By on April 4, 2010

This garage holds 45 years of automotive memories. As does the house it’s attached to. I’ll spare you the memories and stories that are being shared, relived and dredged up as the Niedermeyer clan shares a get-together at my parents’ house in Towson. But let’s take a quick look at the cars that have lived here since 1965. Like families, it’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly (as the current occupants make it all too clear). 

Since there’s no scanner in the house, regrettably I can’t share pictures of the actual cars, so these are all stand-ins.

The 1965 Dodge Coronet 440 eight-seat wagon replaced the 1962 Ford Fairlane in the most recent CC. By far, it holds the most memories for me, given that it was the first car I ever drove. One day when I was fifteen, my parents were gone for the day in my father’s car, so I just grabbed the keys, walked down to the garage, got in and backed it out into the driveway, like I had done almost every Saturday to wash it. But this time I just kept going, through the neighborhood, out to Charles street, and when I hit the Beltway, I turned into the exit and got on the busy freeway.

The only problem I had was that I had to fight a nervous shaking in my leg, as I got up to 65 or so. But it smoothed out after a couple of miles. Having spent many summers driving old tractors in the fields of Iowa, I was surprised at how dead and lacking in feedback/kickback the Dodge’s power steering was. Welcome to the reality of Mopar PS.

I was instantly addicted to driving, and you can read all about my exploits here and here. It inevitably resulted in a fender bender (not my fault), but that exposed my exploits and postponed my license for almost two years. The effect was that it extended my period of illicit driving, and my creativity in finding the cars to do it in.

The Dodge had the old polyspheric 318 V8, with 230 hp, and the Torqueflite. It was a real challenge to get it to burn even a hint of rubber. And as much as I like to buy into the myth of Mopars handling better than average, Mom’s Coronet handled like a pig. It under steered notoriously, plowing its way through life. It wasn’t the slightest bit fun to drive. I drove it purely out of necessity to feed my habit.

To the right of the Coronet, on my father’s side, lived a bright green 1965 Opel Kadett. It was a fairly short-term visitor, staying a mere three years. And its the only car of all of them that I never drove, the Opel having left the fold before I started my driving career.

It was a remarkably tiny and tinny little buzz bomb. Opel’s key competitor to the VW Beetle was a flyweight, weighing two hundred pounds less than a Beetle, or just some 1500 lbs. And it never let you forget it. The tops of the doors would show daylight at seventy or so, being sucked out by the negative pressure area at speed. But with a fairly rev-happy 993cc four that put out 40 hp, it could easily outrun the ubiquitous Beetles. This is something that my older brother proved to me in numerous stoplight drag races.

In every way, the Kadett was the polar opposite of the Dodge: it was hyper-direct in all its controls, and could be made to do all sorts of interesting maneuvers, with its balanced RWD chassis. It was more like wearing a car than driving it. And its hard ride  and noisiness were more akin to a toy or a sedan version of an Austin Healey Sprite.

A baby-shit brown stripper Dart like this one replaced the fragile Opel after a mere three years of my father’s commute and my brother’s exploits. It had the small 170 slant six, three-on-the-tree, and manual steering and brakes. It lived up to its reputation, and was a loyal servant for many years. More Darts are coming soon to CC, but let me just say this: if this car had come with a four-speed stick, and the steering had been just a tad quicker, it would have been quite an effective back-road bomber. With very little weight on the front (the bane of most older American cars), it handled surprisingly well, completely unlike the bigger Dodge wagon. The little six revved more than one would expect, but the gap between second and third was a black hole that the bigger 225 six would have dealt with better with its much more ample torque.

Mom’s Coronet was replaced by a 1973 Coronet wagon, my father having taken a serious turn towards Mopars after the previous Fords. This picture is of a ’72, but that’s all I could find; but the difference was minuscule (n0 fake wood on Moms’). I had already left home by then, but the first time I came home after it appeared and I took it for a drive, I was pleasantly surprised. It handled markedly better than the ’65, and the newer LA 318 seemed to pull as hard if not more so, despite the desmogging. But the handling was the biggest surprise; this one felt so much more composed, and even the steering now had a tad of feedback. Power disc brakes added to the overall impression of driving a much more modern car.

