Stories Told

The ultimate car for the man who hates to spend money

My dad pinched his pennies so hard he had Lincoln thumbs. It had galled him deeply to borrow money to buy his 1983 Renault Alliance (read its story here). Knowing Dad, he paid off that note very early. He submitted to those payments only because Mom fell in love with the Renault on the test drive and insisted he buy it. She knew she could play that card only so often – like, once each decade. But the Renault was, to her, a slam dunk: attractive, comfortable, well equipped in top-line trim.

Then in 1987, when Dad was driving 50 miles round trip to work and the Renault piled up the miles, Mom fretted. “I don’t want you to be stranded on some back county road!” So Dad went car shopping – and didn’t take Mom along so he could get what he wanted. Dad returned to his first love, Ford, and found the biggest bargain on the lot: a leftover new 1986 Ford Escort as the 1988 models were about to be delivered to the showroom. He got it for a song and paid cash. He was so tickled by that deal that he talked about it for years.

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It wasn’t a bottom-of-the-line Pony, as the pictured Escort is. But it might as well have been: the same utility white color, manual transmission (though a five speed rather than the Pony’s standard four), steel wheels, AM radio. It had cloth seat surfaces where the Pony was all vinyl, but it had the same plain interior door panels with the most perfunctory armrests I’ve ever seen. It did have air conditioning; Mom told him not to come home in a car without it. But that was a mighty stripped-down car even for the late 80s. No wonder this pig had languished on the lot so long.

I drove Dad’s Escort a few times. It had good power for the time. I remember the shifter being vague and rubbery but the clutch being sure. I always turned off the radio with its tinny center-of-the-dash speaker as it would give me an instant headache. You could hear the gas sloshing around in the tank when you made a turn.

Dad drove that Escort until 1993. He’d have cheerfully kept driving it, but it had racked up the miles and Mom began to fret anew. So Dad returned to his Ford dealer and came home in a well-optioned Escort LX four-door hatchback. It was so much better a car than its forebear – more comfortable, more fuel efficient, more lively – that even Dad had to allow it was worth spending the money.

I originally shared this story on Curbside Classic, back in May. It’s a good memory of my dad and I wanted to share it with you, too.

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Custom

Rusty Custom
Nikon D50, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-6.3 Tamron AF
2015

My Canon PowerShot S95’s battery died after the first shot of this old truck, so I borrowed my girlfriend’s camera to shoot it.

Photography
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Ford

Ford in the driveway
Yashica Lynx 14e, Kodak T-Max 400
2014

Photography
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Old Cars

A visit to the National Auto and Truck Museum

As long as I’ve been online — and that’s 25 years now — whenever a virtual community thrives, it eventually wants to meet in person. The community at Curbside Classic, the old-car blog for which I write, is no exception. I had to miss last year’s inaugural meetup, but I didn’t want to miss this year’s meetup since it was set right here in Indiana.

Auburn, Indiana, was the site of the Auburn Automobile Company, which made high-luxury automobiles under the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg names from the early 1900s through the Great Depression. Today, the Auburn factory and office buildings are museums. The factory houses the National Auto & Truck Museum, while the offices are home to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. This post is about the former; I’ll write up the latter soon.

The 810 and 812 Cords were radical automobiles for their day, featuring front-wheel drive and an independent front suspension. This 1937 Cord 812 is painted in Indiana State Police livery because it was used in the fleet, although I’m not clear on what it meant to be a “safety car.”

1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Sedan

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were luxury makes. This 1929 Auburn Model 8-90 was not targeted at the Ford Model A demographic.

1929 Auburn Model 8-90

Here’s this car’s radiator cap and hood ornament.

Radiator cap

The museum had a handful of the namesake cars right up front, where the lighting was terrible. I shot RAW all day, though, and that let me to bring several washed-out photos to life, such as this one of a 1936 Auburn 654.

1936 Auburn 654

I never found the card teling what year this Auburn 851 is.

Auburn 851

That didn’t stop me from taking this detail shot. Here, the room’s lighting worked in my favor: the source was behind me.

Air inlet

I’m a sucker for dark-blue cars, like this 1931 Auburn 898A sedan.

1931 Auburn 898A sedan

The rest of the museum is filled with cars made ostensibly in the spirit of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. As a native of South Bend, I was drawn to this 1965 Studebaker Wagonaire, despite it having been built in Canada after the South Bend plant closed. That thing in the back is a refrigerator, showing the Wagonaire’s retractable roof.

1965 Studebaker Wagonaire

One of my favorite cars of all time is the step-down Hudson. Here’s a 1951 example. The difficult lighting continued in this part of the museum.

