Oft-rode vehicles

Back in the summer of ’05, I put up a post that ran down a list of all the cars I’ve owned. Since then I’ve added one more car to that list. Since it’s giving me trouble lately I thought I’d copy over and update the original vehicular C.V. and add a few more words of woe. Here goes…

On my 58th birthday, I find myself thinking, for no reason other than sleeplessness (it’s 12:30am), about all the cars I’ve owned. In rough order, the are:

  1. Black 1963 Volkswagen ragtop beetle. Rolled it in the Summer of ’66, when I was turning 19. That one had a 1200cc engine. A friend had a new ’66 with a 1300cc engine, and we were out doing time trials to see the difference. Mine lost, of course, but I didn’t roll it while racing, or anything close. Instead it was when we were just driving around the North Carolina countryside. Right after I realized that I couldn’t keep up with my buddy’s car, I slowed down, closed the cloth (actually, vinyl) sunroof, and entered a curve that bent right where a dirt road came in from the left. Gravel had migrated onto the pavement, and when the car hit the curve, the rear end spun out. As Consumer Reports said of the car (as best I recall), “slight understeer changes abruptly and unexpectedly to unstable oversteer, to the limits of tire adhesion.” The pavement came up to my window and disappeared overhead three times before the car came to a rest, right side up, I was a bit banged up, but okay. Oddly, both shoes were next to each other on the road, also right side up, also facing the forward direction, looking like I had just stepped out of them — about 80 feet behind where the car had come to rest.
  2. Black 1961 English Ford Consul II sedan. Piece of crap. Leaked oil from everywhere.
  3. Midnight blue 1958 Mercedes 220S sedan. Fast and solid. Had seats that reclined to make the whole interior a bed. Had a bizarre “Hydrack” transmission: four on the column, no clutch on the floor. Sold it after the Hydrack died.
  4. Blue 1963 Chevy Bel-Air 4-door sedan. 283 V8. Automatic. Great car. Sold it when the transmission began failing.
  5. Yellow 1966 Volvo 122s sedan. Straight 4. Stick. Solid car. Sold it because I needed a wagon.
  6. Dark green 1966 Peugeot 404 wagon. Stick. Would hold anything. Had screw-on hubcaps, among other design oddities. Rusted to death.
  7. Snot-green 1969 Chevy Biscayne sedan. 287 V8. Automatic. Looked like an unmarked cop car. Drove it into the ground. It was this Chevy, more than any other car I’ve owned, that made me a shadetree mechanic of GM V8 cars.
  8. White 1970 Austin America, with a black stripe down its middle. Belonged to my sister, then my father, then me, then my father. Brilliant design, front wheel drive, transverse 4-cylinder engine, manual-automatic transmission, quirky and way ahead of its time.
  9. White 1970 Pontiac Catalina sedan. 327 V8. 4 door. Automatic. Leaked water into the trunk. Failed often without reason. Real beast of a car.
  10. Dark red 1974 Datsun pickup. Straight 4. Stick. Father’s car. Had use of it for a year or so. Seat was so bouncy your head hit the roof. Had two sets of points in the distributor: a vintage Datsun “feature.”
  11. Sky blue 1974 Ford Pinto wagon. Straight 4 that was flat on one side and looked like half an engine. Stick. Piece of shit. Moved kind of crabwise, due to an earlier accident, before I got the car.
  12. Blue 1980 Chevy Citation fastback. V6. Automatic. Bought it from my aunt after her stroke. Like the Pinto, but more comfortable.
  13. Sky blue 1970-something Volkswagen squareback. Had to crawl under the back of it with a hammer to hit the starter. Parked on hills so I could start it by rolling a ways and then popping the clutch. Was found burned to the metal on a side road a few months after I sold it.
  14. Blue 1978 Honda Accord fastback. Straight four. One of the first “good” Hondas. Though this one wasn’t, turned out. Bought it from a dishonest mechanic, which I didn’t find out unti the engine failed after I sold it. The new owner came after me, however. I was then in California and they were in North Carolina. We settled, but both felt burned.
  15. Dark red 1985 Toyota Camry. Straight 4. Stick. First and only new car I ever bought. Also the best, by far. Towed everything I owned in a U-Haul to California in August ’85. All but failproof. Eventually gave it to my daughter, who finished driving it to past 300,000 miles, I think. Only car I ever had where the AC actually worked.
  16. Sand-colored 1992 Infiniti Q45a. Wife’s car. Got it almost new in 1994. Best-performing, most enjoyable car I’ve ever driven. More about it here.
  17. Dark red 1988 Subaru wagon. Transverse 4. Stick. Front wheel drive that goes to 4WD, which requires four tires of identical circumference, so it has never worked quite right. Bought it from Buck Krawczyk in ’94. Handy for hauling stuff. I beat the crap out of it, but it won’t die. If I need a nice car I rent one or drive my wife’s 1995 Infiniti Q45a, which is a good car but not the equal of her 1992 Q45a, which it replaced and I still miss.
  18. Black 2000 Volkswagen Passat wagon. 1.8 Turbo engine. Tiptronic automatic transmission. Comfortable. Outstanding handling. Great for hauling stuff around, too. Got this in 2006, I think. Bought it from a friend who was leaving the country. Cost me $5k. Had 111,000 miles on it, and needed a bit of work. I put about $3k into it before taking it across the country to Boston in September 2007. Since then It has had about another $10k of work.

