Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Weekend Assignment # 347: The Cars

For Weekend Assignment # 347: Car Crazy, I asked,

Weekend Assignment # 347: Car Crazy
Some people are car connoisseurs, able to discuss the finer points of 1960 Corvette engines, find or build replacement Model T parts, or argue the merits of the latest high-end Italian sports car. (Okay, maybe it's not the same person in each of these scenarios, but you get the idea.) Other people know a lot about their own beloved car and its automotive brethren, but not much about other cars. Still others are mostly just concerned whether their car still gets them to work and back safely. How about you? Do you pay attention to automotive trends, or quickly identify the unusual car sitting next to you at the light? What is the extent of your knowledge and interest in cars?

Extra Credit: If a long lost rich uncle insisted on buying you any car you wanted, as long as you promised to keep it and drive it around, what kind would you get?

I guess you could say I've never been more than vaguely interesting in cars, beyond their functional value as something to get around in, either across town or across the country (or some portion thereof). In kindergarten, I asked a classmate whether her parents' new car was "a Ford of a Rambler," because those were the kinds of cars my parents had, and I didn't know any others existed. When my brother, circa 1965-1966, was pointing out every "Bonneville '65" he saw on the street, I wondered what the big deal was. In the 1970s I noticed that it seemed as though half the cars in Syracuse were VW Beetles, but I had no opinion whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. My first car was my mom's old 1967 Dodge Coronet station wagon, which my friend Howard used to tease me about, repeating back my words, "But it's a good car," when I had to hold the choke open with a screwdriver or pencil in order to start the car.

The Eagle

No, I'm not exactly a car connoisseur. Even as an adult, my interest has mostly been in whatever car I happened to own, or whatever car my minimal research told me I should buy next. I inspected an EV1 at a car show in Reid Park once, and was disappointed to learn that it was not available for sale. At all. The car most like it, and sitting next to it in the park that day, was a Saturn, which led to my owning a Saturn a few years later. When I kind of wrecked that car, I got another Saturn. When a kid in a 1965 Ford pickup totaled that one, I got...well, there wasn't another Saturn I could afford on what the insurance paid out, so I bought a 1994 Eagle Vision TSi, a make and model I'd never even heard of. But I got it from the Saturn dealer. I don't regret it. The inside door handles are broken, the plastic panel over the airbag is warped, the radio doesn't work and the leather seat in back is starting to split apart, but, well, "It's a good car." Which is to say, yes, I've put a few thousand dollars into repairs and it still has problems, but at least it runs.

Look! It's an old...umm...!

Still, I do notice neat old cars on the street, and occasionally some unusual new car if it's strangely shaped or exceptionally sporty. I'm probably right more often than not when I identify something as an old Chevy, Cadillac or Model T--well, maybe. And once I got a car dealer to give me a test drive in a Corvette, with the car salesman at the wheel. I also watch Top Gear on BBC America, not because I have an opinion about expensive Italian sports cars, but because the three hosts are amusing, and do crazy challenges involving cars and other vehicles all over the world.

Despite the fact that I love the styling and it's iconic and the guys drove one on the tv show Route 66, I don't think I'd take a Corvette if the proverbial rich uncle offered me one. That goes double for any of the insanely expensive sports cars the guys on Top Gear rhapsodize and argue about. No, I'd probably do what I usually do: look at what's available at the used car lots, research what reviewers, consumers and car sites have to say about each of the available models, and then pick the car that best fits the overlap between my research results and "I like it - it's pretty." In the end, buying a car is pretty much always going to be a negotiation between the sensible part of the brain and the emotional response of "oooh...gimme!"

If the Eagle broke down for good tomorrow and I also got a really good job tomorrow and could afford to replace it, I'd love to get a Chevy Volt. The sensible part of my brain tells me that it's Motor Trend's Car of the Year, which has to count for something, and that it's better for the environment, probably, than an internal combustion car. (It depends on the source of the electricity being poured into it. Maybe I can lash up some solar panels.) The not-so-sensible part of me is aware that it's this year's answer to the long lost EV1, only better, and enjoys the commercials for it on MSNBC, with voiceover by Tim Allen. If that proverbial rich uncle turns up any time soon, I guess I'll go for that.


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