By on October 3, 2019

We call upon our vehicles to go the extra mile sometimes; to give us that extra bit of effort to get the job done. And, every now and then, we ask of them too much, as some vehicles just aren’t suited for the task at hand.

Screw it, we’ve thought in the heat and madness of the moment — it’s the only vehicle at hand. Make do with what you’ve got, and all that.

Like the famously lopsided naval battle in the Leyte Gulf that saw a small handful of U.S. destroyers and destroyer escorts successfully fight off a large task force of Japan’s most fearsome warships, our machines’ abilities can sometimes surprise us, even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Has your vehicle — or a vehicle in your possession — ever surprised you with its get-it-done spirit?

Clearly, we’re not talking about a vehicle that proved even shittier at handling a task than you’d already assumed. No, this is not a day for zeros. We want to talk heroes.

Plucky hatchbacks that did the impossible, family sedans that put pickups to shame, and pickups that saved the world when others curled up and died. The key thing here is that the vehicle tackled an unlikely mission no normal owner would ask of it — something far removed from the rosy, idyllic images of OEM brochures — and pulled it off, driving away intact but perhaps a little worse for the wear.

While your author has not had the opportunity to recklessly dive into absurd automotive situations on a regular basis, I know all too well what can happen when you ask too much of a vehicle. Like that incident in high school with the snowmobile trail and the Olds 88, or the time I tried to stuff wooden deck furniture into a Prelude. Minor tasks, only partly accomplished. Damage to egos ensued.

Then there was the FWD compact car that defeated a blizzard that left 4×4 pickups struggling and other compacts high-centered, rubber not touching the ground, in 20 inches of freshly fallen snow.

What’s your unlikely tale of cargo hauled, weight towed, water forded, or terrain traversed by a vehicle that should have been out of its depth? Did the experience impart a newfound level of respect and admiration in you, or did it compel you to seek out a new vehicle more suited to the things life throws at you?

[Image: Toyota]

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33 Comments on “QOTD: Going Above and Beyond?...”

  • avatar

    I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

    I had the first generation VW Rabbit with the diesel engine – with a tow bar. I also had a friend who was restoring a 1951 Studebaker 3/4 ton pickup truck. He needed a place to store it for a while, and I had the spot in my yard. Being a young and naive Rabbit owner I offered to tow it there with my car. We were separated by about 10 miles of quite hilly terrain via a two-lane blacktop. Remember, I said naive already! So I hook it up and head out, followed by him in another car. Things go well, surprisingly well. Rabbit chugs up the first big hill, no problem – likely second gear or so – belching that old diesel cloud.

    What I wasn’t prepared for was the effect of the weight going down the other side!! I’m not sure how much that thing weighed, I suppose close to 3,500 pounds, but the brakes on my little Rabbit were suddenly dealing with something they weren’t prepared for. Add to this the effect of that weight pushing from behind which of course caused the whole parade to sway dangerously.

    Suffice to say, I did manage to get the job finished without ending up in any of the deep ditches lining that road, but I also had a newfound respect for simple physics!

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I had an ’07 Rabbit, with the 5-cyl and 5-speed manual. I had used it locally for years commuting to work, but never took it on a road trip.
    In 2014, life handed me a reason to be on the west coast quickly. I undertook a 5000-mile jaunt, Chicago-Portland-Seattle-Eureka-Chicago, and the Rabbit performed flawlessly.
    In the mountains, with the cruise set at 80, I would hit a steep incline. The V8 slushbox SUVs around me would downshift and slow down, gasping for breath. The Rabbit’s tach would nudge up slightly and that 5-banger just tourqued it’s way up the mountain, with the speedo pegged on 80. Never even broke a sweat, even on some of the big ones on I-90 in Montana.

  • avatar

    I grew up with a ’84 Nissan truck – 2.4L, 2WD, King Cab, automatic – that was used as a wood hauling beast of burden while also being my mom’s daily. That meant trips back and forth to the cottage with the bed filled with logs that I had to stack when we got home.

