-dork mobile ‘” unless you consider a station wagon (even with mag wheels) a dork-mobile by definition and in which case I’m not going to be able to convince you it wasn’t.
2000 Mazda 626. When I say this car was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned, it’s not to say I liked it. I actually actively hated this car. It was stupid looking, it did nothing particularly well and it was nothing if not stodgy. The marketing people called the color “Chestnut.” I called it “Diarrhea Brown.”
We took possession of it while it had a total of 18 miles on it and drove it relentlessly for 146,000 miles. I eventually traded it in, not because stuff was falling off of it or because stuff wasn’t working on it, but because I just hated it that much. It probably went to trade looking as good inside and out, as it was the day I took delivery. I include it on the list of best cars because while I genuinely had affection for my little blue Escort and I actually liked the Volvo which could influence their rankings, I hated this car and yet without much attention, without much maintenance at all it just did its job. It could turn on a dime ‘” it had probably the tightest turning radius of any car I’ve ever owned ‘” but other than that, it did one thing and one thing only. That one thing was log miles.
Products are designed to meet consumer needs. Some of those needs are economy, or prestige, or utilitarian travel. My Escort was about as economical as they come – between what I actually paid for the car, how much it cost to maintain, and to run, it owed me nothing. My Volvo met any prestige needs for an acceptable period of time, and while not inexpensive, it provided value ‘” any automobile that can accept 198,700 miles is worth whatever paid. This Mazda though, it met only the need for reliable transportation. It didn’t gratify any emotional needs, it just did its job and did so economically. Truly, at the end of the day, as much as I hated that car because there was nothing distinctive about it, sometimes just doing your job is enough. If given the chance, that car would probably still be carting my carcass around.
GF Platform Mazda 626: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazda_626#1998
First Generation Volvo V70:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_V70#First_generation_.281997.E2.80.932000.29
First Generation Ford Escort:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Escort_(North_America)#First_generation_.281981.E2.80.931990.29