No, that’s not my family on horses. But this Zephyr is a pretty close dead-ringer for what replaced the Dart after ten year’s of use. The Dart was actually still in very decent shape then, without rust and and as solid and hard-running as ever. But my father finally broke down and admitted that he liked the A/C in Mom’s ’73 Coronet. Baltimore summers will do that, even to a cold blooded person like him. So the Zephyr, equipped with the 2.3 L four, four speed stick (on the floor) between actual bucket seats, and air conditioning replaced the Dart.

It was an interesting car, inasmuch as it (and its Fairmont twin) were the closest thing to a Volvo 240 ever built in America. The Fox platform was a remarkable piece of work, which we’ll examine closer soon, and with the four, stick, and manual steering it wasn’t exactly fast, but a very light and neutral handling car that felt much more European than the typical fare built by Detroit. We all though that the dorky factor was high, but that just came with the baggage of it being my father’s.

My father was now back to being a Ford man, and with the family nest quickly emptying, my Mother wanted something smaller. A 1981 or ’82 Escort wagon (not a woody) with the 1.6 and automatic was very much in tune with America’s new-found love for small cars during the second energy crisis. I’ll spare my full assessment on a coming CC, but let’s just say it won’t do much to rehabilitate my growing reputation hereabouts as a Ford hater. Like almost all small cars form Detroit, the Escort started out very flawed, and eventually the worst of the warts were sanded away and they turned into half-way decent but serviceable cars. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough, given the competition from Japan. ‘Nuff said for now.

My father did something totally out of character in 1985 or 1986. He actually called me up to get my recommendation for a new car, as long as it was a domestic. The answer was instantaneous: a Taurus. It was light years ahead anything else from Detroit, and these early versions with the Vulcan 3.0 and automatic were actually devoid of the notorious problems with the 3.8 and the later transaxles. It was a breakthrough car, and one could rightfully say it was the mold of which the whole Camcordia class has been cast from ever since. Quiet, smooth riding yet not a bad handler; for the first time that balance did not elude Detroit. He loved it and it gave him very good service. But he never called and asked me for advice again. Go figure.

Somehow, I was able to co-opt my father in the decision for Mom’s next car. Despite his rabid anti-import sentiment (he was still smarting from the fragile Opel and the crappy service he got at the utterly disinterested Buick dealer) I talked her into asserting herself and buying a Civic sedan; I’m not exactly sure which year, but one of these. And she fell utterly in love with it. It was bright red, and she called it her sports car. Without going into the unflattering details, let me just say that her innate ability to have a relationship with a car and the corresponding driving skills profoundly overshadowed those of my father. He wouldn’t like to hear it, but so it is. And he doesn’t read TTAC. Anyway, that Civic was one of the joys of her life, and she always looked forward to driving it. And it was utterly dead reliable.

By 1993, there would have been so many easy choices for my father with which to replace the Taurus. But for some  inexplicable reason, he now turned to the company I so wanted him to buy from in the sixties: GM. But he waited thirty years too late to buy the right Skylark. I couldn’t believe it when he proudly told me of his new Buick. Let’s just say it’s still in the garage, and the fact that the two of them have survived this long with each other is a minor miracle. He was always a driver who didn’t inspire confidence, and at the age of ninety, we all shudder to think he’s still at it. None of us have gotten in with him for years, unless it was absolutely essential. The truth hurts sometimes. Maybe the Buick is his good luck token.

One day a few years ago, my father took my mother’s Honda for a drive, and came back with a new Saturn Ion coupe. And she didn’t stop letting him hear about how unhappy she was about that for years. I’m sure he meant well, but…well, its probably better I just stop now. They’re old, and we’re here to celebrate the fact that they can both still (sort of) drive at all.

There will never again be any more new cars in this old garage. And despite some of the questionable choices, the cars got them through their very full lives. So I celebrate them all, and will miss them, even the Ion and the Buick. Possibly even most of all.

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49 Comments on “Autobiography: Family Carma...”

  • avatar

    Interesting observations regarding the Fairmont/Zephyr. My parents had a ’78 Fairmont 2-door sedan, beige with tan vinyl top, 4-cyl., 4-speed on the floor and an AM radio — pretty much a base stripper. (My dad had fairly simple tastes and would have preferred one without the vinyl top — and without radio, for that matter — but they bought out of dealer stock and got a good deal.)

