I saw it this morning. Slipping along the in the dim, pre-dawn light and shrouded in the thin early morning fog that wicked up in wispy tendrils from the damp pavement, it was an apparition, a beast from another age. Like poor Yorick, alas I knew it well and although, in time, it has become the subject of infinite jest, it was in its day the most excellent fancy of many young men and it bore my youthful dreams upon its back a thousand times. It had, I thought, no right to be among the living when so many other, better, vehicles of its era were consigned to their graves, rotting away in fields, pulled apart for their components or crushed, shredded and melted wholesale back into their base elements. Why then, knowing through the clarifying lens of history the terrible truth about the trouble that lurked beneath its slick sheet metal, did its unexpected appearance stir a long-forgotten longing in my heart?
“May you live,” So goes the Chinese curse, “in interesting times.” Now well into my 40s, I can tell you that the times, especially from an automotive standpoint, have indeed been interesting. Waxing less rhapsodic, there has been a whole lot of suck built in the last four decades but the awful truth is that some of those cars still set my heart aflutter. I’m not sure what the attraction is, honestly. Is it the curve of a fender, the sweep of a windshield, or is it the fact that just seeing one sends me back to a more innocent time in my life when many of these cars were aspirational? I don’t know.
20/20 hindsight tells me many of these cars lack power and have an unacceptably high level of fuel consumption. They lack most real, modern safety equipment. They lack build quality, hell most of them came off the assembly line with issues, but I still fantasize about them. Crazy as it may seem, the following are “bad cars” that I would like to own –
Pontiac Grand Prix GTP
It’s hard to tell people today what a breath of fresh air the 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix was. It looked clean and its plastic body cladding accentuated just the right spots, making the car look wide and muscular. Door handles up on the door frame seemed like a real innovation as well and the interior, complete with buttons on the steering wheel and various switches mounted on the gauge cowl made feel like you were sitting in a rocketship. In GTP trim, the V6 produced more than 200 horsepower and could be had with an automatic or a stick. Frankly, I thought these cars looked great back in the day, and I think they look pretty darn good today, too.
Chrysler LeBaron Turbo, Coupe
When Kitty changed her name to Karen and traded her MG for a white Chrylser LeBaron, this is the one the she got. With their long hood line and short rear deck lids, the mid to late 80s Chrysler LeBarons are still, in my opinion, one of the best looking cars ever. By 1990 a V6 had been added to the mix, but I am a Chrysler Turbo guy and that would be my first choice. I understand that the 148 horsepower turbo could also be ordered with a 5 speed manual, but I have never seen one in person. Inside they are “budget plush” and they don’t come anywhere equaling the interior design and build quality of a modern sub compact like the new Dart, but they were functional and comfortable enough for long trips. Many convertible LeBarons have survived into the present day and I even see them offered occasionally on the Buffalo area Craigslist at reasonable prices, but my preference is for the coupe.
Jaguar XJS- V12
When I was a kid I used to stay up past my bed time and watch a British TV show called “The New Avengers.” I don’t remember much about it, but one thing that has stuck in my mind was the car used in the show, a pre-production Jaguar XJS-V12. They have terrible reputations, I know, but that classic shape, the hand built interiors and the idea of 12 cylinders under the hood stills sets my heart aflutter. I would love to own one of these, providing I could find one in good condition and then not have to rely upon it. As usual, my inclination is to avoid the convertible and stick with the coupe.
So there you have it, three “bad cars” that I would still love to own. Don’t try to talk me out of it, love is a funny thing. Fortunately, I am in a committed relationship so I won’t be sticking my key in crazy anytime soon. Tell me though, validate my unexpected rush of emotion and tell us about the cars that bring out your own psycho love.
Thomas M 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.