A Special Sort Of Mediocrity

Thomas Kreutzer
by Thomas Kreutzer

Photo courtesy of curbsideclassic.com

My 1974 Nova was as utilitarian as they come. It was a low optioned base model with a 250 CID inline six mounting a one barrel carb and backed by a three speed manual with a column mounted shift lever. It had so few options that on the inside it had a rubber floors, vinyl seats and a pegboard for a headliner. Outside there was no decoration, nary a pinstripe nor so much as a strip of trim to protect the car’s flanks from door dings. It was a plain, gutless, spiritless little car that inspired no passion or love from anyone other than the 17 year old boy who owned it. To me it was, and still is, one of the greatest cars ever built.

We see them everywhere, plain, utilitarian tools that carry people to and fro without a bit of drama. Although our eyes register them we seldom pay them any real attention, but if we took the time to really look we would be shocked at just how many there are. They are all around us, owned by respectable people who need a good, solid car and nothing more. If other, better, cars are like fine food and drink for the connoisseur, these are the cars that fill the bellies of the masses. They are the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes of the road.

Image courtesy of zazzle.com

Looking over the list of cars that I have owned over the years, it turns out that most of them fall into the meat and potatoes category. Oh sure, sometimes I added some ketchup or steak sauce to the meal– the turbo on my otherwise proletarian Dodge Shadow, for example – but for the most part I have always stayed true to my working class roots. I have never owned a Porsche, a Mercedes, a Jaguar or an Audi, nothing exotic at all, really. I did for a time own a JDM Twin Turbo Supra, but, truth be told, it was old and thanks to the odd way the Japanese used car market works, I only paid around $600 for it. No, most of the time I have owned fairly pedestrian, middle of the road, mass market cars. That’s a sad thing for an auto enthusiast who writes for a car blog to admit right? Bullshit, I’ve had a good time and I’ve owned some great cars.

A car that hits all the right spots is a glorious thing. It doesn’t matter if it is old, out of style, under-optioned or unpopular, if it gets the job done and makes you smile it is something to be enthusiastic about. I remember getting up the day after we brought that Nova home and looking out the window to make sure that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. I’ve done the same thing almost a dozen times since and, no matter what was in the driveway, each time I’ve thrown open the curtain it has been like Christmas morning.

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Image courtesy of fineartamerica.com

Novas like mine once graced driveways and garages all across middle America. When their original owners moved on, they were passed to kids like me. Some were hot rodded, some were crashed and some were simply used until they could no longer be used. Over time their numbers dwindled. Most of those that have survived into the present day have been performance variants, and plain Jane, straight-six three-on-the-tree cars like mine are a rare breed. It’s sad, but oddly appropriate too. Like the people they served, us average work-a-day Americans who struggled through life, who have had our ups and downs, raised our families as best we could and worked to be, above all else, dependable good citizens, they made the world work. Like the greatest generation, they are remembered as a group for all they have done and those remaining individuals are now respected senior citizens who garner praise and admiration wherever they go.

Today I will fire up my little Pontiac Torrent and go somewhere. I don’t know where yet, but when I do I’ll do it atop scratchy cloth seats and surrounded by hard plastic. It won’t be a remarkable experience, but my trip will be completed in economy, warmth and relative comfort. I’ll do the same thing tomorrow and the day after and for years to come until the Pontiac becomes so worn and unreliable that I am forced to move on to something newer. Perhaps then I will pass it on to my son or one of my daughters. If we do our jobs right, it might even live to see the day when just seeing it makes people smile and remember that better, simpler time in their lives when their government really listened to them, politicians were honest and children were respectful. Until that time comes, I’ll be sure to give it a little pat on the hood once in a while to let it know I appreciate it in the here and now. We are, after all, the same.

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.

Thomas Kreutzer
Thomas Kreutzer

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  • Dave W Dave W on Nov 11, 2013

    Drivers ed 1976, Malibu's, Impalas, Vegas, and Novas are the cars in class. Much as I wanted to like the Vega, in the end the Nova was the only one that was even remotely fun to drive. The Impalas and 'bu's had too many disconnects between the driver and the road. the Vega couldn't get out of its own way, particularly as it sounded like it was leaving a trail of parts to lighten its load every time you hit the gas. The Nova had slightly better acceleration and was almost as well behaved on the dry as the SAAB 96 I was driving. I don't know how well it handled winter driving but for all the people I knew ice racing SAABS I never saw a Nova (or any GM that was competitive) on the ice.

  • CAMeyer CAMeyer on Nov 12, 2013

    I have mixed feelings about Novas. On one hand, these were, generally speaking, sensibly designed and engineered cars that served their owners well. The '68 through mid-seventies models, with their clean lines and relatively restrained ornamentation, remain pretty attractive cars. These were ubiquitous in my hometown, and as I remember they were a lot more pleasant than the appliance-like Darts and Valiants or the-big-brother-of-the-Pinto Maverick. On the other hand, there was my Dad's Nova. When I was a kid, my Dad always bought used cars, usually from someone he knew in town. When his excellent 1954 Chevy Two-Ten (I thought the model name was Powerglide, as that was the logo on the trunk) was finally on the way out, he bought a '66 Nova 4-door wagon from my uncle. My uncle was a no-nonsense guy who didn't go for frills, and the car was a stripper except for power steering and AT (presumably Powerglide!). The steering wheel and most of the interior were freezing-in-the-winter-and-scorching-in-the-summer bare metal--ugly green bare metal--and the seats were of the stickiest vinyl the labs of GM could develop. There were no buttons to lock the doors on the inside; you were supposed to push down on the inside door handles or something. It had an aftermarket Sears radio with no buttons and 95% total harmonic distortion (the '54 had a nice-sounding tube radio). However, it did offer as standard equipment aggravation, and lots of it. If it wasn't the radiator blowing a hole on the way to the Jersey shore, it was the muffler and tailpipe falling off and shooting sparks, or the back springs collapsing and rendering the vehicle a semi-low rider. In its favor, at least it didn't have terminal rust like my Dad's Fords--the Country Squire with the Flintstone-style floor, or the Torino with a hole big enough to access the contents of the trunk without having to open the trunk lid. Thank God my Dad is now in peace: He drives a Camry.

  • Lou_BC I was looking at an extended warranty for my truck. The F&I guy was trying to sell me on the idea by telling me how his wife's Cadillac had 2 infotainment failures costing $4,600 dollars each and how it was very common in all of their products. These idiots can't build a reliable vehicle and they want me to trust them with the vehicle "taking over" for me.
  • Sobhuza Trooper Like fusion power, the I.D. Buzz is only 30 years away.
  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".