Anyway, the Passat lately has not been turning off when I take the key out. The engine keeps running. Weird. For that I had the ignition switch replaced. That helped for less than a day. Meanwhile it often thinks I’m breaking into it when I’m not, going into honking no-start mode.

I’ll be leaving it with the mechanic while I head to Atlanta next week. Hope they can figure it out.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a car that was so completely well-made and trouble-prone. My old ’85 Camry was a thin-metal plastic-filled thing, and all but failproof. This Passat has great fit & finish, it’s tight mechanically, and drives like new. But man, it costs a pile to run.

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9 comments

  1. Rick Schaut’s avatar

    Doc,

    Have someone take a look at the voltage regulator on the Passat.

  2. Tim Jarrett’s avatar

    Concur on the Passat. See my comments about my 2003 and the known but not recalled coil pack problems. The really sad thing is that the other two coil packs went about a year later. It really eats into the budget. Would love to sell it but I think car payments right now would be even worse.

  3. Pauly’s avatar

    I was an old VW head too. My first 1300 beetle – also black – was what turned me into a shade tree VW mechanic. I wound up doing a top-end overhaul on that 1300 engine when the beetle’s body rusted out and then transplanting it into a ’68 bus body. This vehicle died when the steering box sheared off the axle beam due to rust (salty Midwestern winters were hell on these cars). I remember well having to bang the solenoid and/or park on hills for more than one of my late 60s early 70s veedubs. My sister had one of those fuel injected squarebacks, and though I never worked on the injection, something about the (at the time bleeding edge) complexity and finicky-ness of that system always made me leery as an amateur mechanic. Wonder if that had anything to do with the fire that happened to the one you had…

  4. David Hodskins’s avatar

    you cain’t figure it out ’til you break it down.

  5. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    My first car was a pseudo-automatic 73 super beetle. It had a switch in the shifter that threw an automatic clutch every time you moved it. It was crap, but I still liked it.

    I recently found a facebook app that displays similar car memories (including photo upload/flickr photo search)

    http://apps.facebook.com/mycarmemoirs/

  6. Max’s avatar

    A friend of mine just got rid of a Golf that was only a couple of years old when its transmission blew at 105k miles, a perfect 5k miles out of warranty. He was pretty upset when they told him that there was nothing they could do since the warranty was up.

    He washed his hands of VW forever, and drives a Honda now. He really liked the everything about the car except the lack of reliability. 105k is way too early for a modern transmission to fail.

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    “Well, ya’ll’s mefruggulatur burgus upsod the manyfold giskker transgimmer pop’n y’kint tell whussa sod vent unnerneath till we hafta break it down.”

    That one’s for David (above) who knows what I mean. :-)

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Max, I have a friend (possibly even reading this) who has had a Golf for years and loves it.

    Volkswagens are hit-or miss. Some are great, but most are trouble. Just look at the frequency-of-repair records in Consumer Reports. It’s hard to look at those and not decide, on the face of overwhelming evidence, which cars are the best to get.

    In fact, I bought my ultra-reliable ’85 Camry for the simple reason that it had a great frequency-of-repair record. I was hoping to dodge the bullets (there were many) with the Passat, just because I loved the car’s virtues (which are many), but I think I caught most of them.

    The latest is the exhaust smell, and the fact that it’s been using oil. Yes, I know what that means. :-(

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