Someone smart but sexist once said, “if it has tits or tires, it’ll keep you broke.”
What can you say about someone that has had so many cars and has so many car stories?
Remembering them all sparks the hope… if you could get the car back, you could get the time back and the way we were back. Of course you can’t get these machines back– many of them are small cubes now or have been recycled into something else. Something less poetic like dishwasher parts or a sump pump. Hopefully a few of them are still on the road, making memories for other drivers and passengers…
1979 Ford Mustang:
This was my father’s first attempt at his dream sports car that he passed down to me as a school commuter when he upgraded to something more rad, a red RX7, I think. In the lineage of Mustangs, the ’79 was probably the least rad of all. If any designer predicted cheesy 80’s trends, it was Ford with this model. Look it up, it’s hardly even a Mustang but it was my first car.
Van Halen– 1984
1972 BMW 2002:
During college I had some money from summer work and found my dream car, a Colorado orange 2002 that had been lovingly cared for. Bavarian leather, hand-crank moon roof and an incredible Blaupunkt stereo, this car was a classic that I drove into a snow bank, bending its frame and ending its life. I was a carpenter and my boss called me to pick him up in a snowstorm that I never should have ventured into… drifted into a snow bank and bent the frame effectively totally this beauty but I will always suspect an unscrupulous mechanic hoodwinked a dumb 20 year old.
Steve Miller Band– Fly Like and Eagle
1977 Volvo Wagon:
A dark green boat that I owned for a short time, I have great memories of piling it full of friends and putting off on adventures. I kept a case of oil in the back because it guzzled it like gas. My friend Willie, who had a motorcycle I liked to ride, swapped wheels with me for a week so that he could tote some belongings back to Philadelphia from Millersville University. Although I gave strict instruction regarding the oil, he failed to comply and the car never made it out of the City of Brotherly Love but I returned his bike and moved on.
Grateful Dead– Shakedown Street
1976 VW Microbus:
On a constant quest to find and own my dream car, I bought a classic bus that, by all accounts was a solid vehicle. The body was mint, interior was satisfactory and it started. The issue was the transmission where the only friendly gear was reverse. We had some fun times going backwards in the apartment parking lot but a college junior was in no position to rebuild a transmission and I had to have it towed away.
Talking Heads– Little Creatures
1980 Honda CRX:
This was my brother’s car that I was able to inherit when he went to college since mine only traveled in reverse– a metaphor it was best to separate from early on. The two seater, white CRX was on its last legs when I got it and I remember a hidden compartment in the back- reachable from the front- whose door was crushed from third, fourth and fifth passengers co-opting it as a seat. I recall driving it to the shore a lot, bouncing it off parking garage walls and driving it to my first post-college job interview. Fast and fun, we’re all lucky we didn’t die in this car.
The Doors– The Soft Parade
1981 Nissan Pickup Longbed:
I really loved this truck. I was a framing carpenter throughout college, and full time in the summer in my last years, and the utility of the truck was undeniable but it still zipped around campus and safely took us on many adventures. It would have been wiser to stick with adventuring as it was a work-related incident that did this truck in, but miraculously not me. After a week of framing in the summer heat you’re pretty worn out and, paychecks cashed, most of the crew headed to a spot along the Pequea River that was literally only accessible by a four-wheel drive vehicle or boat. The Pequea Tavern, as I recall, only sold ice cold Budweiser and big thick steaks accompanied by loud country music. Returning home one such Friday evening, I sailed the truck through a guardrail and more than thirty feet down to a forest floor where it burst into flames. I was lucky enough to unbuckle and dive out the window, scramble up the hill and sprint to a trailer park where I ran up to a screen door with a flickering TV light behind it and yelled, “my truck’s on fire!” After calling the police the two overly enthused gentlemen who were watching television and enjoying their Friday evening excitedly instructed me to get into the back of their truck where we drove back to the scene and the woods on fire to wait for the authorities and an uneventful remainder of the evening. I stood in the bed, hands gripping the top of the cab as the flames got closer. I remember the investigating officer aasking me what color the vehicle was and his partner, chuckling, “charcoal.” Side note: I had driven a friend (Paul but we called him Sprout) to the bar but he left earlier than me forgetting a backpack he had left behind the seat of the truck that contained much of his nomadic life and was incinerated beyond usefulness.
