Monday, October 30, 2006

All the cars I've loved before

Patty here…

I bought a new car last week. My old car was a convertible—my first and probably my last. The two of us had a great relationship. It was young, good-looking, and it had a great ass. The problem was I wanted more than it could give me. I hated myself, but I needed a sensible sedan with a back seat. It was an agonizing decision to make, but there was simply no choice. We had to part ways.

Breaking up is hard to do, but I’d been through it before. You grieve and then you move on. I told myself that the convertible wasn’t right for me. But when I unloaded all of my personal effects and waved goodbye, all I could think about was the exhilarating feeling the two of us had shared cruising down Pacific Coast Highway, my face tilted toward the sun and the vortex of warm Southern California air churning my hair.

In the days after the separation I was overcome by a debilitating ennui. This breakup wasn’t turning out to be as easy as I thought it would be. I needed counseling, so I unloaded all my emotional car baggage on a friend. She told me she was attached to the first “nice” car she ever owned. All the subsequent ones were just transportation. Just transportation? Could I truly be happy settling for only that? It made me wonder. How many cars had I loved before?

My first car was one of those generic Fords, painted in a shade of green not found in nature. It had a stick shift and got about ten miles per quart of oil. It was the sort of ride you parked six blocks from wherever you were going so none of your friends would even see you near it. Driving it was like making a choice between not going to the prom and going with pimply-faced Calvin Quinn.

My next car was a robin’s egg blue Corvair Monza with wire-wheel hubcaps. It had been around the block a few times, which gave it an aura of heat and danger. People told me the Corvair was bad for me. Even Ralph Nader sent me a letter, warning that gas emissions leaked through the heating system. He told me to dump the car or it would surely be the death of me. Big deal. So I had to leave the window open in the winter when the heater was on. I was young and impetuous. It was a small price to pay for true love.

Then there was the Toyota Celica, my first new car. I wanted so much to love it. It was a four-speed, sort of sensible and sort of sporty. Unfortunately, the car turned out to be a total lemon. I tried to make the liaison work, but I spent most of my time shifting from one heartbreak to another. On hindsight, I stayed in that relationship way too long.

After the Celica I went through a series of auto affairs. None of them lasted very long. The convertible was the first car in years that could light my fire. Maybe I’ll make it with this new one, too. So far we’ve been circling each other in that girl-meets-car mating dance. I’m not pushing any buttons, mostly because I still don't know where they are. Time will tell if we have a future together, but I’m starting to warm to the heady aroma of new leather and the sound of the throaty growl when I turn it on. Who knows? Some day soon we may be racing around curves on the Angeles Crest Highway and I’ll lean over and whisper the words, “I love you, baby.”

So what about you? What cars have you loved before?


  1. I don't own a car these days, you really don't need to in San Francisco, especially when you have no children and your only emotional commitment is to your cat ;-) But I did once love a car. It was a 1964 Ford Fairlane: black body, white top, red vinyl interior. It came to me in 1972, and lasted through my college graduation in 1978. It had no extras, not even a radio, but it went like the dickens and never, never broke down. We once crammed 15 people into it to go drinking. And once, when my fraternity buddies had borrowed it on a Saturday night, I got a call the next morning from a different fraternity asking why my car was on their lawn. Ah, the memories ;-)

  2. Rae, I think you've hit on the core issue. The cars are gone, but the memories last forever.

  3. I guess if you buy a car that has a "nice ass" you could always keep it as a mistress. It doesn't speak to your utilitarian needs, but boy is it fun----going down Pacific Coast Highway whispering sweet nothings to it, while it performs in ways you sedan NEVER can.

    So, Patty, don't give up on having a little excitement "on the side." Even if you've officially gone for the soccer Mom mini-van, it's never too late to be a thrill seeker------ I advise that you get another convertible........for those Sundays when you just want to get away; feel a car hug the road while the wind blows through your hair and become invigorated about the next deadline you're facing.

    Hope the newly forming bond with the latest model will give you the same fond memories as your other cars did.


  4. Good luck with your new wheels.

    I owned 3 manual transmission convertibles back-to-back in the 70-80s. The first was a Bricklin green MGB that I loved, even when it was in the shop, which was often. I drove the car once from Miami to Asheville, NC. I can still feel every bump in the road, but the Appalachian Parkway rocks.

    Next was a silver Alpha Romeo Spider Veloce with burgundy interior. I usually left the top down even in the rain, because the canvas top leaked so much it didn't matter.

    Last was a boxy white BMW covertible that had more room and was more reliable but not as much fun. Then, I got old.

    I've been driving the same SUV for 9 years, and my dog loves it. I'm thinking of a Mini-Cooper in 2007. My road trips now don't take me to the North Carolina mountains. More like Ralph's, Vendome Liquors, and the Oyster House in Studio City.

