I was young, stupid and hopelessly in love. The girl, as has so often been the case in my life, hardly knew I existed but, regardless, I was determined to win her. The problem was in those pre-internet days, real advice for young men was in short supply, especially if you were too embarrassed to ask about such things, so when someone told me women were attracted to power, I listened. If power is what women wanted, power I could get. Fortunately, it happened to be on sale at my local Dodge dealership.
The little car was take-your-breath-away gorgeous as it sat on its raised turntable in the dealership window. In the growing dusk of the February evening, the bright lights of the downtown Dodge dealer drew me and my 15 year old Nova away from the curb and towards the glass. I stood there, nose pressed against the window, like a child in an old movie taking in the Christmas display at a department store. The showroom’s lights shone down from above and struck jewel-like fire from every crease and corner of the car’s sheet metal.
Inside, the dealership smelled like stale coffee and fresh rubber, ambrosia for my lovelorn heart. The building itself was a brick, post World War II structure, and despite a fresh coat of paint and a bright red neon sign, it looked its age. Still, inside it was neat and clean and, unlike the newer flashier showrooms on the edge of town, the old building had the aura of history about it. Challengers, Chargers, Darts, Coronets, and dozens of other famous Chrysler products had graced this space and their spirits lingered. The current generation of cars were products of a newer, leaner time, but their link to that impressive history was, thanks to a clever advertisement, a tangible thing to me.
The 2.2 Shadow Turbo looked even better from inside the showroom and the sales person ushered me adeptly over, unplugged the turntable and bade me to sit in it. The little car’s charcoal gray high-backed bucket seats sat me up straight and tall and its upright cabin gave me good all around visibility. Out the windshield, with the exception of a small raised power bulge immediately in front of the driver, the hood sloped away into nothingness, its edge lost below my line of sight. The experience was new to me, and made the car seem surprisingly modern.
Inside, my overall impression was one of squareness, angles and straight edges. The gauges were set in a small pod. I found them simple and easy to read. Under my right arm a storage box rose up tall enough to use as an armrest. This was connected to a short console that held the 5 speed stick in a square rubber shift boot. Before that was another small storage compartment that opened to reveal two smallish cup holders. Above that, a black plastic center stack held the ash tray and cigarette lighter, the cassette deck, heater controls, a few idiot lights and a special gauge that measured turbo boost. It was an efficient cockpit and if not luxurious, at least it was pleasant.
The 1988 Dodge Shadow came in several two and four door versions, 2.2, 2.5 and 2.2 turbo, automatic and 5 speed. There were a couple of trim levels with the top of the line being the 2.2 Turbo Shadow ES which got, among other things, a color matched grill, a small rear spoiler, and its own distinct wheels. The car I was sitting in was just what I had imagined at home when I had poured over the sales brochure. A two door coupe with all the performance goodies, the 2.2 turbo with manual 5 speed, the high-end 4 speaker AM/FM cassette and a nice looking set of aluminum wheels, nothing else. I wanted to go fast, so who needed anything more? This was a factory hot rod in the flesh and I knew then that I must own it.
A day or two later I came back to the dealership with my father and together we completed an unremarkable test drive of the non-turbo 4 door demo. When the car was deemed satisfactory, I watched in rapt silence while my dad negotiated the details that left my bank account $256.05 poorer each month but my spirit immeasurably richer. Under my watchful eye, the salesman and a couple of mechanics then rolled the bright red coupe off the turntable and took it into the shop where they conducted their final pre-delivery inspection. After what seemed like hours, the car emerged, the salesman presented me with two sets of keys and I roared off into the sunset.
That night on the not so mean streets of Everett the little car and I went looking for trouble. The first victim was a kid in a Pontiac Fiero. His passenger made the mistake of laughing when I pulled up at a stoplight, revved the engine at him and, after an impressive front wheel drive burnout across the entire intersection, their laughter was replaced by shock as my tail lights receded into the distance. An hour or so later, a mid ’80s Camaro fell in similar fashion. The car was all I dreamed it would be. Many more adventures, many of which will eventually be written about here, followed.
In the six years I owned the little car, I racked up 140K miles. I made an epic road trip from Seattle to New York, on to DC and then home again – with the transcontinental return leg taking just three days. I also took two trips from Seattle to LA and back without stopping for anything more than gas and fast food. On those long drives the little car stormed over mountains, followed the courses of winding rivers and shot across the great plains of America, each time carrying me home in surprising comfort and without a problem.
I must confess that my Shadow was not always trouble-free. Early on I broke the core support beneath the front motor mount by doing burn offs and generally acting like a hooligan – something the car seemed to encourage. At 80K miles, I also replaced the head gasket, on my own with simple hand tools, but who thinks of things like that when you are in love? The car and I fully bonded, and together we made quite a couple.
Today I am older, a little wiser and every once in a while I even get asked for advice. Unfortunately, I still can’t tell you much about women, but I can tell you about power. If you ever need some, try the Dodge dealership. You might find the love of your young life there, I did.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.