    I had left home by the time they bought this so I didn’t have much experience driving it but I do remember that it was quite roomy, had a decent ride and actually handled fairly well. Fast it wasn’t, and it was just about worthless on snow and ice, being fairly light, rear drive and with a pronounced forward weight bias.

    And think about the range of engines: your choice of 4, 6 or 8 cylinders. Who else offered that?

  • avatar

    Thanks, Paul, for your memory lane trip. My father and I are about 8 years younger than your father and son duo, but we share some similarities in the family car histories. Especially with regards to the strippo versions! It’s a source of amusement between my brother and I that my father didn’t get A/C in a car, along with colour television and cable, until I was out of the house.

    The one and only time my father asked my wisdom on purchasing a vehicle, he completely disregarded my advice and bought a Ford Aerostar, a vehicle that made the VW bus look like a world-beater.

    I’m sorry to digress, but is there a CC about the Trabant coming any time soon? I just watched a very interesting documentary on the CBC about the origins of this most ubiquitous little car, and it dispelled quite a few myths I had held.

    Also, I just watched an episode of My Classic Car on Speed Channel about the Oregon Mountain Cruise in Joseph Oregon. Have you ever attended it previously? You must have some phenomenal pictures if you have.

    • 0 avatar

      I spotted a Trabbie at a car show in Racine, WI, last summer and have a couple of pictures. I also seem to recall that one of the fan mags (Automobile Magazine, I think) did a piece on it a year or two ago. So different from any other car that it might as well have been from another planet.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      A Trabbi CC or History is a must here before long. I doubt I’ll see on on the street, but who cares?
      Joseph is in one of my favorite areas, the Wallowas (mts). Haven’t been to the cruise, but thanks for the heads up.

    • 0 avatar

      A Trabant showed up at a French & Italian car show in Woodley Park recently.

      All those beautiful red Italian sports cars around and I made a bee-line to the Trabant. The guy who owned it took me for a ride around the grounds in it. What a bloody scream that was. Bone simple and “if it sounds like it’s missing, that means it’s running the way it’s supposed to” according to it’s owner.

      Mr. N: your articles are always a highlight of TTAC and I look forward to them. Thanks

    • 0 avatar

      The Trabbi was in any aspect a horrible car. The only positive feature I can think of is that it burns like an old christmas tree ;)

  • avatar

    My folks had two of the same choices your folks did
    A 1982 escort. It was the biggest POS they’ve ever owned, when the timing belt snapped at 60,500 miles they were happy to have an excuse to get rid of it.

    They also had a 1991 Civic LX. It sat In their Driveway for 5 years, my mom said if i could get it to start, I could have it. It needed a new battery, and a new alternator (the old one was frozen, and BAM it started, with 5 year old fuel in the tank. I drove all throughout the 2008 expensive fuel days, and even got 40mpg out of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Not trying to justify a bad design but the belt was a required to be replaced in service at no more than 60k miles … unfortunately, some people ignored this and trashed their valves and piston crowns…

  • avatar

    Can’t tell you how much I love these articles… especially living in the NW now and missing my family’s own list of regrettable cars parked in the suburban Maryland driveway of my youth.

    My first 15 year old joyride was in Dad’s ’82 Camaro Berlinetta V8. I still remember the shaky leg as I pulled out of the neighborhood onto US-301 hoping no one we knew saw me.

    • 0 avatar

      I got the shakey leg after I saw the red light of the Michigan State Police patrol car getting larger in my rear-view mirror as I was decelerating from some ridiclously high speed down thru 75 miles per hour on westbound I-696 near Inkster Rd. in my dad’s 1977 Ford LTD II company car … Mom & Dad were vacationing on Mackinac Island that weekend and I was putting my recently acquired drivers’ license to questionable use…

    • 0 avatar

      Ah yes, that first illicit, illegal joyride. In my case, I was fifteen, and the car was dad’s last company car: a 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS two-door hardtop in silver blue. The usual 327 Powerglide, of course. Dad never got anything else, as it had to be sold as used when the new year’s model came out. He did allow me to talk him into SS models from 62-65, though.

      Not that that was the first time I’d driven. Dad was great on bringing home all sorts of odd used cars when he came home for lunch in the summer – he’d make a point of bringing the oddest used car in the lot if there was such an animal that day. With our long driveway, I was allowed to drive whatever he brought home as long as I didn’t go out on the street for anymore more than turning it around. My drives ran from a ’61 Renault Dauphine with pushbutton aucomatic to a ’63 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.

