There are certain things in the car world that are just understood. Always get the rental insurance, because it’s hard not to crash the fastest car in the world. Miata is always the answer (Or is it?). The Lexus SUV always contains at least one American soccer mom in it’s owner history. Chryslers are made of painted rust. And finally, any beater is more fun than any supercar. (I left the Jeep thing out, because apparently some people don’t understand)
The horrible glory of a cheap vehicle is an obvious one, on the face of it. If you don’t care about your vehicle, you can do things you would never do with the daily driver that has to start whenever your girlfriend’s parents might be out for the night. Shift every gear at redline? Sure! Put the car in the curb at the drive through and let it idle its way up to the window while you text? Why not? You probably need new tires anyways. Happen to find yourself on a dirt road? Rally special stage!
But what’s better than your own beater to thrash? A beater belonging to a friend!
The chariot in question for my excursion is a bright red and rust colored, 1991 Ford Ranger belonging to my friend that we were selling, featuring the top of the line 4.0 V6, four wheel drive (which doesn’t work), bald front tires, alignment issues, a ladder frame so rusty I wouldn’t use it to reach the cookie jar atop my fridge, and, in the bed, a loose block of wood. The odometer only has 5 digits, the only thing I really am certain of is that it has more than 29k. Having spent the day cleaning it up for a possible trade, only for the person to flake on the meeting, my buddy and I decided to take the old horse into town for some lunch. She fires up and we’re off and away.
The closest thing I can liken driving this vehicle to is a state of semi consciousness, a dream that blends with reality. Your steering, brake, and throttle inputs all respond, but do so as though stuck in viscous liquid, and with seeming delay. The speedometer only goes to 85, which is for the best, really, considering the stability of the ride, but it’s disorienting to look down at the needle in the middle, only to notice that indicates a mere 40 mph. Probably. It is the very definition of driving in an old movie, with constant input required to keep it straight and true. It doesn’t pull to one side, it pulls to either, and has a good 3-4 inches of play in the rack, but somehow the on center movements occasionally still affect the tires. It feels as though you’re telling the truck what to do, but that it’s merely taking your suggestions, and nothing seems constant.
Then you hit the brakes, which are spongy for a bit until you get all the stopping power, and it’s only then that you realize something in the seat rail is broken, and you slide forward in an undignified fashion. It is at this point that you get a glorious image in your head of an imminent head-on collision, which sends your body, still belted to the chair, flying through the windshield, looking like an ejecting Air Force pilot without the aid of a parachute, or the hours of training necessary to look good in Aviators, fly a jet fighter, and put up with the same three jokes about Top Gun every time you introduce yourself. As you accelerate again the seat slides backwards into place, and all is well. Except for the temperature gauge not working. Or the fuel gauge. And the massive driveline slack. And the dry-rotted tires. But that matters not, as you bounce down the road in your truck. After all, the voltage gauge still works. A little Creedance on the radio while driving through agricultural fields in a beat up old truck may be an American cliche, but there really is a good reason for it. It’s just right. You see a dirt road and you want to turn down in and see where it goes, even if you just end up having to turn around a half mile down. You start to almost understand the thought process of men whose desires are swayed by commercials involving hay bales dropping into truck beds and the best Sam Elliot impersonator the company could find, or perhaps afford. Or maybe it wasn’t a country scene, it could have been a comparison with equally cliched manly tasks. “Look at how our new truck climbs a mountain made of ROCKS and BUFFALO while simultaneously towing both it’s competitors on square wheels AND later beating them in pool at the bar!”
A sudden memory jolts me from my advertising fantasies, much like a far less employed and attractive Don Draper. Or it could have been an actual jolt that jolted me from them, the ride is terrible, even for a light duty truck. The aforementioned memory was of the truck being equipped with an Awoogah horn, which, upon a quick test, remains one of the few things properly working. The amount of childish fun to be had driving around a college town in that eyesore truck with our newly discovered soundtrack was obvious, and it being a sunny day, there were plenty of people out and about for whom we could play the song of the Clown Truck. People jumped, some gave us thumbs up, plenty laughed, and one girl flicked us off with some remark about “small dick catcallers”, but overall the response was taken in good stride, and even if it hadn’t been, we were having too much fun to notice. When you roll through town with everyone looking at you, come up to a stop sign while giving the pedestrians an awoogah, they look over just in time to see you lock up the brakes and slide all the way forward in the unsecured driver’s seat. You can’t help but own that moment. The entire drive was bedlam, and it was amazing.
All in all, this truck is pretty terrible as a vehicle. It fortunately does not serve as a daily driver, but in the end we fixed the seat rails and it was mostly safe, barring a possible mold infection courtesy of a leaking headliner. But it’s not all bad, the Cologne 4.0 V6 isn’t a powerhouse by any means, managing only 160 HP standing on it’s tippy-toes, but down low it brings 225 torques. This means you can get out of your own way if you put your foot hard down, and with the lack of weight over the rear axle (I knew the block of wood wouldn’t be enough), and shitty tires, you can even put down a small 11, if you feel so inclined (I did). It’s exactly what you’d expect from a small truck: Stiff, character building springs, because men with rough hands don’t do comfortable work. Tons of gauges that tell you important things. Four wheel drive to rescue less capable vehicles from their doom in the inescapable grasp of a ditch. A cigarette lighter. Manual roll down windows because if you wanna cool down, you gotta work up a bit of heat first. And almost all of it is broken, you’ve got enough working parts to go down the road and put stuff in the back, and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if you were born in Greenwich and the only callous you ever had was from playing too much golf on a weekend at your Florida winter home. Deep inside, and to varying degrees, all men want trucks, some of us will even settle for piles of scrap metal, so long as they’re capable of 65 MPH with a few panels of drywall in the back.
There’s more things broken on this truck than there are working, but that encapsulates what makes any beater such a good time. Driving is easy when everything works, it’s no longer an event to get to where you’re going. You can drive the hell out of it, because you still won’t be breaking the law, it’s not fast enough. Even the speed doesn’t make the memory, though. It’s the occasion of it all that does. The people you’re with, and the truck that got you there, laughing as it screams towards 45 MPH at a geologic pace. As much as I don’t like old, small trucks as vehicles, I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience of being in the worst, almost-roadworthy vehicle ever, especially considering I never actually have to depend on it myself. Much like The Room, puns on Tumblr, White Zombie, and 2 Fast 2 Furious, this truck was so horrible I couldn’t help but love it. If we had inspections in Michigan, the techs would laugh us out before we could even swipe a credit card. Hell, even Cubans would consider this a lost cause. But you just don’t have as much fun if you’re not burning the tires off at every light, sliding forward into your clown horn at every stop, and waiting for the truck to try and kill you like Cato.