Some Of My Fucking Cars
When we got married, Christine had a ’91 Nissan NX and I had a 1981 Caprice wagon.
The Caprice was the last of the single-guy cars I had starting with a post-divorce 1966 Checker Marathon wagon that I bought off my high school film teacher. It had no air conditioning and a pitiful little Chevy 283 engine bolted to a Borg/Warner Flash-O-Matic transmission and a Dodge/Spicer three-quarter ton rear axle. I spent a summer at my parent’s house in Houston painting it with about 50 cans of various colors of Krylon. It leaked oil horribly but it was a groovy drive and a beauty to behold. The Checker was a pre-unibody design and was very vulnerable to rust especially around the roof-line where the body panels were slicked over with lead. However, the body panels were thick and tough – you could stand on the hood without making a dent. I enjoyed ramming shopping carts. Girls LOVED that car. The Checker was too difficult to keep on the road, as the Checker is an amalgam of many makes and models. In the pre-internet dark ages, cross-referencing parts was nearly impossible. Systems started to fail and rust gained the upper hand. I had to send it to the junkyard, a fate I felt it deserved rather than letting my beautiful Checker fall into the hand of someone who didn’t truly love it as I did. I kept the front seat as a couch for many years. I still dream about it.
The Checker was replaced by a soulless and utterly over-engineered 1986 Honda Civic Wagon with a five-speed box, factory air and a cassette deck.
The Honda was the philosophical and physical opposite of the Checker. The Checker was heavy, spacious and architectural, the Honda meager, cramped and technological. The Checker was round, optimistic and generous, the Honda was planar, socialist, a meditation on reined-in emotion. The Checker was chrome. The Honda was plastic.
The Civic wasn’t the first car I drove with a stick. That distinction went to a 1980 Mazda B2000. It had a stunningly underpowered, carburetted 2.0L 4-banger that would bog down on the most modest of inclines. The ride was so harsh and bricklike that any drive exceeding an hour or more was actually painful. I inherited the Mazda from my father who bought it during his ludicrous “Urban Cowboy” self-reinvention experiment. He turned it over to me when I got married to a lesbian in 1984. I would like the record to show that the B2000 was the shittiest car I’ve ever been in, ever, ever, ever.
The Civic was my first new car. The process of buying my first new car was definitely a coming-of-age. I was subject to every single scumbaggy trick of the car-sales trade but since I was raised by a sociopath I knew a creep when I saw one.
One salesman screamed at me, “Why did we even go an a test-drive? Huh? Either buy the fucking car or get out of my office.” I got out of his office. On another look-at with my friend Mark, the salesman kept implying that Mark and I were gay (and gay=bad & not worthy of dignity). I responded by driving like a maniac including plowing directly into curbs, fishtailing, green-light burnouts and drifting. He was very, very, very happy to see us go. At one dealership I actually got through the test-drive phase all the way to the office sit-down phase. As soon as we were seated for negotiation, the salesman proceeded to turn all the pictures on his desk around so they faced me like a jury. Pictures of his wife and kids, including his down-syndrome son. I said, “You’re fucking kidding me, right?” I ended up with the Civic from a dealership not too far from my office because I kinda knew the salesman. Whatevs, as the kids say. The Honda’s boxy ’80’s lines were humiliating and uninspired but I was grateful that for the first time in my life I had a car that wasn’t a total puddle of dog vomit.
I had a horrible break-up a year or so after I bought the Honda and at the same time I started to earn some real money and have real tax problems. So naturally I bought another car. This time I got a brand-new jet-black 1991 Ford Thunderbird with a sad little 3.8L V-6 and an easily-confused 4-speed AOD tranny. I paid the then-insane price of $16,5oo. Not long after I bought the T-Bird someone backed in to it in a parking lot. Shortly after that, it was stolen during a date with a Greek restaurant heiress and driven to Laredo where it was to be delivered to a doctor in Mexico. A few days after it was stolen I got a call from Officer Manuel Martinez of the Laredo PD. He said he had just arrested the guys that had my car. He pulled ’em over, ran the plates and that was that. I asked him why he stopped that particular car. He said, “There were six Mexicans in a new Thunderbird. What else was I gonna do?”
A few months later, the Thunderbird was stove-in at the intersection in front of the Houston Astrodome. A British man who had never been in the United States before was driving his rental from the airport to a convention at the ‘Dome with a brief but loud detour though my passenger-side door. He apologized politely, “I ran the red light because I was just following the car in front of me.” I said, “This is Houston – the car in front of you is being driven by an idiot.”
For some reason my insurance company didn’t total out the Thunderbird even though the frame was bent and the driveshaft and axle had snapped, but rather they decided to spend about ten grand and three months getting it back on the road. During that time I drove two rentals cars including a Ford Probe, which wasn’t too bad in spite of it’s hilarious name (I even got a speeding ticket in it) and a Ford Tempo, a cruel, dangerous thing. The Probe’s transmission selector was a handle on the dash that looked like a toilet-flush lever. As for the Tempo, it’s worth noting that Paul Rubens owned a Ford Tempo when he was arrested in Florida for masturbating in a porno theater. Maybe it’s not worth noting. I do my masturbating at home. That’s definitely not worth noting.