    • 0 avatar

      My first elicit joy ride? Driving my brother’s cobbled together ’75 Vega wagon (he put it into a tree earlier in its life) to school… in the 9th grade. I was all of 14 years old at the time. Parked it in the faculty lot at the junior high school. In hindsight I don’t know how I didn’t get caught, it isn’t like I was sneaking around or anything. I threw out my yearbook because I was afraid my parents would discover the comments written in it on the topic.

  • avatar

    “It wasn’t the slightest bit fun to drive. I drove it purely out of necessity to feed my habit.”

    Spoken like a true gearhead.

    My grandmothers last car was a 1993 Skylark coupe. It had a wondrous combination of vague steering, state-puff suspension and no power.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the family car story. I gave one each car-buying advise to both mother and father(divorced). Dad wanted to scale down from big Buicks, which he leased, then sold(different era of leasing). Told him to get a Chevy Nova(Nummi corolla)and he loved that car, which ran forever!
    Earlier, in 1970, convinced my mom to buy a 142 Volvo. She also loved that car to death, despite its numerous breakdowns and high expenses. She was able to forgive much for the perceived feel of safety and security.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Surprised to see the ’65 Kadett on your list.Presume you have noticed how similar these are to the contemporary HA Vauxhall Viva. GM seenm to have told Opel and Vauxhall what car to make , and how it should look , but not told them to share parts. Engines were notable because instead of having the valves operated by a line of cast or forged steel rockers on a shaft , they used pressed steel rockers with individual spherical pivots.Obviously saved a few marks/pounds per car , but not a very elegant engineering solution.

  • avatar

    Man, that Kadette looks like Mr. Incredible’s car. Doubt your dad would be able to pick it up like that though. :)

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The previous gen Skylark was perhaps the best looking badge-swap of the model, but the one your dad has….what the hell was Buick thinking?

    Paul, odd question perhaps – why the ‘domestic only’ creed?

    • 0 avatar

      Probably the same narrow minded logic that makes people say “it has to be an import or nothing!” Actually, I suggested to my dad to try an Avalon after a couple of reliable but dull as dishwater Buicks. He was the same “domestic” only, but gave the Toyota a chance because the difference between Buick one and Buick three was about the same as the evolution of an alligator. He loves his dull as dishwater Avalon…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I don’t pretend to understand my father’s thinking process when it comes to things like cars and quite a few other things. It’s irrational; just very strong feelings that he couldn’t begin to explain the basis of. The ’65 Opel didn’t help; it was a bit fragile, and the Buick dealer wasn’t helpful. He just decided it was a risky thing to imports, and never changed his mind, regardless.

  • avatar

    My grandma had a 1992 Buick Skylark sedan in silver with gray interior. I am so glad she traded that in for a 2005 Impala LS, which I now drive.

  • avatar

    I actually had a Coronet for a while, a ’64 though. This quote, “It under steered notoriously, plowing its way through life. It wasn’t the slightest bit fun to drive.” sums it up perfectly. We went through a series of 60’s cars when I was learning to drive, but this one stood out as, by far, the most dangerous to operate in modern traffic. The one redeeming factor was it’s tremendous size and obviously classic styling; it screamed “I have no brakes!” to other road users. It was right.

    It stuck around long after the others were long gone, until my little sister was assigned it as her 16-17 car. I freaked out, promising a life of guilt and torment to my parents if anything happened to her while driving it. My father, at least, was listening, and it ended up as a donor body for some Chrysler dealer’s SRT-8 hot rod project. A fitting end for a car with so much pimp potential.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Paul, Your folks and you, my folks and me are roughly the same age. ‘Rents were born in 1920, me in ’51. We just sold Mom’s CRV and sold Dad’s Tacoma 4×4 shortly after he passed on in 2007. The last 2 cars were their first auto transmissions.
    When we were kids the folks had a pair of Chevy Suburbans, there were 9 of us. Then Dad drove Bugs to work for nearly 25 yrs. The carry all, went for a pair of VW buses.

