By on June 22, 2012

I still have hundreds of old cassettes and compact discs.

When do I use them? Whenever I drive an older car.

There is just something truly enriching and authentic about taking a decades old cassette, that still works, and listening to it in an old Miata or Town Car. Just cruisin’ around town and enjoying the depth of an artist’s complete work.

Cars and trucks also have an artistry all their own. It may be the door hinge on a 1st generation Lexus SC400. A masterful work of engineering brilliance, which is in fact a four-bar linkage that is mostly hidden, and keeps the luxury coupes’ doors perfectly aligned for decades on end.

Or it can simply be a beater that is ugly as all get out, that somehow stays on the road well past it’s due date. A Steenkin’ Lincoln Mark VI (click for the story) my wife had back in our dating days used to be held up with an amazing assortment of materials. Duct tape, thumb tacks, staples, bathroom mats, all adorned the feline trashed interior while an ancient boom box occupied the passenger seat during her travels. Even SUV’s would get out of her way, thanks to an exterior that would have done a LeMons driver proud.

Did you ever love a vehicle for its… inner beauty? Today is a Friday. So a good story would be quite welcome.



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55 Comments on “Question Of The Day: Have You Ever Loved A Vehicle For Its… Inner Beauty?...”

  • avatar

    88 Dakota. Beat to hell, mostly bare metal interior, 3 generations of teen drivers, fading and cracking punk band stickers on the back glass, and still going strong on the original engine and transmission. It is beauty in simplicity.

  • avatar

    Had a 1995 Riviera back in 2005. Raided my grandmother’s dusty collection of cassettes, and found the Best of Bobby Darin. Awesomeness.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My 1997 Ford Escort wagon. Only 110 hp, four speed auto, could barely get out of its own way and rattled a little between 65 and 75 (something loose somewhere). But it was an honest straight-forward car with great space utilization and the ability to haul much more than it appeared at first glance. And it was a slow car that was fun to drive fast.

    • 0 avatar

      I feel the same way about my Focus wagon: a vanilla-looking, unassuming vehicle that holds an absurd amount of cargo. I carried 8 large bags of mulch in it the other day and was still able to see out the back window. If that weren’t enough, it’s shown bulletproof reliability and, like its Escort ancestor, is way more fun to drive than you’d think at first glance.

  • avatar

    Compact discs are old? What the hell would you call an 8-track?

    I drove an 82 Dodge pickup, large, yellowish brown color, extended cab and 8 ft bed. Ugly as sin, I never had to lock it as no one would steal it. No heater, no A/C, no radio, no carpet. I loved that thing, really hurt to trade it in. Know that joke – what’s the difference between a 4WD and a rental car? A rental car can go anywhere! Well, that 82 Dodge could and would go anywhere. I drove it up and down the mountains of WV with only 2WD. I had lots of people ask me what I would do if I got it stuck. My answer, leave the keys in it and walk away.

    • 0 avatar

      CD’s are the only thing I can play in my old Camry. Can’t listen to the radio anymore, as the antenna has snapped off and I can’t bear the thought of driving around with a mangled coat hanger protruding from the broken antenna stump. Besides, there’s nothing good on the radio around here.

  • avatar

    Critical Solutions Inc. Husky Mine Detection Vehicle. It was ugly when new, ugly when we got it after multiple blasts, and ugly after we blasted it some more. But never did it fail to get home under its own power. It was the toughest machine I have ever had the privilege of operating and saved my kiester on more than 1 occasion.

  • avatar

    1978 Chevy 3/4 Ton van. Bright orange and white with rust and oxidation everywhere. Kept my mom’s antique business going for 15 years up and down the east coast, took the family on our rare vacations, piled up 300k+ miles without a hitch until a tractor trailer ran into it… saved Mom’s life, too.

    Suzuki Swift GTi. Strangers would laugh as I pulled into parking spots, assuming it was a riced out Geo (which… it was, I guess), but the low beltline, 360 greenhouse, and amazingly supportive seats made driving a joy, despite the shifter’s resemblance to a sex toy. The short wheelbase made for quick lift-to-oversteer, and lack of power anything had you truly connected to the road. The 1.3 twin cam four was easy to fall in love with, so much so that its habit of spitting out spark plugs at WOT became cute in the same way parents smile when their babies throw up. It had heart.

