Last night we went to the Great Minnesota Get Together. Ate lots of food, got free stuff, blah, blah, blah.
We also wandered through the Ford display (last year that had really nice free caribeener key chains and pins; this year they had girly bandannas and mini frisbees), where I stumbled across the 2005 Mustang GT. I’ve seen pictures of the car before and heard talk about a return to the original styling. But I hadn’t seen the car in person. Wow. They wouldn’t let you sit in the car like all the other models, but I still got a good look at its powerful lines. They also had a 2005 Shelby Cobra, but who wants to drool over something you’ll never have.
I once drove a Mustang. Granted, it was a 1988 with a wussy engine, but who’s comparing. It’s not like I could drag race the thing. It was a maroon LX hatchback with a 2.3 liter, 4-cylinder engine. It had a manual transmission with a tape player and no radio. It was my first car.
I learned how to drive a stick-shift on that car, and the day I turned 16 it was the car I drove out of the driveway and on to Hiller Road by myself. It’s hard to claim it solely as my car. My dad owned it. My brother drove it before me and after me. But I still think of it as my car. My brother went on to race it in sanctioned parking lot events, and eventually sold it for spare parts. Every now and then I like to search the auto listings for 1988 Mustangs.
It was a great little car to drive. Even though it didn’t have the power of a 5.0, it still had enough pep for a 16-year-old. Probably too much. It definitely had a cool factor. As a used car it probably wasn’t the greatest. As soon as we bought the car (as a replacement for my brother’s 1980 Buick Regal which had literally burst into flames on I-696) I had to spend a Saturday helping my dad tear out the entire dashboard so we could replace the heater core. My brother conveniently had to work that day.
I remember countless other all-day repair jobs. My brother changed the starter three times. We did the clutch once and the transmission another time (that’s a story in and of itself). We replaced the rusting hatchback. We fixed the broken door handle (for a good six months I climbed in through the passenger side). My dad and brother spent a weekend replacing the power steering (I had to work: payback!). In addition to all the typical maintenance: changing the oil, rotating the tires, new batteries, changing the belts and hoses, etc.
While I never really trashed the car, I had plenty of entertaining automobile moments in it. My only real accident came when I rear ended another car in the parking lot at school. It turned out to be an old friend from preschool (of course that friendship had ended long ago). It broke a headlight on my car and caused $500 worth of damage his car. We ended up having to file a police report the next day. But I’ve caused plenty of other damange, including the day the clutch cable snapped on M-59 and a few snow-bound off-road adventures — not all of which were accidents. The rear-wheel drive Mustang wasn’t exaclty the best in the snow, and paired with my NASCAR-lovin’ thirst for fishtailing, I ended up in a few ditches. Only one required my dad’s help to get the car out, which he was not thrilled about. Ironically another ditch encounter happened on the same stretch of road a year earlier, though I was able to get the car out on my own. I had a few other swerving experiences in the snow, but no harm no foul. The best part of driving the Mustang in the snow was its complete lack of traction. Once I tried to back out my driveway (which, for the record, has a very subtle curve) and the rear tires got into the grass. With the few inches of snow it was just enough to keep me at home (pictured above). I also usually had a tough time getting up steep hills, and my friend Adam’s house proved to be particularly difficult.
Of all the automobiles I’ve driven and owned, I never had the same attraction to the Mustang. In college and shortly thereafter I drove a 1993 Ranger. It had the long bed, a cap, and the small cab. It had another 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission, but it also had a 6-disc CD changer (expertly installed by my dad — the display was mounted in the ashtray), air conditioning, power windows and only 8,000 miles when we bought it in 1997. It was my incredibly practical college transportation, a way to get my stuff to and from Minnesota without a parental escort. It was a great vehicle with very few problems (once I paid the Ford dealer $100 to install clamps on the muffler to stifle a noise I thought was coming from the transmission), and it even handled Minnesota winters incredibly well. Despite being rear-wheel drive, I barely remember dealing with anything more than minor sliding.
But with marriage the Ranger had to go. Now that we were permanently living in one state and not transporting all our earthly possessions twice a year, it just wasn’t practical. The cramped cab was horrid on any long trip and with no back seat just about everything had to go in the way back. As reliable as it was, it was time to go. We ended up selling it back to my dad, who originally gave it to me (how’s that for charity?). He still drives it, though I think the cap and the mini-stature of a Ranger don’t exactly fit in Kansas.
My next car was a 2002 VW Jetta. We opted to buy a brand new car, which met our need for an always-reliable car in our one-vehicle home. We also went for a VW, despite my lifelong loyalty to Ford (my dad spend his entire career there). I vetoed the Ford Focus after discovering the volume knob didn’t have any fine tune adjustment. If it was too loud to talk over I’d turn it down one click and it was suddenly too quiet to hear. I imagine the dealer could have come up with a solution when I complained, but all he managed was a shrug. We were also eyeing a Mazda Protege, which was all-around good and came with a good price and great financing.
But then we took the Jetta for a test drive. Those Germans sure know how to build ’em. It probably helped that the salesman knew just how to sell it. The Jetta had a cool factor and enough little extras to make it worth the money. It was stupid things like a cup holder that could hold anything, a 12-year, unlimited mile rust warranty, heated seats, a hood release latch that popped out so you didn’t have to fish for it. And it was fun to drive. Stupid little things can make all the difference.
I’ve loved our Jetta. It’s been a great little car. Though I definitely don’t recommend getting the 6-disc changer. The few problems we’ve had have been covered by the warranty and we’ve rarely had trouble with it. Even with our balding tires the winters have been no problem (though backing out of our inclined driveway with a retaining wall on one side has proved to be tricky). It’s been fun to drive, fuel efficient for all the short trips we take, and there’s plenty of room to handle the long trips.
While we’re not in need of another car anytime soon, I still like to think about it. I know it’s coming eventually. As great as the Jetta is, recent trips have seen the car packed to the gills. With Speak in tow we don’t have a lot of room left over. One child would immediately make the Jetta obsolete for long trips. That or we need to learn how to pack better.
So I find myself eyeing other options. A year ago we were checking out mid-size SUVs, like the Ford Escape or the Mazda Tribute. They didn’t make sense at the time, but the thought is tempting. After driving my Ranger for five years I like the feeling of being above traffic. At the same time I shutter at the thought of driving an SUV around town by myself. What a waste. But an Escape can also hold just as many people as the Jetta, and not much more comfortably. You can just haul more junk (a little more than twice the cargo space). Though the Hybrid Escape is especially tempting. It’d take a federal tax rebate to make it afordable, it’s still not incredibly fuel efficient, and you have the worries of how expensive a hybrid is to fix — but for all that you’ve got the techno-environmental cool factor. I just wish they’d get around to selling them so I can test drive one (at the fair they said local dealers would have them in early 2005).
Which makes me ponder other options. The Scion XB2005 Freestyle tempting, though I’d never be able to afford one. For some reason the car/SUV combo is appealing to me. That or I just like the Freestyle’s comfy looking middle-row bucket seats.
Addicted to Cars
For some strange reason I’m addicted to cars. I collected diecast cars as a kid. I kept a binder of concept car designs. I watch freakin’ NASCAR despite not having a single friend who’s into it. Seeing the new Mustang at the state fair renewed my interest (enough to write this incredibly long tribute to the automobile as it appears in my lifetime). I’m not even sure what it is about the new Mustang. After looking at some more pics online, it’s pretty clear the fog lamps and spoiler make all the difference. But I still think it’s sweet.
Then again, my dad did just buy this 1961 Ford Econoline Pickup. I’d never seen such a thing, and I can’t decide if it’s trippy or goofy.