  • avatar

    Paul, great article. My wife and I just returned from an Easter brunch at my parents’ house about an hour’s drive from where we live in SW Ontario. My parents were also frugal car buyers, where A/C, radios, and automatic transmissions were needless luxuries. My mum and dad are now in their late sixties, and have always valued economy of operation and low purchase price over anything else. They almost always bought new and ran the cars into the ground, and never financed, preferring to save up for their purchase rather than “buy on time”. Having parents themselves that were children of the Depression will do that to you. As my brother and I grew into our teens, our keen interest in all things automotive began to influence dad’s purchases (to some degree), as in, we could convince him to spring for a higher trim level, but A/C was still out of the question. My parents were never slaves to the domestics, despite living in the automotive heartland of Canada just east of Windsor, ON. Both Mum and Dad owned Beetles in the 60s, then migrated to a mix of Detroit and Japanese iron as kids came along. My dad bought a used 1970 Lemans coupe (350, 2 bbl) a week after I was born (having traded a ’65 Mustang for it). At the same time, my mum ditched a barely-running ’65 Corvair for a ’73 Datsun 510, navy blue with a white vinyl roof which she drove until 1981. The Datsun made way for a poop brown/tan vinyl interior Honda Civic wagon (1335 cc). No radio, no A/C, but it was the car I learned to drive on, so I have fond memories of doing a lot of “hoonage” with it (or as much hoonage as you can get with 58 hp). Dad kept the green Lemans for 10 years, finally laying it to rest in favour of a 1981 Iraqi Malibu. That sorry excuse for a car only stayed with the family for five years before he traded up to a 1987 Celebrity. He actually got the 2.8 V6 rather than the Iron Duke, which was a surprise. The Honda, after being beaten to death by a crazed teenager (me), was replaced by a burgundy 1991 Toyota Tercel. Same story: no air, no power anything, but it at least had a radio. My dad then got the bug for a truck, and knowing a bargain when he saw it, bought an ex-Union Gas Dodge Ram 50 (a badge-engineered Mitsubishi). It was a decent little truck that fit my dad’s no-options aesthetic. After deciding that A/C was indeed a good thing, the Tercel was traded in favour of a 1994 Honda Accord, which they kept for 11 years. My brother and I, both longtime VW diesel diehards, finally convinced Mum and Dad to rejoin the VW fold after 35 years, when they purchased the fanciest car they’ve ever owned: a 2006 Platinum Grey Jetta TDI with every available option. It was their first car with power windows, leather, and a sunroof, and five years and 120 000 km later, they still love it.

    Thanks for the opportunity to relive my family’s automotive history.

  • avatar

    Congratulate your Dad on his good luck with his ’86 Taurus.
    The 3.0 engines also shared the self destructing head gasket with the 3.8. The transaxle also was problematic. My ’87 Sable went through 3 automatic transaxles while under the Ford extended 5 year warranty. Here in Los Angeles I usually had a two week visit to the shop because the dealer told me they couldn’t get the rebuilts fast enough to meet the demand. I traded it for a new ’95 Windstar minivan, and although it too had problems the 3.8 liter head gasket held and I drove the Windstar 7 years on the original transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think there was widespread failure of head gaskets with the 3.0 Vulcan…this engine, while as modern as a dinosaur, is capable of 200K even with poor maintenance. Transaxle frangibility was pretty much taken care of by the gen 2 cars.

  • avatar

    I’m ashamed to say that I love those 90s Skylarks. My mother’s friend had a teal over silver two tone coupe with nice factory rims. Sharp ride!

  • avatar

    So, did you all make the trip East by car or plane???

    And great story! If I took the time to share all the cars my folks have had, I’d be up well past midnight!


    • 0 avatar

      I Love reading these family car histories. I hope Richard will share his with us Too. Thank you Mr. Niedermeyer, very entertaining reading this.

    • 0 avatar

      Peter, keep an eye on this space. I’ll have a talk with my folks this week and see how much auto history I can get out of them, and then, if Paul and Edward will humor me, I’ll sit down this week sometime and begin hammering out yet another automotive timeline.

    • 0 avatar

      I will be looking forward to it Richard. I was surprised at how many of Paul’s Dad choices were similar to my Dad’s; An Opel Kadett, Ford Escort, Coronet Wagon, although my Dad Loved the underdog, and owned 3 AMC products in my younger days… He was frugal, penny wise and occasionally pound foolish. He looked at cars as “They take you from point A to Point B.” I think there’s more to the selection than that, but then I have always been a Car Guy. Can I assume you love personal Luxury coupes by your user name? How can I change my name to a more discreet 66TBird or such?Hope to see your Family AutoBiography soon.