Seldom Scene– Live at the Cellar Door
1985 VW Golf:
Probably the first good decision I ever made regarding cars and it didn’t happen until my mid-twenties. I had a mechanic friend on Philadelphia’s Main Line who somehow kept the CRX alive, and had obtained a VW Golf on a trade for his services. It was super cheap and super reliable. We were living in the heart of crime-ridden Norristown, PA and, one morning, I went out to leave for work to find someone had stolen all of the lug nuts. I jumped on a bus to get to work on time and called the girl I lived with– who would later become my wife– to tell her to call the police to report the theft. Well, she had to get to work too so she called them and left a note on the car that said, “LOVE NUTS STOLEN.” I had that car cleaned up so it looked new but the engine was not as reliable as we first thought. Still, it taught me the value of finding a good used vehicle and I tried that again with my next car.
Neil Young– Decade
1982 Toyota Corolla:
Procured from the same mechanic friend who seemed to be able to collect cars that rich Mainline kids didn’t care for or were trades for services on more desirable vehicles. That was the case for the Corolla, one of the ugliest and most dependable cars I have ever owned. This car was completely trashed on the inside with all manner of garbage measurable in feet not inches on the floors and seats. Gum in fabric, cigarette burns, apple cores… I got it for a few hundred bucks and paid just as much to have it detailed which worked literal magic. I had an ugly gray sedan that was very clean inside and a well-tuned machine for under $1000 that was good for a year at least.
Pearl Jam– Ten
1992 Geo Prism:
We still weren’t married but we had been living together for a few years and I helped my wife transition out of her college car, a solid gold Honda Civic, the only one she had during my eight listed above. This white sedan was my first new car purchase and it was a real piece of junk. I was working for a newspaper at the time where one of my duties was authoring a weekly column in the automotive section called, The Freewheelin’ Todd Palmer. Chevrolet’s economy entrance with the Geo brand was aimed squarely at my demographic and the marketing and price point worked on me after test driving one for the column that ended up lasting longer than the car.
Beastie Boys– Check Your Head
1994 Suzuki Sidekick:
We were married in ‘93 and expected our first child in ‘94 so, with the infinite wisdom of twenty-somethings, came to the realization that we needed a larger car and decided to buy another new to market economy brand. The Suzuki Sidekick came on the cusp of the SUV movement but it was affordable. It gave us room and never left us stranded but, like the Geo Prism, it had no soul. I do have fond memories of strapping at least three Christmas trees to the top and my little son sitting on the hood smiling.
Nirvana– In Utero
1997 Ford F150:
The first respectable new vehicle purchase, the F150 was a big, beautiful truck. ‘97 was a good year for the F150, the first year of the tenth generation that changed the body style significantly, the precursor to the more aerodynamic styles of today and this model was loaded. I’d become accustomed to the Sidekick’s 4WD, wanted a truck for our small farm and passed the Ford dealership everyday on my way home. On impulse I pulled in one day and made the deal. My son went with me to pick it up and the dealership sent us a calendar with our photo on it. Classy.
John Prine– Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings
1998 VW Cabrio:
This was the attempt to get my wife her dream car. We bought the Cabrio new and she looked great in it. All black with the top down, smiling… I could hardly get behind the wheel though, the cockpit was so tight, and when I came on a BMW convertible deal, we made a move.
Natalie Merchant– Ophelia
2000 VW Eurovan Winnebago:
Two young kids, a new entrepreneurial venture and a new mortgage… what better time to buy brand-new, full camper as a daily driver? Our young family had many great trips in this white, Winnebago-converted Eurovan that– with undiagnosed electrical issues, we eventually had to use the Lemon Law to get away from. I remember an American-made truck-loving Folk Festival friend telling me I was crazy for trading the F150 for the Eurovan– and it turned out he was right on this one– but the VW van experience always was and always will live in my mind as an ideal.
Donna the Buffalo– Live from the American Ballroom
1999 BMW 325ic:
We saw it as an upgrade from the VW Cabrio in style and performance but this black convertible, although super fun to drive, was expensive to repair as used BMW’s can be. When the top was randomly vandalized we dealt it instead of investing in the repair. I have fond memories of my wife driving this car with the top down, smiling… a lot like the VW. Convertibles suit her. I remember her pulling up to a field full of friends on a sunny day when I surprised her with a tenth wedding anniversary party. While everyone’s cars were hidden– that vehicle was kind of left there, a central part of the celebration.
