Buying my first new car was a lot like losing my virginity: it was unplanned, impulsive and quick. Even though it didn’t turn out exactly as I might have expected, I certainly don’t regret it; it was an inevitable rite of passage. There has to be a first time. At least the glow of satisfaction lasted longer (with the car).
Anyway, there I was, innocently tooling to work, driving past the Ford dealer in Santa Monica, when SHE winked at me: the first 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe in town. She was young and fresh, straight off the trailer. With her long sleek bod, she stood out from the crowded lot of boxy Fords like Keira Knightley at a Weight Watcher’s convention. I knew immediately: we were meant for each other.
The Thunderbird’s sheetmetal was the harbinger of a mega-tsunami of aero-design about to wash over the automotive industry. Compared to the angular, landau-roofed Detroit iron of the time, compared to equally sharp-edged Benzes and Bimmers, the T-Bird was literally a fresh of breath air.
“I want this car now,” I told the groggy salesman. “I’ll write you a check for it. I need to get to work– in this car.”
The salesman eyed me with suspicious satisfaction, nursing his morning Java. “Want some coffee? How about some rubber mats and protective sealer?”
“No. Just tell me how much it costs so I can get out of here.”
The Maharishi owed me. Since taking over his near-bankrupt LA TV station, I’d canceled the guru’s endless TM lectures and turned KSCI into a Tower of Babel− programming in no less than fifteen Asian and Middle-Eastern languages.I’d made the man some serious money (wired to off-shore accounts).
I called the station’s business manager and told him to bring the company check book.
Despite the salesman’s best efforts to add as many options as possible to my impulse purchase, I arrived at work late that morning, with a big grin on my face.
I soon discovered that the Turbo Coupe’s beauty wasn’t just skin deep. The interior was uncharacteristically clean and solid. The multi-adjustable leather seats had inflatable lumbar support, with squeeze-bulbs sourced from a blood-pressure cuff.
Raising most hoods back then was like confronting the convoluted entrails of a freshly-slit pork belly. You were lucky to catch a glimpse of the engine under miles of contorted hoses. The Thunderbird Coupe had bragging rights to the most advanced engine management electronics of its time (EEC-IV). The innovation made popping the Bird’s long beak a visual treat.
The little four-banger sat naked, adorned with some nice alloy. Its 145hp output may seem pathetic today, but what was the alternative? Even BMW was on an economy binge; the only 5-Series available had all of 128hp, and the 3-Series barely harnessed 100 horses (a pricey way to save fuel).
The T-Bird shared Ford’s Fox rear wheel-drive platform with the Mustang. The Bird was anorexic (3000lbs) yet solid. With the little four in the front, decent steering and Michelin TRX wheels/tires, she was light on her feet, a real dancer. Riding her gently yielded thirty mpg.
Just as well. The moment you cranked her above 4000rpm, the mill’s Pinto roots screamed back. (It’s hard to cover up bad family genes.)
The engine lacked palpable boost below 2500rpm; flooring her was an invitation to turbo-hole hell. The fun came in short, intense bursts. Four adults on board with the A/C on was an embarrassment, and had me thinking V8 engine swap.
Once at speed, all was forgiven. Four thousand rpm on the clock corresponded to an effortless 100 mph cruise. After my loathsome Buick Skylark company car, it was a revelation. On our first family trip to Mammoth in the ‘Bird, I set the cruise control at that happy speed. Shooting across the purple Mohave at sunset and up the Owens Valley under a starry sky was cargasmic.
I had to make regular business trips to San Bernardino. Instead of using I-10, I traversed the whole length of the San Gabriel Mountains via Angeles Crest highway, an all-time peak driving road. I crossed tire-marks with other kindred office escapees eager to work out pent-up competitive urges.
Our fling was short but sweet. Maharishi peddled bliss and tranquility, but working for him induced stress. So I jumped ship, in a long-shot move to buy a TV station. The ‘Bird stayed behind, to be abused by several TM space-cadets sent to replace me. They destroyed it within nine months.
I still buy new cars impulsively; SOME things never change. Fortunately for my bank balance, I keep my cars for eight to fifteen years, or even forever, like my old Ford truck. And I limit my impulsiveness to cars. As my wife of thirty years will tell you, that’s no bad thing.