  • avatar

    My inner child is jealous of the ’65 Coronet wagon, the lousy driving dynamics notwithstanding. My adult self is upset for your mother’s loss of the Civic for the Ion. But all that pales compared to your good fortune at having them both around in reasonable shape, especially your father at such an advanced age. Have a good time in Towson.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    “And as much as I like to buy into the myth of Mopars handling better than average, Mom’s Coronet handled like a pig. It under steered notoriously, plowing its way through life. It wasn’t the slightest bit fun to drive. I drove it purely out of necessity to feed my habit.”

    It wasn’t a myth-in the 50s and 60s Chrysler products routinely slapped around the competition in head to head handling tests in magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science.
    The torsion bar suspension was way ahead of the domestics-wagons are wagons not Ferraris.I’m guessing that a 65 Country Squire would have been more of a pig.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen to that: I have likened my own ION 1 steering and ride to the 66 Mercury Montclair that I learned to drive on: floaty and vague [the 2s and 3s use a different tire and suspension set up and feel very different].

      My Mother used to say she never felt in control of it and that Fords always seemed “tinny” to her.But it sure was pretty and quiet.

    • 0 avatar

      Plus 2. Although Chrysler softened the spring rates a bit in 66 for a better ride, the pre-66 torsion bar mopars could out-handle any comparable size car of its era.

    • 0 avatar

      Another Plus 2 here. I learned to drive on a ’63 Bonneville, and remember quite well the body roll, numb steering, and squeeling tires around corners. The ’63 Polara I now have handles nothing like the Bonneville did. I did replace the front suspension bushings with polyurethane bits, and set the camber to about 1/2 degree negative, so now it has no trouble handling the corners or twisties. Unfortunately the power steering really is power, as in drive it with your little pinkie (or necker’s knob….), but at least it’s only about 3 1/2 turns lock to lock which makes it a bit better than the 5 or so turns with the manual box.

      Love those torsion bars!!!!

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the handling of 60’s Mopar cars. I surprised a lot of Ford and Chevy guys with my Chrysler 300L, both competitively on the roads and by giving them rides or drives in it.

  • avatar

    I first saw a brand-new ’93 Skylark inside a BJ’s Wholesale Club, apparently a grand prize for some contest or raffle. To my 9-year old eyes, those front and rear fascias were actually pretty cool-looking compared to the seas of boring Camrys, Accords, Tauruses and Luminas. It eventually un-grew on me.

  • avatar

    We also moved into a new house in 1965, when I was 12. Both my parents are still around, but dont drive anymore.

    1965 Impala wagon, 327/Powerglide. I got it up to 105 with the whole family on board. Took my driving test in it.

    1966 Toronado. Dad’s midlife crisis car. His girlfriend got drunk and totaled it.

    1969 Dodge Sportsman van, 318LA/727 Torqueflite. Our desert camping mobile. Conestoga Wagon crude and indestructible.

    1971 Monte Carlo, 350 4bbl/Hydramatic. Gutless rust bucket.

    1973 Cutlass Supreme. Not so gutless rust bucket (real Olds 350).

    1980 Supra automatic/separate overdrive. His first taste of Japanese quality. He loved it. Sis drove it till it had over 150k.

    1986 Supra 5-speed. Too sporting for him, not as reliable. Rear end self destructed.

    Early Toyota Cressida, dont remember the year. Lemon, bad, real bad 1st gen lockup torque converter automatic trans. Seven rebuilds at the dealer. Toyota has never been totally bulletproof.

    1994? Ford Thunderbird. He was never a Ford guy, but a big coupe appeals to his generation. Car was pretty much flawless.

    1999 Camry V-6. Back to Toyota, thought the T-bird had too much of an “old guy” image. go figure. This was his last car and I drive it now with 210,000 miles on it. Deadly boring, but everything works.