Green Day– American Idiot
2001 Subaru Outback:
My father died unexpectedly in 1999 and we organized a golf tournament in his memory for which the local Subaru dealer stepped up to sponsor and donated a vehicle for the hole-in-one contest. I didn’t hit a hole-in-one but I did purchase an Outback–partly because I liked it and needed a car after the Eurovan’s issues and partly to thank this sponsor– in the tournament’s second year. This was the Limited L.L. Bean edition in that compelling natural green and tan that came with an embroidered tool bag that I still have today. This is the first time I came to a realization that I should have held on to a car for longer than the loan term. Did you know, you don’t have to get a new car as soon as the one you’re driving is paid for?
Radiohead– Kid A
1987 Ford F150:
Some cars you give names to but usually they don’t stick and it’s a dumb idea. Snowy Biscuit stuck, mostly because it was scrawled with a key onto the back quarter panel of this off-white, two-wheeled-drive beater. We got this as a farm truck because we always needed a pickup and this was an inexpensive third vehicle. This beloved truck with four on the floor helped us do all kinds of chores and was also a volunteer vehicle at the Philadelphia Folk Festival where it was decorated up but shuttled more chairs and tables than famous musicians. This was a truck that was never washed, hardly cared for, but it kept performing. It looked best with a dog in the passenger seat and drove best wearing worn leather gloves with some stray hay on the well-worn floor. In the end I am sure I sold it for more than I paid for it but I had to get a four-wheel drive truck in an attempt to solve a twenty-year old snow plowing puzzle on which I could write another essay, equitable in length to this one, on all of those methods attempted.
Willie Nelson– Across the Borderline
2002 VW Eurovan Westfalia Weekender:
Always trying to get back into that VW Van life, I decided to go classic and found a nice late 70s Westie in Colorado for $7000. My son and I flew out on Thanksgiving week to buy it and drive it back (wasn’t anyone paying attention to any of my decisions?). When the dealer picked us up at the Denver airport, the snow’s intensity formed a curtain between the terminal doors and the vehicle and there was already a foot on the roads. When we got through the snow, we encountered what looked like a brand new vehicle and hopped into his warm and comfortable 2002 Eurovan. My traveling companion and I were chauffeured to the dealership where we test drove the vehicle that we had come to buy. I stalled it several times and it had difficulty in the snow but we made the purchase and sputtered off to our hotel where we talked. It seemed my wise eight-year-old had a lot of misgivings about a two-day trip across America in the camper almost as old as I was and the decision was made to call the dealer– who had informed us earlier that both of his young daughters had a very serious bout of flu– “I hate to bother you, I know your girls are sick and tomorrow is Thanksgiving but, how much for the van you picked us up in?” It was a significant upgrade in cost but, more importantly, peace of mind as we cut through Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. A beautifully functional van, the weekender has a pop-top and upper and lower bunks and tables but no stove or fridge. This was at least the second vehicle I should have retained for longer than I did. Like a lot of those listed above, I wish I had it today and my son and I were somewhere unknown meeting truck stop people or camping in the woods.
Grateful Dead– Built to Last
2006 Jeep Wrangler:
My wife had become accustomed to ragtops and I liked to make her happy too. Her previous cars, the VW Cabrio and BMW 325ic though were less than ideal in the winter months and we’d both always liked Jeeps. This was a Sport– the lowest level Wrangler with no bells or whistles and a soft top that I can still recall wrestling with in the rain. I do believe this was our first lease, a two-year term which it seems suited me and my attention span for my current car.
Ray Charles– Genius Loves Company
2004 BMW X5:
In the early 2000s, business was good and somehow I got it in my mind that pulling up to a new business meeting in a VW van wasn’t professional enough to grow a respectable advertising agency. If only I knew then what I know now! Really, it was only twelve years ago but, in terms of cars it was the deep past. I practically gave the Eurovan away on the trade for a certified X5. The payment was low but, remember what I said earlier about used BMWs and repairs. You’d think one would learn… The X5 was a great family car, daily driver and impressive enough for an advertising account executive but, the time came– sooner than expected– when it made more sense to get rid of if than repair it. I’ve probably never owned a more comfortable car than the BMW X5 but, like the 325 before it and a few more to come, the audio system in later model BMWs leaves a lot to be desired even if you can afford to make major repairs.