    No big deal – until my dad bought several cords of wood that needed to be hauled back. So he rented this huge and heavy double length trailer and took me along to help. In some farmer’s field we loaded the truck bed with wood. And the trailer to the gills. We definitely exceeded the max payload by some unknown but massive amount. On the way home the automatic transmission couldn’t take the abuse and began to slip. My dad crawled slowly all the way home but we made it. Next day, back to daily use it went – without a whimper.

    And there’s the time I moved from one house to another using a Mini Cooper S. Everything but the furniture was stuffed in the hatch – rise, repeat! several times given the small room.

    And the ’86 Honda Accord DX hatchback I used to hauling PA gear – including the big 15″ woofer speakers. Somehow it all fit.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    I bought a 1969 Nova out of some dude’s front yard for $100 when I was a kid. It had rusted out floor boards in the back that I covered up with some cheap rubber mats – which worked just fine until my friend Marvin rolled one up, stuffed through the gap and dragged it on the road until it caught on fire. The end result was a lot like that Deer scene in Tommy Boy…

    I sold the car to my buddy Rick for $350, and he drove it without issue for months until some guy jumped a stoplight and nailed him. Then Rick sold it to that guy for $1500. Last time we saw it, it was headed out of town being pulled behind a motorhome.

  • avatar

    My first car when I was 16 – the 1987 Nissan Stanza. It started out as my dad’s car (purchased new), became my mom’s car when he got a company car, and then became my car when my mom had wrist surgery and couldn’t drive a stick full time. New, the car cost around $8-9,000, and was basic…power nothing, aftermarket stereo, A/C, 5-speed, and not much else. And for the next 300,000 miles, and after my younger brother and sister got it, it just kept on running. Original engine, original transmission, survived a frontal impact, Syracuse winters, 1,200 mile round trips on a frequent basis between Cincinnati and Philly (including winter drives in the mountain snows on the PA Turnpike), acted as a moving van, college student transport, vacation-mobile, and a rush hour commuting car.
    The Nissan would not die. Even when we crashed through 200,000 miles, everything was still going strong and it still touched 40mpg on the highway. It looked the part – the harsh winters and road salt was taking a toll on the paint and spots of rust, it was getting expensive to replace some of the under the hood components like alternators and belts/hoses, and it was just feeling tired. But it would not die. For $8,000 new, we got triple the life of what it should have done.
    And in the end, it took someone running a red light to t-bone it to end the long, hard life of one ultra-reliable car.

    • 0 avatar

      I had two ’87 Stanza GXEs that I received as highway warrior hand-me-downs from my dad. Both easily went over the 200k mile mark with little issue – one needed a new fuel pump. One was destroyed by a winter head-on crash, that my brother thankfully survived. And the other one had a hood flip open on the highway but managed to limp on after some repairs. Eventually the last one was sold to a guy who needed post-DUI cheap transportation.

      The GXE had some really nice seats. I preferred the one with the manual transmission since it helped with that little 99hp engine.

      • 0 avatar

        The manual was the only way to get anything out of that engine! That and it got exceptional mileage. I believe we still had the original fuel pump and water pump under the hood. This was the era when the bodies rusted out well before anything expensive under the hood decided to die. Given how complex cars are now, it will be interesting if, 10-15 years from now, we have a lot of “I got 250,000 cheap miles out of this car…” stories.

  • avatar

    Yep, our much-loved (and much-missed) 1997 Toyota Tercel. Bought back in 2008 or so with 122k on it. Box-stock two door. White. 5 speed. Crank windows. But 40 MPG and an A/C system that would deep-freeze meat slabs. Tee-tuu, as she was called, faithfully served me, my sister and then my son when he went off to the Air Force Academy and into the early part of his career (oh, the jokes he got from other pilots who drove Corvettes and Mustangs!). It was only done in by an unfortunate meeting with a semi that attempted to occupy the same space as the Toyota. At well over 250k, it was still on the original engine and transmission, having never been in the shop for anything other than routine maintenance. While the interior was not luxurious, it held up better and had a higher quality than a large majority of cars on the road today. I’d asked my son to take the car back repeatedly after he was commissioned, but he refused to give it up. It’s one of the only cars I actually got weepy-eyed over when it departed family service.