1991 Ford Thunderbirds have a blue-book of $350 as of 2009.
But the bloom was well off the rose and I sold the Thunderbird a few months after I finally got it back from the shop. It never drove the same and, frankly, I felt like a fool in it. It was time to get back to my roots, car-wise.
I dropped 1500-dollars cash on a 1981 Chevy Caprice Wagon with 80k on the dial. I bought it from the original owners, a nice retired couple happily running out the clock in a condo in West University, Texas.
The Caprice was a classic American car devoted solely to the task of lulling the driver into a coma-state by isolating him from any sense that he was in an automobile. The front bench seat was an immense, doughy, velour-wrapped dream. All road-feel was damped by springs made of clouds and gigantic radial tires made of Wonderbread. Engine noise was so suppressed and insulated that I literally had to look at the gauges to see if the car was actually running at idle. The A/C was like having virgin snow blown right down your shorts. I loved that car and I drove the shit out it carrying camera equipment all over the city on commercial shoots, days at the beach and, many times, just plain old driving for the fun of it. My wife and I went on our first date in the Caprice.
Once we were married, I drove the Caprice less and less because Christine’s little Nissan NX was a monster blast to drive. Low to the ground, limited-slip diff and low-profile performance Yokohama tires, it glued itself to the road at any speed. The Nissan got great mileage and the Caprice’s 305, small by V8 stardards, fucking guzzled gas. So the Caprice sat half-way in the garage behind our duplex, ignored and unused for about a year during which time the rear window seal failed and the cargo hold filled up with rain water. When I finally opened the car up, mold and mildew had covered the entire interior in reeking green and black fuzz. I left the old thing in the garage when we moved.
Soon after, I impulse-purchased a 1972 Buick LeSabre 4-door at a garage sale. It was the second LaSabre I owned, the first being a silver 4-door with a V6 which I later traded in on a 1959 AMC Rambler with a straight six/push-button auto. The LaSabre was like the Caprice, a truly American car: massive, soft and ultimately a very wasteful way for one person to get around. The Buick was my commuter during a depressing job at Baylor University’s TV department. One day I walked out on Baylor and never drove the LeSabre again. Like the Caprice, it sat in our driveway. For three years.
This period of my life was very complicated and yet easy to sum up: I was deeply and profoundly depressed. The Buick and I deteriorated together. But I found my feet and I gave the Buick to the guy that read our gas meter after he offered to buy it. His name was Broc, and he looked like Earl Campbell’s little brother.
The LeSabre was in no condition to be driven so I let Broc work on the car in my driveway for a few weeks. He brought is dad with him to help out, an old man who carried a thermos of tea said things like, “Son, you gots to ax the car what do it want. You ax it. Oh, she talk. You gots to listen. She done telled you what she want and you gots to give it to her. She talkin’.” I swear to crap I’m not making that up.
Then the Nissan dropped a valve seat and a developed a mainseal leak. Considering the overall spent condition of the car – Christine wasn’t big on oil changes – we decided to donate it charity. We inherited my father-in-law’s 1989 Dodge Dakota pickup which had a bench seat so poorly designed that I couldn’t drive the goddamn thing. My leg would get wedged between the floor and the steering wheel or worse, my foot would get stuck under the brake pedal. Maybe that was a good thing because applying the brakes under any circumstance would cause the rear end to swing around to the front.
After the Dodge suffered a cracked differential, brake problems and an A/C meltdown, we decided it was time to buy a real car. We spent months and months researching cars, test-driving, CarFaxing and going toe-to-toe with so many dishonest and downright psychotic car salesemen that I began to get the impression that car saleman is the preferred job for people with antisocial mental problems.
We eventually got a 1999 Honda CRV. The saleman was a retired engineer named Mike Sullivan and he was so nice and fair that the dealsership fired him. He personally drove the car to my house and brought us cookies that his kid had baked. The Honda had sixty-thousand miles on it when we bought it. We’ve added another hundred-thousand and we plan to keep it for at least another fifty. These are pictures of it at the car-wash.
1969 Pontiac Catalina – timing chain broke
1970 Chevy Chevelle – tranny crapped
1965 Corvair Van – piece of shit
1976 Chevy Monte Carlo – gave it back to my sister
1974 Pontiac Bonneille – total piece of shit
1962 Corvair Sedan – sold to pay for school
1976 Buick Skylark – destroyed by a drunk driver
1981 Buick LeSabre – piece of shit
1959 AMC Rambler – cool but shit
1980 Mazda B2000 – gave to ex
1976 Toyota Wagon – don’t remember
1965 Corvair Van (another one) – abandoned
1966 Checker – wrecking yard
1986 Honda Wagon – sold
1991 Ford Thunderbird – sold
1981 Chevy Caprice – abandoned
1972 Buick LeSabre – given away
1986 Dodge Dakota – sold
1999 Honda CRV – keeper
1986 VW Vanagon Westfalia – keeper
Text and images © Andrew Auten – All Rights Reserved.