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane– at Carnegie Hall
2008 Ford Escape:
Let’s try a hybrid! I am exactly half enamored with the past– loving broken in, used leather steering wheels on time-tested old jalopies and equally intrigued by modern advancements in new car models. It would be much easier on me (not to mention a shorter list) if it could just be one or the other. In any case, I traded the X5 for the highly dependable Ford Escape hybrid and this new electric technology. It was a reliable little SUV with absolutely no personality and stupid chrome accents. But I thought we were due for a new car and I vowed to hold onto this one for a while, put my head down and focus on adult things. With two children in multiple activities all over the map, the Escape was the ultimate taxi and it had navigation and a premium sound system but it was most boring to drive and own.
Leo Kotke – Great Big Boy
1994 Chevrolet 1500:
I sold Snowy Biscuit and paid cash for this 4WD pick up with a plow to finally solve snow issues at a few properties but, on the way home, I communicated to my wife and daughter via cell phone that the brakes were suspect… things had changed since the test drive! They stayed on the line with me– danger mounting– and watched me, and the red Chevy with the massive plow, sail down a steep hill and through the red light at the bottom with a busy intersection narrowly avoiding my demise. I can still recall my daughter’s face looking out the window in terror and tears. We finally got it home and after an unfulfilling phone call with the seller, got the brakes repaired myself and plowed with it for a couple seasons but that truck was always evil and a money pit as a third vehicle.
2006 BMW535 Wagon:
I traded the X5 in on this silver 5 series wagon, one of the most favorite vehicles I ever owned. This was big sled and comfortable. Most of my memories of it are driving to meetings and kid’s practices but it was definitely the best engineered car I ever owned as well as the most dependable BMW. I should have kept this and garaged it as a classic. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Wilco– The Whole Love
2005 Toyota Tacoma:
I had always had the idea of giving my kids a car with big red bow on it for their sixteenth birthdays and this was the first one for the first kid. I searched for months to find an automatic Tacoma with no backseat (read: fewer passengers) that we could gift my son and found this one, hiding it nearby until the big day. You know, the one like Marty McFly drove. Every year we had a big backyard football game on my son’s birthday called the Tucker Bowl and I drove it out onto the field after the game to his complete surprise. We filled the bed with tools and oil and car washing stuff and we all had a good time and made a good milestone memory. But I have many more from the short time he owned that truck like him coming home from football practice, shoulder pads and helmet tossed in the back, sweaty and tired. After a week of rain the pole holding up the basketball backboard on the edge of our driveway floated up out of the ground and tipped over right through the front window of the truck. Not long after getting the window repaired we ventured out in a major snowstorm. After stopping at a four way intersection I proceeded through in 4WD and saw a giant Pennsylvania state plow bearing down us. I floored it to get out of the intersection but he caught the back of the bed and spun us around. I was charged with reckless driving, not because I didn’t stop but because I was out during a State of Emergency– a charge I fought and won.
2013 Toyota Tacoma:
After driving the 2005 to High School for a year it required a major repair to tune of $2000+. Once again, it made better sense to me to switch to a more dependable vehicle instead of laying out a third of what I paid for the truck in the first place. We ending up leasing a Tacoma in 2013 and that’s what my son drove to college. Like some of mine before, it turns out, it was a vehicle he should have kept.
Kurt Vile– Walkin on a Pretty Daze
2010 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon:
When it came time to get rid of the 5 series wagon, because it was no longer certified, I wanted something completely different and got this loaded Wrangler with a 5” lift. It had had one owner in NYC and had less than 20,000 miles on it and I got a good deal on it. I thought the tops might have improved significantly since the soft top Wrangler we owned in 2006 (and this being a higher end model) but I was wrong. Fortunately this one also had a hard top for winter months and we enjoyed the heck out of this Jeep strapping kayaks to the roof and bikes to the back, even towing a trailer full of both to Dirt Fest one year. This vehicle suited my personality and I might opt for another Wrangler in my old age… we’ll see. For my daughter’s sixteenth birthday, I recycled the red bow and cleaned this Jeep up for her surprise but not long after that, less than a mile from home, I clipped a tree and rolled this Jeep for a sad total loss. Better me than her.