  • avatar

    Don’t let anyone tell you a Mazda CX-7 with the 244hp i4 Turbo wasn’t a good handling, damn fast canyon carver.

  • avatar

    I lead a pretty sheltered life when it comes to driving, ha. Aside from some harrowing snow and ice-related drives, I can’t think of much. I will say, I had a current-gen Impala rental car up in the mountains in California a few years ago and I was kinda astonished how agile and predictable the Impala felt. I drive a 2015 Mazda6 and figured the Impala would feel tons bigger. It actually felt smaller.

  • avatar

    Long story short my beloved 83 Civic took a dive in a creek when I was in college. Was driving along on an unfamiliar windy rural road after a rainstorm, crested a bridge, and the water had diverted around the other side of it. In a flash I plunged in, water rushed over the windshield and was up close to the cowl. For a second or two I could feel I was floating then the car settled. Car stalled, miraculously it restarted, but sounded like a boat because the tailpipe was under water and blowing bubbles. I reversed out of the water, backed over the bridge, stopped on dry pavement, then got out jumped up and down and uttered quite a few “holy [email protected]!”. About an inch of water sloshed around my feet as I drove home about 4 miles. Car was running rough, but did settle down a bit. I proactively called my favorite shop, told them what happened, and made an appointment the next day just to check things out. The next morning the car wouldn’t start, so it had to be towed to the shop. The only time in my ownership (bought at 100k, sold at 205k) it was ever towed. I think all they did was replace the cap and plugs and it was fine.

  • avatar

    My wife brought home a dresser in our 2014 Avenger. The furniture sales guy was impressed.

  • avatar

    Not me but my father in-law has a horse farm and a 2006 F-150 SC 4×4 with the 5.4L engine as his hauling rig. Twice a year he picks up a large order of round bails for feeding the horses. A couple years back he commented to me how much his truck was struggling going up slight grades and that it might be time for a new truck. I asked him, of course, what he was hauling and how much he thought it weighed. Come to find out the weight of the round bails was approx. 15k pounds not including the trailer he was using. I laughed and told him he should look into a 1 ton diesel. A year later he came home with a 2018 F-150 XL Supercab 4×4 with the 3.5 ecoboost. He’s still hauling that same load but doesn’t complain about power anymore!

    Edit: he still keeps the 2006 F-150 around for farm duties and it’s at 175k miles last I asked with minimal maintenance. The body is shot (Michigan rust) but the darn thing is still on the original trans and hasn’t had the spark plug issue.

  • avatar

    Some years back my brother and I took a road trip to New Mexico from L.A. in his then pristine 1981 Mercedes W126 300SD .

    In the middle of nowhere I routed him down a dirt road to go check out a tiny hospital my father helped set up on the Reservation in 1947 ~ in one spot there was paint on the trees from pickups slithering sideways through the mud, I got out and told him where to aim and not let off the throttle, it made it easily , all the farmers and woodsmen looked on astounded as we motorvated past with the windows up, AC cranked .

    One of many memorable trips .

    Not a scratch of that Mercedes .


  • avatar

    I towed a DJ-7 up a hill with a 1989 Corolla. In reverse, because the only place on the car I could find to attach the rope was on the front.

    This was a separate incident from when I hauled the secondhand full-size couch on the roof with no rack.

  • avatar

    Good old Trecel coupe.

    My aunt and uncle (from the 80s into the early 90s) had CJ and a diesel Rabbit followed by a Subaru Loyale wagon and a Trecel coupe. All of them manual transmission. Had 2 kids to haul around during that time too.