    Honda Element. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one in the PNW, but I understand they’re rare and hated on the level of Aztek (and rightfully so) elsewhere. Truth be told, it’s the most useful car I’ve ever owned : vanlike flat floor and step-through cabin, modular seating, lift-out roof panel, 5MT + AWD with a bulletproof 2.4. It looks like a knockoff Go-Bot outside but it’s hard to imagine what could ever replace it.

  • avatar

    1995 VW Golf. In the most crisp color of champagne. Mostly. The passenger-side rear quarter panel was tan primer. You know. So no one would notice. I bought this beauty as a second car, for the wife-at-the-time. The tires were as bald as my head. There was a vicious knocking sound whenever going over minor bumps. All the power accessories didn’t work. The sunroof came with the highest level of artisan-applied blue tape. Of the 6 months I owned that car, I never dared question the purpose of the blue tape that was possibly holding the sunroof in.

    It’s the most beat up car I’ve ever owned. I loved it. The 8 valve motor was torquey, smooth and quiet. There was such a charm to that car. I felt so smug, as do all VW owners, going down the freeway with the windows down, blasting Deathcab for Cutie out of the blown speakers and trying not to vomit from that “crayon” smell all VW’s have.

  • avatar

    In 2010 I found myself unexpectedly in need of new wheels, wanted a warranty, and wanted to pay cash. I got a Accent 3 door base model $9500 out the door. Understandably there isn’t much to love about this car for most of the car enthusiasts reading this blog. But I gotta tell you, no ac/roll up windows/and an aftermarket radio is a trip down memory lane for someone who long drove cars without the normal things you take for granted these days. I kind of like the rounded shape which ever so very slightly recalls cars like the original Civic or any number of beetle shaped small cars from the fifties or sixties. But…mostly, you have to manually lock the hatch with the key just like an old air cooled VW. You say cheap? I say retro however unintentional.

  • avatar

    My Impala’s CD player – it plays just about anything in any condition, unlike our CR-V, which only plays if certain planets line up properly on alternate Tuesdays…I hate that thing.

    I also love our cars’ inner beauty in that (so far) nothing has gone wrong after 8 and 10 years, respectively.

  • avatar

    I have an 05 CTS-V with Kooks headers and a titanium Z06 muffler connected to each 3″ collector. No X-pipe connecting them and was worried about it sounding like a fart can, inline-4. What melodic thrum from that is just music to anyone who remembers when V8’s ruled the road.

    Oh, this one get 31.5 mpg with AC blasting.

  • avatar

    09 GT500 in all its musclecar glory pounding out nearly 600hp with its ported blower and open element air filter. The sound is glorious as you rocket to the redline in 4th gear

  • avatar

    1985 Citroën BX. It was funny-looking, beat-up, and could barely get out of its own way. But, when sitting in the spongy driver’s seat, behind one of the most bizarre dashboards in the history of automotive design, it felt more like a spaceship than a mere car.

    The spaceship feeling was reinforced on starting it up. Pumps would clatter away, and it would slowly rise up on its suspension until the great big STOP light on the dash went off, and the pump would cut off with a sigh, as if to say “Ready for takeoff”.

    It was one of the most relaxing vehicles that I have ever driven. Acceleration required patience, but once the magical 100km/h rolled into view on its rotating speedometer, it would waft along all day, needing only a gentle finger on the single-spoked wheel to guide it.

    I bought it as a cheap and practical beater, but, I will admit, there were tears when it came time to move it on, with the realisation that with my move to the US, I would never own one again.