James Brown– Star Time
2012 BMW 328:
I had surprised my wife with a car before but trading the Escape for a sporty new black sedan and swinging her into the dealership on her birthday is a great memory. Little else about this car was memorable or remarkable. A lease that we kept to term, I thought it would be the last BMW I would ever buy but I was wrong.
Amadou and Mariam– Folila
2014 BMW X1:
We traded the leased 328 in for BMW’s newest and most generic vehicle to date, the X1. Small and unimpressive, the X1 is really a case of paying for the badge while it did a ton of shuttling to gymnastics practices and meets. I would sometimes borrow this car to go to a meeting but not anymore… I drive the pick up now and they have to take me as I am.
Bright Eyes– I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
1999 BMW 325i:
The lease was nearly up on my son’s Tacoma and a decision needed to be made. Had it been me, I would bought the truck I was the only owner of, had a nice reasonable payment and set the world on fire! But he learned of used BMW sedan at the same dealer from which we were getting the X1, so we did a twofer that day and bought two cars we shouldn’t have instead of one.
Gorillaz- Demon Days
2006 Toyota Tacoma:
On the week of Christmas, 2014, I bought myself a present. Because I had given the Wrangler to my daughter I needed a vehicle of my own and made the concrete decision to buy used, pay it off and grin and bear the repair bills instead of the car payments. Some vehicles retain value better than others and, for whatever reason, I’ve always liked cars that people will pay more for even with high mileage– the BMWs, the VWs, the Tacomas. Although I had given my son two Tacomas before he had turned 18, I had always wanted my own. They don’t last when they come on the market so, when a 2006 with 120,000 became available in 2014, and I was able to pay cash for it, I did. Since then I have put black Tacoma rims on it and had the entire frame replaced with a brand new one courtesy of Toyota. The nearly three month frame replacement process put me in a loaner Camry colored gold and I took great pleasure in rolling down the window and yelling, “Check out my Camry!” The Tacoma is still my daily driver, with a 5” lift, and I’m looking out the window at it now as I type this, hoping it lasts well beyond 200,000 miles because I am in it for the long haul with this one unless someone has a nice Vanagon camper for sale, message me.
Rolling Stones– Black and Blue
2010 VW Tiguan:
A father destroying something he has gifted to his daughter could have serious implications in the relationship dynamic but cars are just cars. The value they have, the personality you give them– that comes from you and the memories you make with them. It’s not in the sheet metal wrap or the power of the engine or the luxurious interior but in the things you’ve done with that car. And so, we replaced my daughter’s Wrangler with a little white Tiguan and the best bike rack money could buy on the back and sent her down south to college where she’s logging miles and miles of memories of her own. Note: Begrudgingly paid $4000 for repairs to a shop in Tennessee and still recall trying to speak with someone without an accent that didnt sound please to be sticking it to a liberal Northerner.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros– Up From Below
2016 Subaru Crosstrek:
We’ve given up on BMWs, in the near term at least, and we’ve been partial to Subaru’s since that L.L. Bean Outback. I wanted to get another Outback but I knew my wife preferred the sportier Crosstrek. I put the red bow on it for her birthday and surprised her by getting the deal done and the car delivered. She throws her bike in the back and heads out on solo rides all the time now that we’re empty nesters. It was the date car, when dates happen and the trip car when they do because, although I have four cars now, there are only ever two in the driveway and one’s an old pickup truck.
The Beatles– Let It Be
2014 VW Jetta:
The BMW 325 that my son elected to get instead of assuming the payments on the Tacoma lease turned out to be a mechanical nightmare on or around the same day the warranty ended. So, in another twofer, we picked up the used Jetta at the same dealership where we got the Crosstrek. I can’t be certain what memories are being made with it but I am thankful that, unlike me, my son seems less obsessed with finding the perfect vehicle and more intent on using them as tools to take him places. Tucker lives in Maryland full time now and his new job requires driving a lot of miles… He recently called to tell me it had left him stranded and that the VW dealer quited $12000 for a new engine. We used all of our resources and effectively got the car in primo condition for less than $4k but I had flashbacks of the Tennessee Tiguan fiasco.
