One of my favorite subjects is cars. I’ve written many times on teenage drivers and car safety. This month I have a hodge podge of thoughts so bear with me.
I saw a short segment of Motor Week on TV that showed a journalist trying to get a driver’s license in Finland. My interest peeked because my grandparents came here from Finland and I still have many relatives near Helsinki. Finland has a required learning period of two years from permit to final license. And you have to pass a final extensive driving test that includes actual emergency situations, in a controlled environment of course. Once you get a license, it’s good until you are 70. The Motor Week journalist, who looked to be in his 30s, made sliding donuts and took out cones and so failed the Finish driving test miserably.
My first car out of college was a ’64 GTO, bought 2 years used from people in middle NY. It was a zoom machine back then as long as you didn’t want to turn a corner. No air; no power steering; cindered metallic drum brakes that required two feet for emergency stops; two speed Powerglide transmission (what were they thinking?), but a V8 exhaust sound to die for. We had it until the German roads proved too narrow for the wide stance American bomb. 46 years later a ’04 Vette sits in our driveway that is much faster, has air conditioning, and can turn any corner faster than the speed limits allow. It’s also a much safer vehicle with engineered crush zones, automatic braking systems, and the like.
In between these two vehicles is a list long enough to give me an award at my 40th college reunion of the class of ’66: the class member that owned the most number of vehicles since graduation. The number at that time was 38.
Here are some standouts:
Mid 60’s Triumph TR4 IRS. Bought from an Army Captain in Germany who was on his way to Viet Nam, where he was KIA. Rest in peace my friend. This car could go 90 MPH all day … well for 6 hours at least.
1967 MGB-GT. The hardtop version. I didn’t have the electrical issues that many did with the “B”. And I loved the chrome bumpers (which MG soon replaced with hideous black rubber protrusions to protect pedestrians). I used this car to lay out several SCCA road rallies here and in Savannah. Someone in Millbrook, AL bought it after it was very tired.
1980’s Fiat 131 sedan. Was the car our two boys learned to drive in. Tipped on its side once and survived. Wanted to buy a new one in late ’89 but Fiat was fading out of the US market so getting a new one for $8,400 wasn’t a good plan.
1984 Chevy full sized custom van. Hauled four kids and two adults to California and back more than once. Lost an alternator belt in Long Beach, CA on a Sunday. Pulled into a Shell station with a garage but no mechanic. So I installed a new belt in about 30 minutes. Can’t do that today.
1994 Corvette coupe 6 speed. Tires had not yet become ridiculously big in ‘94 so the ride quality on this car was excellent. Long trips were a breeze. Loved the manual transmission but my wife Kathy could not – repeat not - see over the hood. Neither could I for that matter … where’s that lower front spoiler? Crunch.
1998 black Lexus LS400. Looks good. Luxury & comfort. Deceptively quiet. Deceptively fast. Passing a vehicle on a two lane road could get you to 100 mph without notice. Yep, Kathy did it! Good for 300,000 miles. Ours is still on the road in Prattville with its third owner Mike and Denise. I once met an ad salesman for AutoTrader magazine who bought LS400s with 100,000 miles on them and ran them another 250,000 miles. The one he was in that day had just turned 200,000 miles.
The most fun I’ve had behind the wheel: A rental 1984 Pontiac Fiero 4 speed. Drove it to Atlanta for a meeting. What a blast to drive. Would almost keep up with a Ferrari in Atlanta traffic. I grinned for three days.
I’ll close with cars I missed getting:
Early 50s Jag XK-120 convertible in 1961. Wouldn’t buy it as my first car for college because they couldn’t get it push started. Tow it to me now, please.
A new 1966 Corvette at college graduation in June ’66. Too expensive. It’s still too expensive. Imagine that.
A new 1966 Mustang GT convertible 4 speed at college graduation. Didn’t like it because it felt too much like driving a Falcon. Gees. A Falcon, really?
1963 Corvette split window coupe in 1971 for $3200. Didn’t buy it because I had two small kids and it had orange shag carpeting. Who knew?
Rumor has it that in 1972 a Ford dealer in Illinois had a brand new Shelby Ford Cobra for sale for $6,000, which was the sticker price then. No matter. I didn’t have $6K in 1972 anyway. Two kids, remember?
Go Army – Beat Navy.
Gene Canavan is a retired West Point Graduate and Paper Mill Utilities Manager and lives in Prattville, Alabama, USA