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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cars of the past

In high school I drove my parents' 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 sedan around town. It was a basic six-seater, no frills and no A/C, but it served its purpose. When they finally sold it circa 1977 and my pet beagle died of old age around the same time, I knew that I had crossed over into adulthood.

In college I borrowed my parents' 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, a stylish car in the copper-bronze that GM used so much at the time. The Cutlass had a huge engine, making it great fun to drive. Unfortunately it got 10 mpg under the best of circumstances, had black upholstery (a bad idea in the south despite A/C), and was mechanically troublesome like most American cars of the 1970s. It had to go.

The first car that I bought on my own was a 1982 VW Jetta -- an utter disaster, mechanically. Somehow I tolerated it for 90K miles of agony. The Jetta was the best-handling car on snow and ice that I've ever driven, but otherwise don't ask me about German engineering. I was not surprised in the 1990s when Mercedes-Benz lost its reputation for top quality.

In 1985 as Ryan's birth approached, I bought a Ford LTD for family transportation. The price was fantastic because the LTD was being phased out by the Taurus, but the Ford dealer apparently sold too many cars at too little margin; it went out of business not long thereafter. The LTD was a solid vehicle that served for 140K miles.

To replace the Jetta, I bought a Ford Taurus in 1990 based on positive impressions from Tauri I had rented on business trips. It was a mechanical disappointment, although not so bad as the Jetta. Gail reverted to driving the LTD because she couldn't trust the Taurus. I sold it directly to a scrap dealer after managing to get 100K miles from it. By the way, this Ford dealer also went out of business shortly after my purchase.

A bit gunshy but needing a larger vehicle, I bought a Ford Windstar minivan in 1993. It shared some Taurus components and had some of the same problems, but by then I had learned a lot about Taurus mechanicals and, more importantly, how to wage war with service departments. Overall the Windstar did alright, 150K miles.

Disenchanted with Ford, probably for eternity, I bought a Mazda Protegé in 1999. Formerly called the 323, it was the most trouble-free car I have ever owned. Score one for the Japanese! Driving a 5-speed again was a joy. But parts became difficult to get, so I had to retire it after 170K miles. And yes, the dealer from whom I bought the Protegé went out of business.

To replace the Windstar at a time when we still needed a large vehicle, I bought a Chrysler Pacifica in 2004. It's the car I drive today, 177K miles and counting. Mine has been better-than-average in terms of reliability, although Consumer Reports hates the model. Would you be surprised that the Chrysler dealer who sold me the Pacifica is out of business?

Most recently, Gail and I waited and waited to buy the first Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that arrived in the Triangle. Ours is serial number 1235 from the Korea factory. After some initial problems with on-board software, it has been exceptional. Unlike many hybrids, the Sonata Hybrid is optimized for expressway driving -- and that's how Gail uses it. We're 90K miles in, and the main question is how much will I have to pay when the time comes to replace the high-capacity battery? At least the dealer who sold me this car is still in business... for now.