The Clash– Sandinista!
2019 Subaru Outback
There was nothing wrong with the Crosstrek and we only had it for three years but, because I’ve had by Tacoma for six years now (longer than any vehicle listed above), I felt like buying a new car. And the 2019 Outback is amazing– th4e evolution of time–tested Outbacks whose style, comfort and technology features rival most luxury cars. This the car we take trips in now and it practically knows the way to North Carolina by itself.
Stanley Brothers – 16 Greatest Hits
2018 Toyota 4Runner:
This incident proved to me, in my own mind, I’m not getting better– I’m getting worse. My beloved Tacoma, the greatest four-wheeled friend I had ever known, was running fine with 210,000 miles on it. Earlier in 2020 I had a few thousand dollars worth of work done to it including new brakes, tires and headlights. The frame had been replaced on recall and I was getting estimates to have it painted planning on it being my last vehicle… ever.
Thenn it started making a really expensive noise– two different noises really, one at slow speeds and one when turning sharply. It was driveable but the noises made me feel that driving it was making it worse.
A friend works for the local Toyota dealership and I happened to see his listing for a murdered-out 4Runner… all black, just like my Tacoma but brand new looking with only 15,000 miles on it. I called him up to help me set up a service appointment for my truck and a non-committal test drive of the 4Runner. The truck repair was unbelievably affordable and I was excited to get behind the wheel after the test drive and, because of quarantine, sweet offer on the 4Runner. It was after 5:00 when we go back from the test drive, my wife left me with the truck and I told the salesman we’d sleep on it. When I started the Tacoma and inched out of the parking spot it sounded as if someone had dumped a bucket of nails in the transmission. It was now, after the repair, undriveable.
Rather than call my ride back to get me and figure out what went wrong with the repair the next day, I pulled the trigger on the 4Runner. I liked it during the ride home but less each day. It wasn’t me. And it wasn’t Taco. In the days that followed tried everything to buy my truck back but it had already gone to auction by the time I really put my foot down.
I immediately called it Rapper’s Delight because it looked like something a hip-hop crew would roll up in.
My daughter was gaga over the 4Runner when I first showed her a photo of it and floored when I pulled into the driveway with it so, instead of driving a regret that made me miss my truck more, I gifted it to her. She is elated, not to mention safer. I am driving the above Tiguan now, looking for a high-mileage, murdered-out, 5″-lifted, 2nd generation Tacoma. It was an impulsive move but, in the end, I realized I had bought it for her all along.
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
. . .
That’s it for now.
Although I have my eye on a few used vehicles and there are models I would like to own for a time, I think we’ll maintain this holding pattern. The kids will be making their own deals on their next vehicles and I don’t have as many places to drive to.
It should be mentioned, during the above time span, I have also owned several road and dirt motorcycles, four-wheelers, tractors and all manner of lawn and garden tools with engines. At one time I believe I counted owning twenty-two internal combustion engines. I am not in love with this fact about myself and in this next stage of my life am going to seriously focus on where I am going and less on how I am getting there.
. . .
A note on this entry:
TITLES are the car’s year make and model, excepting trim packages.
DESCRIPTIONS are stream of consciousness remembrances.
DATE RANGE is approximately from when to when I owned the vehicle.
ARTIST – ALBUM is a single musical memory associated with that vehicle. It could be an album that I recall listening to in the vehicle or a concert the car drove us to… They aren’t necessarily favorite albums but, I have strong memories of porting first cassettes, then CDs, then satellite equipment from car to car and vivid recollections of specific albums and songs playing in each.
For instance, I remember the weird prologue of Fly Like an Eagle playing as I cruised through my college town waving and yelling at some friends on the sidewalk and rear-ending the car in front of me… I recall listening to E-Pro as Tucker drove me to a Beck concert in his new truck… I remember a friend hating Pepe Hush so much he through it out the sunroof. I played How Mountain Girls Can Love over and over on the acoustic guitar as we drove to North Carolina… I have so many more memories involving each of these cars– some smile-inducing, some downright terrifying, but they likely only have any value to me.