  • avatar

    1978 Volvo 242DL w/4 speed. Beige exterior. Maroon crushed velour seats. Was it fast? No. Did it handle well? Only if you didn’t have to turn. Was it sexy lookin’? Yes…if you have a thing for shoe boxes. Was it luxurious? As luxurious as the lobby at Ikea. But man, oh man, just an exquisite engineering exercise wrapped in plain Jane skin. I named her Helga. Ask any engineer who knows, and he/she will admit that making something simple is often far more difficult than making it complex. And therein lay my appreciation for Helga’s inner beauty…

  • avatar
    Charles T

    I have a Saab 9000 Aero with 17 years and 212k miles on it. It rattles over any road imperfection, the AC barely blows cool and wreaks havoc with the idle control, and the traction control system is a time bomb waiting to go off. Then the turbo kicks in, the boost gauge goes into the red, and all is forgiven.

  • avatar

    ’96 Ford Ranger 2.3 5-speed. No extended cab. No 4wd. Complete with “old man” topper. The most simple, durable, honest vehicle I’ve ever owned. It wasn’t fast, but it went everywhere I needed it to go and I just had to put gas and oil in it.

  • avatar

    1978 Datsun 200SX, ugly as sin outside, but I could forget all about that once inside. Comfortable, quiet, peppy and economical for the time, great dash layout. 100 mph on a smooth road, you could still hear the clock tick.

  • avatar

    1985 Ford EXP. 82 HP of flaming fury waiting for a man, macho enough to tame it. 13″ steel rims with 80 profile tires. Rear drum brakes. An understeering nightmare to drive with the legendary 68/32 weight distribution. Hobbled by its 10% extra weight over an equivalent Escort GT. No air conditioning. No rear defroster. No tinted glass with a black interior and a silver exterior that projected the sun right back off the hood and roasted you alive. Bug eyed front clip that only a mother could love. I put some chrome tailpipe extensions on the stock exhaust, because it added at least 10 HP, and they stuck out maybe 1/4″ from the rear bumper. Probably cut my shins open on the damn things at least a dozen times. Didn’t even have a stereo at first. Came with the worst Goodyear tires on the planet, couldn’t hold alignment to save its life. Rubbery 5-speed manual with no reverse syncros. Armstrong windows and steering. Lucky the damn thing had power brakes.

    God I loved that car.

  • avatar

    Nice video: Olivia Newton John & Karen Carpenter sharing a duet with 40 years separation.

    BTW, Kudos to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for getting Olivia Newton John as Grand Mistress of the 500 Festival this year. Glad to see that they are much more on top of modern music than they used to be. I understand IMS has booked Katy Perry for the 2052 race.

  • avatar

    I used to run a Moody Blues tape in my ’75 bug on the original radio, until the bug got sick of it and burned up my tape.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    mkirk thanks for your service and having ones the size of grapefruits

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I had a 1st gen Prelude. Reliable as anvil and so subtly designed. I shove my way to the head of the fan boy line for that car. 85 Ford Ranger red, 4×4, extended cab, gas swilling 4.0. Marketed to the hunting and fishing types. Ride height, four wheel drive and big chrome bumpers made it an excellent urban vehicle. I may go buy one of the very last ones. Stupid Ford

  • avatar

    Dear Commenters,

    Thank you for all these wonderful stories. (Steve should be happy.)

  • avatar

    I’ve always had old Volvos. Without inner beauty, there’d be precious little beauty at all.

    My second car – well, second road-legal car – is probably the best example of this. $200 ’92 740 Turbo wagon, needed the turbo replaced (so I drove around with the wastegate actuator disconnected for a while to stave off the inevitable), also had to do the front brakes (one and a half times) and fuel injectors and filter as well as various fluid changes and plugs/wires. When the turbo finally failed, it fouled one (!) of the spark plugs during the ensuing oil cloud creation, and in the few days until I could get to the parts store, while it ran on three and a half cylinders, I scrawled a rude comment about polar bears on the rear window… just because.

    Its paint was scuffed and pockmarked, and two different colours after a certain brake-failure incident; wheels were mismatched for most of my ownership; interior was thrashed but supremely comfortable. It went anywhere (except in deep snow), hauled anything, and once got me written up for 100 MPH on the interstate… Hell if I had any idea it could do that; the speedometer wasn’t working either! It didn’t owe me a thing, save that I rescued it from the jaws of the crusher, and it lasted 7,000 miles over a year and a half, supplanting my 244 as a winter car, then becoming a daily driver until I brought home my 850 – and then being pressed back into service when the 850 proved troublesome. It threw a rod, and I’m slowly, reluctantly parting it out, knowing that it would be hard to find a rougher ’91+ Volvo wagon, and mine is nothing special… except, of course, that it is.