  • avatar

    Like that time when my shiny, pampered Lexus luxury sedan (LS 460) took me over ten miles of gnarly hole-filled two-track, best suited for jeeps, without a single complaint? (Although I was finding mud in nooks and crannies for months afterward.)

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    My 17 year old’s Leaf was driven into a construction trailer. Hard enough to pop the airbag and destroyed the passenger side front apron, bent strut tower, core support, and all the sheetmetal not the drivers side fender. No damage to the trailer so the construction crew didn’t want to call the cops. I dind’t either because it was likely cheaper to just junk it (17 year old boys insurance and all). He talked me into buying a welder. Cut out the damage and welded new in. Just drove it for the first time last night (sans sheetmetal) and the SOB didn’t even need an alignment and feels tight as ever. He is going to monstaliner it (better than a 3 color car) and drive it. Yes, it is now like a 7000 dollar 2000 dollar car but the fact that the stupid thing even moves is above and beyond. Screwed up my plans to drop the ev powertrain into a Fiero or something but whatever.

    For the record, it has a clean carfax, something to think about lol.

    As for me, the above and beyond stuff typically involves cars with wheels off the ground and what not. Did have a Bronco II sideways at like 60 mph and it stayed wheels down so that would probably be my best.

  • avatar

    I drove a 1987 Seat Ibiza for six months, 4 hours per day, without functioning cooling. I just filled the radiator up a couple of times per day and let the engine boil dry. The cylinder head was cracked, if I remember correctly.

    I finally drove the car to the scrapyard when the windshield wiper failed. I still don’t understand how the engine survived the abuse.

  • avatar

    Nearly the exact same car in the picture for me!! 1988 Tercel Sedan. My Mother (single, working) and my sister and I who both recently just got our drivers’ licenses. 5 Speed manual, crank windows, AC. I don’t ever remember that car getting an oil change, just me topping it off if I thought about it (16 year old kid, didn’t know much about car maintenance). That car was never not being driven, sometimes not gently (;-). Went for years and years.

  • avatar

    OH WAIT! Another one, our Mitsubishi pickup FOB runner that was in service for at least three of my deployments. It got T boned by an up-armored HMMWV and was subsequently U shaped. We just kept driving it (only on the FOB) for about ten months afterwards.

  • avatar

    1986 Dodge Aries drove from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Chicago on zero coolant due to a blown head gasket. Got it fixed, and the little thing soldiered on for another 30,000 trouble-free miles until we sold it to a family member.

    1992 Chevy Cavalier coupe gave its life on Interstate 80 in NW Indiana when a fully loaded semi hit a Ford-F-150 behind us, slamming us into the back of a Honda Accord. My parents and myself walked away with minor cuts and bruises.

  • avatar

    We had a 3rd gen Chevy Cavalier (1998 model) from 2000 – 2009. It was purchased for about $3500 when my wife was in med school. Tight budget. 5 speed manual base spec.

    We acquired it when we lived in on the eastern Great Lakes where lake effect snow is a way of life 7 – 8 months out of the year. With proper tires, it never once got stuck in a winter storm, regardless of the snowfall amount.

    Packed it to likely over weight capacity to move to San Diego. Whether climbing the mountains in Albuquerque or Flagstaff, or crossing the desert in Barstow, it didn’t over heat, or really do anything other than drive. Getting 32-ish mpg the whole way

    7+ years in SoCal, it hauled people and sometimes small pieces of furniture out to Yuma or up to San Francisco with no issues. The only non-routine thing I had to replace was the AC compressor. As long as I was up on fluids, filters, brakes, etc, it performed WAY above expectations and was a tremendous value.

    People crapped on the J-bodies, and I’m not going to say it was a particularly nice place to sit in…even for an economy car, but they are cockroaches if you simply do the basics. Mostly because there isn’t much mechanically that complicated to deal with under the hood.

  • avatar

    I was impressed when my Stanza Wagon swallowed 2 decent size loveseats inside its body and door closed.

