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Survivor obsession #6
Tue Aug 21, 2018 18:35

Great (and not so great) cars in my life. (Pt. 1)

Often, the topic of conversation amongst petrolheads is, "What makes a good car?" Usually that's followed by great theological discussion, usually centred around such things as speed, handling, naught-to-sixty times, how pretty it is, cachet, and (forcing the bile down as I write it) "value".

For me, its a bit different. First off, does a car meet one of two purposes, driving or travelling? Second, are those purposes clearly understood as separate and exclusive (with the very very rare exception)? As long as the difference is kept, no problem. Blur the distinction, say by loading "travelling" tech into something touted as a "driving" car for example, and the ability for the result to meet expectations is usually and fatally compromised.

I can therefore say a real "Jeep" such as a Willys or an AMC-era CJ5 or a 90s Wrangler is a good vehicle. It has a purpose and meets it well. I'd have another. I wouldn't have a Fiat-era overbloated version or, worse, a Cherokee. A Subaru Leg-Outback does the school run in snow and carries as much and with greater reliability (bought my wife the Subie).

I've owned and driven a fair number of vehicles expressly for travelling, not driving, starting with a '66 289 Ford Bronco (210 kilomiles!), a '78 International Scout (an absolute monster with a big V8) and, after a long period overseas and the late-in-life acquisition of a wife and son, a '94 Wrangler, an '02 Liberty, '08 Compass, and two PT Cruisers. The theme here is, these were all "what it says on the tin", capable unexciting numbmobiles that all travelled great distances in comfort carrying all my trash from point A to point Z, not pretending to be anything else, weather pretty much immaterial. None of that list travelled less than 100 kilomiles at my hand, and a couple soldiered on over 200. The Compass takes a lot of grief from the Jeep crowd, but mine did 120k (and a six-point buck) in only two years. One of the Cruisers, in semi-retirement with 125k on the clock, serves as my workshop utility and daily fetcher as this is written.

Cars for driving often aren't cars for travelling, though as a bachelor I have owned two the crossed that usually uncrossable gulf, and did it well. The first was a delightful BMW 2002, a pre-fuel injected 1970 model I owned when I lived in Germany. I cannot say enough good things about that car, flawlessly and seamlessly engineered from the slanted nose to those round tail-lights. It was a little rocket on rails driving great distances on the autobahnen, yet I could rallye the car and those Alpine passes (the Stelvio in that car was a very good day) and little Bavarian mountain B-roads... Oh, my.

The second was a Mk1 Golf GTI. That car was also one that cleared 200 kilomiles at my hand, and it was the essential hothatch. You could race it, rallye it, terrorised the countryside and, though the suspension was less forgiving than the little Bimmer, still travel great distances with large loads. Somewhere I have photos of when I was a musician as a second profession, carrying two (yes, two) double basses to an orchestra gig, along with two people and three nights of luggage. I miss that car.

Going to "drivers" as opposed to travellers, I've also owned and loved two pre-BMW Minis. Every petrolhead should have owned a real Mini in their life. I will, however, incur the wrath of the rabid and say categorically the Golf GTI is the benchmark hot-hatch and the Mini, though perhaps a progenitor, doesn't quite define the breed. Still, essential drivers and the car I cut my real driving teeth on, along with a couple 1300 Spits.

My spannering teeth were cut on aircooled VW and early Porsche. I never owned the Porsches, but learned about collectors versus enthusiasts working on them. For me, a '64 VW Karmann Ghia and a '56 Beetle were my first loves, John Muir and Dick O'Kane the new and old testaments, and a 912 engine shared between them my intro to the notion that with great power comes great responsibility, in this case to uprate the suspension to match.

Today, that differentiation remains clear. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the mindset is the Cruiser and Outback are never expected to be driven just to drive. That is indeed a very foreign concept anymore in America, where the automobile is considered an appliance, and one usually selected by how closely it resembles the "rec-room" since driving is regarded by so many as a chore.

Having lived for so long outside the US, the idea of a drive for the sake of the drive is a precious gift I'm happy to have received. Inner peace is mine with good taut car in top form on a great road.

As you might gather, I don't collect cars in the manner of stamps or trophies. I buy them and I drive them. Yes, some of them were boring trucks and some considered enthusiasts' cars, and I make no apologies for the practice.

Sometimes I need a good truck.

    • I forgot to post this at the time - mike, Wed Aug 29 12:56
      There's something intoxicating about the delicious smell of Shell 2T smoke and aviation grade petrols combined esters, a scent that you never forget, just the faintest whiff brings back memories. We... more
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