  • avatar

    My father was in sales and always never more than 24-36 months away from a new car. Quite honestly I don’t remember what was around in the 1970’s. First one I recall (or cared about) was a 1983 Buick Regal. After that was 3 consecutive Old’s Cutlass Ciera’s of various 1980’s models. I remember the world car embelem on the side with all the flags and my father joking that was where all the parts came from to build that POS. In the late 80’s the company switched to offering Fords and my father promptly got his Taurus which he loved after a decade of GM metal. Then for some odd reason he had 3 Aerostar vans which he loved. He even tested out a Windstar mid-90’s and still ordered the “ancient” Aerostar. By the 2000’s the company was back to offering GM (go figure) and he got a Grand Prix with the 3.1L. That was “the worst company car to date” as it needed a complete engine rebuild at 30k miles. I tend to think it was probably a lemon but who cares. Upon retirement dad bought a brand new Honda Pilot and says it’s hands down the best vehicle he’s driven since the 1960’s.

  • avatar

    Great story. But I’ll bet there are peeps living near Oshawa or Alliston or Woodstock that would say that THEY live in the automotive heartland of ON! Kidding aside, we’re lucky to be living in THE automotive manufacturing province of Canada.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was growing up, there was no auto (assembly) industry in Ontario outside of Oshawa or Windsor. Alliston, Cambridge, Woodstock, et. al. were twinkles in their respective manufacturer’s eyes, and Oshawa felt like it was in another country when you lived in Kent County. I was a UPS driver in Windsor in the early ’90s, and the concentration of automotive plants (Ford Engine 1, Engine 2, TMEP, Essex Engine, Ford Casting, CARD, Chrysler Plant 3 for the minivans, Plant 6 for the B-vans, Chrysler HQ, GM Transmission, and GM Trim on Lauzon Road) made the city seem like the automotive centre of the universe. As a courier driver, I got to see the bowels of all of those plants. Ford casting was the scariest, since all I can remember is a lot of fire and molten metal being way to clse for comfort to the loading docks.

  • avatar


    If the montage near the end of the documentary is correct, there’s at least one Trabi in Oregon.

    For sure there’s one in Winnipeg, so if I can find it I will photograph and forward the pictures to you.

  • avatar

    Those Skylark’s rank among the ugliest GM creations ever. Sorry but every time I see one I wonder “what were they thinking” why is the nose pointed like that? I just don’t get it.

    • 0 avatar

      My grandmother had a sedan version of those infamous Skylarks (replaced it with an Aztek, apparently there’s no accounting for automotive taste). I thought the sedans were rather ugly but I actually liked the Skylark coupe. Today it looks like the granddaddy of the G6 coupe. BTW grandma loves her LOADED Aztek.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    “One day a few years ago, my father took my mother’s Honda for a drive, and came back with a new Saturn Ion coupe”

    Reminds me of the movie Changeling.

    “Trust us Miss Collins, this is your car. It’s a fine looking car, you’ve just forgotten what it looked like while it was gone. If you’re not able to take care of this car, we’ll have to contact AAA to have it towed away.”

  • avatar

    Ah, the Kadett A! I still see one once in a while. Not to brag, but my first car was the larger Kaddet B with the 45HP 1100cc engine. Enough power to propel – so to speak – the car to over 80MPH in only a few minutes.

  • avatar

    Great piece! Good easy reading.

    We came back to the US in the late 70s (retired military), and my first friend in jr. HS, from a family of modest means, had the same Dart you did, with a 225/auto/ps/pb. What the car lacked in performance and pizazz, he tried to make up for in words–but it was a solid car, and even after they bought their second car ever, a 1982 K-Car, it continued faithfully.

    By 1980, we needed a 2nd car to supplement our 75 Ventura, and my dad heeded my advice and bought 4-door, 4-cyl, 4-speed Fairmont. The “poor mans’ Volvo” I told him, as I had read in Car & Driver. We special ordered it, and in our quest to get the most bang for the buck, ordered the Exterior Accent Group, with the aero driver’s mirror (just like a 70s Mercedes), the turbine wheel covers, which were among the first plastic wheel covers to look amazingly like alloy wheels, and I was “allowed” to add the “Handling Suspension”. My only regret was not upgrading the was truly base. But we had a 2nd car, and in another year, I would be able to learn on a stick. It was a tin can, but it got great mpg on trips–28 to 31 with 4 people and luggage!

  • avatar

    Jeez, if my spouse replaced my Honda with a Saturn one of us would end up dead.

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