I'm the proud owner of a 1987 Nissan Sentra…hatchback. Yes, I know it's 2014 but a new Cadillac ad implores me to relive my youth. And anyway to live out that new car experience, I recently leased a car that rhymes with Dakota. It was a terrible ordeal. I'm sure it will be all forgotten in three years when the lease is up. Now I can alternate between new car smell and old musty, rancid, car smell. On the plus side, I didn't notice any blood or bullet holes in the Sentra. But reliving my youth vehicularly wouldn't require a new Cadillac. It's a stupid ad. The Cadillac was never my car. Although I admire the old Fleetwoods and Eldorados with those iconic tail fins, those were not the cars of a poor high school/college student.
However, I did manage to land a 1969 Ford LTD for my first ride. It was a step down from Ford's version of the Cadillac – the much envied Lincoln Continental. As a child, I remember my dad having a 60's era Lincoln which was turquoise.
That was his baby. He would let me start it sometime which made me feel special. When we rode around in it together, he would quiz me about the other makes of cars out on the road. This was at a time when each make of car had a distinctive look. We also listened to the radio and dad would quiz me about who was singing a particular song. Dean Martin was my answer, it didn't matter the song. Then one day, I noticed Dad wasn't driving the Lincoln anymore. I assumed it was wrecked. He never talked about it. I just noticed things weren't quite the same after that. You can't underestimate the profound impact an automobile can have on a person's life. You just can't.
The LTD didn't manage to last too long. The body was great but it had some major mechanical problems. The next car was an old ragged out Chevy Impala. It looked so bad; I would try to park where no one could see me getting out of it. Many times I would just ride the school bus instead.
And then…I fell in love… with a sporty 2 door Fiat coupe. I'd spotted it at a local used car lot. It was hunter green with a tan top. It was a knockout. My dad advised against buying it. He steered me toward a Ford Gran Torino. He explained that the Torino would be easier to work on and parts available in ample supply as opposed to the Italian made Fiat. But I had my heart set on the exotic foreign car. Later in life my exotic tastes would turn toward women, dancers, and breeds of cattle and horses. Go figure. With my dad's help, I took out a loan to pay for it. No sooner had I drove it off the lot, I smelled gasoline. Not a good sign. The tank was leaking, and then it was one problem after another. I soon learned that Fiat was an acronym for Fix It Again Tony. The love affair had ended.
It was then on to a succession of old Buicks. Old Buicks have always figured prominently in my life. A Buick also figures prominently in the great road novel by Charles Portis called The Dog of the South. The main character after having his prized Gran Torino (that car again) and wife picked up by a former colleague, takes off after them in a left behind 1963 Buick Special. The tragic-comic, madcap adventure has the protagonist driving from Arkansas and ending up in Belize seemingly finding everything but gaining nothing. It's baffling why this book hasn't been turned into a film. It is arguably one of Portis's best novels, even better than True Grit.
After the Buicks, it was a succession of AMC Hornets. The now defunct American Motors was probably best known for the Nash Rambler. It also produced the dreadful Gremlin. It was a car so bad; it ended up as a villain in Cars 2.
My next move was to buy a 1964 Chevy Corvair. You know…the one with a rear engine…the one Ralph Nader deemed unsafe at any speed. I bought it from a guy who called himself Honest Abe. Enough said.
And then it was on to an old Dodge pickup truck, a Ford Courier, and so forth and so on. One of the last cars I had before the current one was a 1992 Buick Century. At different points during my ownership, it had been broken into, stolen, and ran into. I'll miss it. Now it's the 1987 Nissan Sentra. Reagan was president when this car was made. It has a standard transmission, no power steering, and no air conditioning. And just when I thought I would never see another carburetor, this car has one.
I'll find myself at the crossroads one day. To the left is Memory Lane. To the right is Belize. It's a hard choice. Either way, an old car will get me there