I thought with the format change lending itself to longer posts, I'd share some stories about the cars I've owned over the years. Now, I am not someone that has owned sports cars or performance cars, but rather a lot of run-of-the-mill, or 80's-malaise-y vehicles, including a couple models that some Jalops may have never even seen in the wild. Most were good cars, a few were great, and a couple were terrible. This post is unfortunately about the latter.
Yes, my first car was one of GM's infamous X-cars. I won't bother you with the whole story; the short version is that they were GM's first real attempt to build a small front-drive car, and GM didn't try hard enough. Poor quality, terrible (and dangerously poor) brakes, etc.
I was genuinely shocked when my stepdad casually told me one day that they were going to buy me a car, and he said he would let me help look for cars though he was always going to have the final decision. Needless to say, I was freaking stoked; they'd never once led me to believe they would do that, and I didn't expect it either. I'd always just assumed that I'd have to save up and buy one. So, a few months before I got my license, we went and looked at a bunch of different cars; there was a 1980 AMC Spirit AMX that needed an air pump (of course I wanted it, it was an AMC), a 1978 VW Scirocco that was cool but wouldn't start when we went to check it out, a 1987 Subaru BRAT that had a gear lever that would just flop over to the side once you let go of it (but the transmission itself was fine), and a few others I can't remember. He had found an ad for a Plymouth Arrow pickup that I made clear I would have loved, but the weird lady who answered the phone didn't want to answer any questions about it, and then stopped answering her phone altogether, so we never even got to see it.
When he told me he wanted to look at this Phoenix, I was horrified. I tried to be diplomatic about it, and express my totally legitimate objections to it, but the fact that they were willing to buy me a car made me want to be careful not to rock that boat. We checked it out, and on the surface it wasn't bad; it had brand new paint that looked good, it was clean inside and out, and it drove ok according to my stepdad. It had the Iron Puke 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine that was roughly 5 times older than the universe, and a 4-speed manual that had a button on the top that you needed to push in order for it to go in reverse. It had A/C (didn't work) and an AM radio, and manual windows and locks. The hatch supports didn't work, so you had to hold up the hatch with a dowel.
We didn't buy it right then, and on the way home I tried to talk about how bad the X-cars were, and he started to get irritated with me. He told me later on after we got rid of it that he thought I just was being fussy about the car because it was old and because it wasn't an import. (I have no idea why he thought I only was into imports, that wasn't true at all.) He ended up going back to get it, and I put on my best "GREAT." face, trying to look happy about it. Truth was, I WAS happy to have a car, and I hoped it would just work out and turn out to be a decent car.
The first sign it was not the best purchase came when he decided to take my Mom and I to Boulder to visit my sister, who was attending CU. The trip to Boulder was fine, but while we were there he noticed a fresh puddle of oil under it. It was surprisingly large considering the short time it was parked. We put a quart in it, and then drove back. It needed more oil once we got home. He parked it, and it sat for a couple months before I got my license.
I got my license in February 1992. The test was scheduled for a weekday during school, so my stepdad picked me up and took me there. I had the least stressful test ever; when the instructor got in the car with me, he had my new license on the clipboard with him and I sensed it wouldn't be a very thorough test. As soon as I got home from the test I hopped in it, went back to my high school and picked up one of my friends and gave him a ride home. Then I went over to my best friends house, picked up a couple more friends, and we proceeded to drive around Colorado Springs for about 4-5 hours. It was awesome; I still love to just hop in any vehicle and drive aimlessly.
About a week later, I came out of the house and tried to start the Phoenix...no luck. It was cranking, but it just couldn't quite catch. I got out and looked under the hood, which was hilarious because I had very little to no knowledge about how a car works, but I figured I should start somewhere. Fortunately, I happened to look in exactly the right place. The vacuum hoses had detached. I popped them back on and it fired right up. This became an everyday thing, as they popped off whenever they wanted to (sometimes stalling out in traffic) and resisted all attempts to make their connection more permanent.
A week after that, I discovered the gas gauge was not accurate. I discovered this by running out of gas in the middle of rush hour (LOL Colorado Springs rush hour, which means there were 5 cars on the road instead of 4). It would read 1/4 tank when it was empty. Then it developed a nasty power steering fluid leak. Then a coolant leak. The ever-growing number of drip stains and puddles where I parked formed a beautiful liquid rainbow of automotive futility. I half expected Greenpeace to show up and protest my personal destruction of the earth in front of our house.
Finally, one day after it had been in the shop, it would not start at all even after I reconnected the vacuum hoses. My stepdad said, "Just walk to school, I will take care of it." I got home that day, and the car was gone. Two or three days later, I walked home from school and was doing whatever when my stepdad showed up early. He shouted, "Hey, I fixed the car, come and see!" I came upstairs and went outside, and parked on the street was a 1983 Chevrolet Celebrity. I was thrilled, not because I thought the Celebrity was so great, but because I knew they weren't pieces of shit like the X-cars.
Basically, the Phoenix was slow, when it did move it was difficult to stop, it had the narrowest shift pattern I've ever experienced, it was in the shop 3-4 times a month, it was a terrible color, and it smelled weird. You know what, though? I still can't hate it. Owning a shitty car that breaks down frequently heightens your appreciation for it when it does work, especially when it's your only means of freedom. I like to think of it as training to someday own an Alfa Romeo, except the Alfa will be fun to drive.