    When I go downtown, I take the subway from Universal City. I'll sometimes use my old bicycle to run errands on Ventura Boulevard. And yes...sometimes I miss the Alpha Romeo with the leaky top.

  5. I had the most wonderful TR3 back in the late 60s. It had a marvelous transmission - how it cornered!!! But then I got married and we bought a 66 Mustang - 8 cylinder. Midnight blue with white leather seats. So sweet. BUT then we had a son and his car seat would not fit in the back seat. Back then there were very few car seat models so we were stuck and had to get a car seat accommodating car. I still miss those two cars. My Subaru Outback is a lot of things, but it is NOT a fun car.

  6. I think my ennui stems--at least in part--from an aversion to being practical. Sounds like I'm not alone...

  7. Oh Patty, you've hit a nerve with this post. I think I define stages of my life by my cars.

    In my family, you got your first car only when a relative died and you inherited one. In my case, it was my father, when I was sixteen, and the car was a 1958 white De Soto. More fins than a swarm of sharks. And no parking brake. I had to carry a big rock around, and jump out and put it under a wheel when I parked.

    Several cars later I found my true love: a 1971 Mercedes Benz 280SL convertible. June bug green. With fenders that looked more like a fuselage than a car part. The dealer said I had to make the choice between buying that car or having children. "They'll cost the same." I chose the car. And it can still give me that top-down-shift-through-the-curves rush it did the first day.

    But then, oh yes, just like that bad boy we know we shouldn't date but still do ... the Shelby Mustang came into my life. One of the original 1966 Shelby's rented by Hertz. Black with gold racing stripes. If this car were a man he'd be wearing tattoos and black leather. And he'd be behind bars. As it is, he's still behind my garage door. Can't ever get rid of the bad boys.

  8. from Jacqueline

    Oh, Patty, I know how you feel! And I love essays about cars, love reading good reviews of new cars too (Dan Neill in the LA Times is the only automobile reviewer to have won the Pullitzer, I think). I won't go through the complete litany of cars I've owned - from that first VW Beetle with an engine like a sewing machine, or the custom Jaguar (those were the days) but last year I sold my 1995 BMW 530i (with stick shift, quite rare) - I love classic cars, and that one was just gorgeous, with almost instant whiplash as soon as you put your clog on the gas. But I just couldn't keep throwing bags of horse-feed onto those pale blue seats, or hoping that my dog's claws didn't poke through the blanket I'd put down to protect the leather. So it went to a young guy who promised to love it forever (yeah, right, until the first big repair bill). I gave him a motherly lecture about not having to race other drivers, because when you know you can do it there's nothing to prove - and I told him I didn't want to drive along the freeway and see him wrapped around a tree (just as well I'm not a parent). But he probably drives more sedately than me, even though I now have a Volvo station wagon - Click and Clack on NPR's "Car Talk" said that a great used station wagon was the 2000 V70, and that's what I managed to buy in a rather sexy black (makes up for the dog and the horse-feed on board).

    And I have to tell you, the first thing I thought when I started to read your post, Patty (and having seen that gorgeous little Lexus), was, "I wonder how much she wants for it ..." But then not only has it already been sold, but there's the question of cargo.

    Enjoy the new wheels - they look pretty good to me!

  9. Let's hear it for the Alpha Romeo.I had a 67 Duetto....later a 77 Spider Veloce.Neither of them Had tops which leaked and they weren't always in the shop either. Helluva fun cars.

    Another fond memory: a red 69 Datsun 2000.
    With all those cars, I could really feel the road, and be "one with the car."

  10. YES! Patty, the memories are everything. My old '71 Landcruiser (the one that looked like a Jeep) could leap tall buildings in a single bound; and, if Cornelia hasn't killed it off, I can hear Willie and Julio: "To all the cars we've loved before...."


  11. I LOVE reading Dan Neil's column in the Highway section of the L.A. Times, plus his "800 Words" in WEST magazine in Sunday's paper. What a great writer. I also howl with laughter listening to "Car Talk" on NPR.

  12. I have decided that I love my current car. Why? Because of it's absolute loyalty in time of need. Sure, it's little, sporty and red, but it was cheap when it came off the lot, and that was about fifteen years ago.

    Yet despite all of my necessitated neglect, the love and respect that I cannot shower on it, it keeps on going when I desperately need it to. Mysteriously appearing scratches and dents, disappearing wheel covers, and an exhaust system beyond the verge of collapse take their toll. It was the victim of a hit and run driver last Thursday, which legally totalled it, yet it valiantly keeps on starting, keeps on rolling.

    I know that I certainly don't deserve that kind of loyalty, and so my little car is certainly deserving of my love in return. However long it manages to continue to carry me, onward and upward.

  13. Oh, Jeff, what a touching testimonial. Sounds like you two have a groovy kind of love.