    I’m gonna miss that damn car.

  • avatar

    1987 Daihatsui Hijet truck with “T3 cutaway” option (NO roof or doors). Basically a plastic dash, steering wheel, shifter, and jump seats. Rusted floor replaced with expanded metal grate. It’s basically held together by the love I have for it. Speedometer reads up to the 25mph red zone, and then to an image of Shaggy shrugging as the needle cranks hard over off scale (since the speed limiter is bypassed) on it’s way to 45mph. I use it as my maintenance vehicle out on the golf course where I work. Driving this, what was once a common turf vehicle, is akin to the scene in Road Warrior where the mechanic is amazed at seeing a V8 Interceptor. Google my username+hijet for pics.

  • avatar

    My 1997 Camry is just fine for me. It’s about to hit 300,000km. I guess the ‘inner beauty’ part is the fact that it is so quiet, comfortable and easy to drive. It really does feel almost new despite being old. 5 speed manual, 5SFE four-banger and 14″ steel rims.
    I basically have one reason to own it: It’s the best car I can afford and I know Camry’s don’t cost much to keep running.

  • avatar

    In 1988 I bought a well-worn ’66 Oldsmobile F85. the previous owner had augmented the AM radio with an 8-track cassette deck that also had an FM tuner. When I first bought it to be parked on the street, my neighbor told me I should take the 8-track out or it would be stolen. I laughed that anybody would want an 8-track in 1988.

    Well, one night I forgot to lock the front passenger door, and the next morning I found that someone had gotten in and… left me a couple tapes! They were “Pat Boone’s Greatest Hits” and the “Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas Album”. I junked the car after it blew a head gasket – the two speed “jetaway” auto had burned fluid anyway – and never did play either of the tapes.

  • avatar

    1984 Ford Laser 1.4L sedan when I lived in Taiwan. Basically a Mazda GLC model. Had a manual choke, roll up windows…only frill was an automatic transmission, which was rare on cars in Taiwan in those days and that car class, but it proved to be a godsend in massive Taipei traffic jams.

    The car was pretty reliable, and cheap to fix and maintain. Simple and unpretentious. Fords in Taiwan had a reputation for being a bit more heavier than their Nissan (Yue Loong) counterparts and better protected in collisions but would consume more fuel.

  • avatar

    I miss my 1972 Cadillac Coupe deVille. 472 cubic inches could always bring a smile to my face no matter how big the car was.

  • avatar

    In 2008, I bought a faded red 1989 Acura Integra RS 5-speed that had a cassette deck. It was an aftermarket Sony head unit, probably installed in 1994 or something, and the the LCD screen had burned out long ago.

    There were many neat little 80’s details about the Integra that I really thought were awesome, but one of the best was that the center console had a special compartment specifically for holding the plastic pre-jewel cases that cassettes used to come in. I think it had divided slots for 8 of them, but I could be wrong. I only drove that thing for a year, but it was fun while it lasted.

    Today I have a car with a CD player and an AUX-jack. Although I use the AUX-jack occasionally, I’ve never made the switch to replacing my CD’s with playlists. There’s just something too ephemeral about playlists on a digital device. With CDs, each one is kind of a thing in-and-of itself–the physical form factor, combined with the specific mix of songs, their order, etc. What can I say–I still have a couple mix CDs from 2003-2004.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Thamks for posting this video. Although not a big fan of either Karen or Olivia, I was impressed by this mashup, but was not aware of the connection between these two until I looked up Karen Carpenter on Wiki. It appears that Olivia earned the right to do this video because of her long time friendship with Karen Carpenter.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Yep, I’m actually a fan of both.

      Long story… back in 2003 I was at Capital One Auto Finance and for some reason, I started talking about how much I enjoyed ONJ’s music.