    Also, I built my deck out of 240sx. Yes, everyday I picked some lumber, including 16′ and drove 2 miles like this. Installed them, then next day picked up few more. Took 2 months but 240 did it.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    For me it was a 1969 Plymouth Valiant extra base model. My dad brought it home new in the spring of 1969 when I was a senior in high school. It was the most base model imaginable, 3 on the tree, rubber floors instead of carpeting with a very basic AM radio with the 179 CI slant six engine, vinyl seats and two doors. According to dad, Plymouth wanted to compete with the new $1995 Ford Maverick compact by just decontenting the more expensive Valiant.
    Myself and three younger siblings learned how to drive stick on that car. It seemed like the car was in constant use in the early 70s. Two sisters used it to commute to college then my younger brother learned to drive it. After four novices learned to drive manual transmissions on it, the clutch never seemed to age. The only non routine maintenance was the cooling system. I remember helping dad remove the radiator and taking it to a local radiator shop to have it brazed.
    Around 1976, my parents gave it to one of my sisters who had moved to Pittsburgh. By then the pale yellow “prince” as we called it was looking worse for ware, but keep on going without any major maintenance. She ended up selling it to her boyfriend who used it as a winter beater when he parked his Porsche for the winter. The Prince soldiered on until the mid 80s when the tin worm finally killed it. It was a penalty box beyond compare, but was almost invincible.

  • avatar

    In the late 90’s my family was given (or inherited?) a 1992 Buick Century wagon, light metallic blue with woodgrain siding and those button down velour seats, but with the base 2.5 Iron Duke and 3-speed slushbox. I will never forget the sound of a Duke under load and now know why those cars are called cockroaches of the road.

    That thing did absolutely everything that was asked of it, abet slowly. Tow a rowboat? Sure. Haul 3 kids + luggage sticking out the rear window and strapped to the roof rack? Go for it. Have a naive, 17 year old driver get behind the wheel alone for the first time only to accidentally skid off the road, through a fence, down a bank, into a stream, and stop finally stop on the other side? Just put it in reverse, go back through the stream, up the bank and back onto the road. I went to a Pick-N-Pull, found a new bumper, grill, and headlight housings and replaced everything that was damaged before the parents got home from their weekend trip.

    That thing just did not die and would return 36 mpg (30 U.S mpg) when steadily driven at 90 clicks on the highway. To be fair, the old man was meticulous with regular maintenance, along with tranny fluid and coolant flushes, sensor changes, 1 timing chain replacement, and the odd can of Seafoam or Gumout in the tank. She lasted a whole 18 years and 436,000 KM’s. It was finally on its last legs when the tranny started slipping (again) and most of the electronics had given up and died save for the bare essentials like the headlights and wipers (and weirdly the cassette player). We gave “the tank” to an elderly neighbor whose vehicle had been totaled in a hit & run. We thought that would be it but I still see it puttering along every now and then. The guy has to be nearly 100 now, but he still uses it once a week, no matter the weather, to drive to the grocery store and the local legion veterans pub/ hall. He even carpools with it sometimes.

    To this day, I still have profound respect for old A-bodies in general. I will be sorely half-temped to buy it back off his estate if it’s still running by then.

  • avatar

    My brother once used a Nissan Micra to tow a 40 foot catamaran, and amazingly it did it. Not a great distance, not fast, and not well, but he did it. Boat and trailer probably weighed double what the car did, just as well there were no steep hills to go down

  • avatar

    In 1979 both my brothers bought new VW Rabbit Diesels, paying a serious extra charge to do so .

    One of them decided to move to California with his then G.F. and rented an enormous two axle trailer, filled it and drove from Boston to Los Angeles, in Pennsylvania he was slowly easing down a hill when a state trooper pulled up along side, waved him over and said ‘I thought it was an un hitched run away trailer ~ I couldn’t see your little VW tow car’ .

    When he got to L.A. the brakes were shot, it needed new rotors and the front wheel bearings failed .


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