      The young woman who was with me pulled up the back of her shirt and there, in all it’s glory, was a beautiful ornate tattoo that was done as a tribute to her.

      About a month later the two of us did a duet together at the French Quarter. However this time I was Elton John and she was Kiki Dee (I think). The song was Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, which was an ironic choice for the two of us since my friend was gay.

      Come to think of it, I miss my old friend too.

  • avatar

    ’89 Jeep Commanche Eliminator. I’ve owned since 2004 and hope to keep it awhile. The straight six 4.0L rwd manual transmission configuration makes it as fun to drive as any BMW my opinion. It has never failed to start even after sitting outside in the PNW all winter, and has never let me down. This truck will run forever with minimal care.

    I bought it because of its inner beauty. One look underneath the vehicle was all it took. The rugged simplicity and engineering visible on the underside of a Comanche/Cherokee is amazing to those who can appreciate it.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    1994 Tempo V-6. Great car with comfortable seats. I got 287k miles out of it before AZ heat killed the transmission. Honest utility.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    I had a lengthier comment that vaporized in cyber-space. Ironic, really.

  • avatar

    I’ve had three so far. All from cars that I thought wouldn’t last long with me.

    #1 was my 87 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo, a midsizer (for the 80’s) with a hatchback, during the time we were raising kids, this car mostly kept us out of minivans. When I originally bought it, I thought, I’ll keep it through the payment book and then look for something else. I kept it 10 years, 160K miles… When the boost kicked in, it went from a 1980’s version of the DeSoto Traveller to a four door Daytona Turbo. It was fast, generally reliable and could swallow a lot of cargo (especially kid stuff, diaper bags, strollers etc.). I traded it for a Dakota pickup, which I liked, but not nearly as much as the Lancer. (Attn: Chrysler/Fiat! Build me another Lancer!)

    #2 was a 1986 Yugo GV. In the early 90’s, we lived on the south side of Atlanta, but ended up getting a job on the north side of town, so I needed a commuter car. I didn’t have a lot of cash, so my wife found a Yugo for $1000, and I grudgingly went for it. I thought if it lasts me a year, I’ll be happy and can move on to something else. I had the car two years, would have kept it longer, but it was totaled in a wreck. Other than a few minor repairs, the car was reliable, economical and utilitarian. It had a folding back seat that you could turn into shelves (in effect) which allowed you to stuff more cargo in there than I ever imagined. The car was so worthless, I never even locked it, and no one ever fiddled with it. The A/C worked flawlessly, which is the only car that has ever done that for me. The best part was merging into traffic, the 1.1L 4 banger wailing out it’s highway song became a favorite of mine. When it was totaled, it was like losing your dog. I was bummed.

    #3 is my current beater, a 1997 Chevy Cavalier coupe. Again, I bought this car for $1000 thinking if it lasts a year… Here I am eight years later, and still driving the thing. I’ve had a few more issues with this car, but they were caused by me (or my children), and it too is economical, reliable and utilitarian. I can fit my drum kit (5 piece Ludwig, jazz sizes) into the car, and still have the passenger seat open. It starts every time, gets 27 MPG in mixed driving and can swallow 10 bags of bark mulch every spring. I kind of think of it as my mechanical dog. I’ll be bummed when I finally junk it…

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The Borman 6, My first 1988 BMW 528e . I bought in ’96 with 150k miles on it and drove it for 12 yrs and 350k miles. Underpowered, but a great driving sedan. After, I got laid off, I was working out of it. One job had me driving 140 miles a day, another 200. It loved highway driving.

  • avatar

    As crazy as it sounds, yes, as it’s inner beauty was it’s rotary engine. Kind of a love hate relationship, but we got along very well otherwise.

  • avatar

    ’66 Dodge A-100 van certainly had no outer beauty. The inner beauty, other than the 8-track, was its Conestoga wagon simplicity. There was not a square inch of curved glass for one thing. The A-727 Torqueflite easily outlasted three E4OD transmissions in our ’94 Ford.

    Current fleet includes a 1st gen Tundra regular cab, also no beauty queen. It just gets the job done with no fuss, unlike the Ford.

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