1951 Hudson

I’m always happy to come upon an Avanti, especially when it’s from the Studebaker years. This one was built in 1963.

1963 Studebaker Avanti

I’m not sure how a 1959 Buick LeSabre captures the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg spirit, but it was good to see this basic black Buick nevertheless.

1959 Buick LeSabre

This Kaiser was wedged into this spot, making it hard to photograph. It’s an unusual Kaiser, in that it was built in 1962 — seven years after the last Kaiser automobile was built in the United States. Apparently, automobile production continued in Argentina. This car was built for Henry J. Kaiser himself.

1962 Kaiser Manhattan

The basement of the museum was filled a huge selection of International Harvester trucks, which were built in nearby Fort Wayne. I didn’t photograph any of them, but I did photograph this 1968 Ford LTD. My mother’s mother’s mother had one in dark blue. I rode in it a couple times.

1968 Ford LTD

Several other cars dotted this basement. I was completely smitten by this 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak.

1948 Pontiac Silver Streak

My girlfriend fell in love with this 1951 Nash Healey — the first one built. She would look good in it. I’m confident I could never afford it.

1951 Nash Healey

I barely scratched the surface of this museum with my photographs. It was such a large collection it was hard to take it all in! This means I must return another day.

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Stories Told

When do you give up on your car?

Ford Toyota

I’ve had a run of bad luck with my two little cars this year. The Ford Focus has seen my mechanic three times. In February, the power-steering pump failed. In March, a check-engine light led to replacing the thermostat and its housing. And then in April, the alternator died – in 65 mph Interstate traffic at 9:30 at night. I limped along at 25 mph on the shoulder and managed to get off the highway before the car shut down entirely. On top of that, my high-mileage Toyota Matrix needed a new axle half shaft and brakes all around. I’ve now invested $2,400 into keeping my two cars going this year. A lot of that cost is labor, as both cars cram the engine and all accessories into tiny spaces, necessitating removing lots of stuff to get at the dead part. Replacing the Focus’s alternator involved lifting the engine partway out of the car!

Repairs are part of the territory when you buy cars that are 6 to 8 years old and then drive ‘em into the ground, like I do. But my opinion about a car changes dramatically when it leaves me stranded. The car has breached a basic trust, and I think seriously about replacing it.

I came really close to putting a For Sale sign in the Focus’s window. But given all the other things competing for my dollars this year and my severe car-payment allergy, I’ve decided to stick with my two old cars. For now. If they don’t act up any more.

How much nonsense do you put up with from your car before you give up and replace it?

I also posted a version of this at Curbside Classic, a site about old cars and their stories. Check it out!

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Old Cars

Why do so many modern sedans look alike?

A version of this post appeared at Curbside Classic a couple weeks ago. I contribute there from time to time. Its primary mission is to document the old cars still rolling on the road, but we consider all things automotive. Check it out here.

Are the world’s automakers all smoking from the same pipe?

Recently Chrysler unveiled its redesigned midsized sedan, the 200, which goes on sale in the fall as a 2015 model. It’s about time; the current 200 is frumpy and dumpy. The new 200 is a sleek, beautiful design.

Chrysler200

2015 Chrysler 200

But wait… where have I seen that form before? Oh, yes, of course – on the midsized Ford Fusion, which went on sale in 2013.

FordFusion

2014 Ford Fusion

And on the new-for-2014 full-sized Chevrolet Impala.

ChevroletImpala

2014 Chevrolet Impala

These cars have a lot of common design elements: high beltline, tall nose, aggressive grile, dramatic side creases, roof that flows smoothly into the trunk lid, and large, round wheel openings. But the signature design element they share is the rounded six-window greenhouse with a kick-up at the tail.

Did Chrysler steal this look from Ford and GM?

Or maybe they stole it from Toyota. Here’s the full-sized Toyota Avalon, which debuted in 2013.

ToyotaAvalon

2014 Toyota Avalon

Even small cars are wearing this basic design. Here’s the current Nissan Sentra, which was new in 2013.

NissanSentra

2014 Nissan Sentra

The compact Dodge Dart, new in 2013, could be the Chrysler 200’s little brother. But given that they’re made by the same company, I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

DodgeDart

2014 Dodge Dart

But it must be coincidence that Buick’s smallest car, the Verano, has worn the same basic look since 2012.

BuickVerano

2013 Buick Verano

Ford’s small cars wear similar six-window greenhouses, although the rear-window kick-up is far less dramatic. Here’s the current Focus, which debuted in 2012.

FordFocus

2012 Ford Focus

And here’s Ford’s Fiesta, also new in 2012.

FordFiesta

2014 Ford Fiesta

Finally, even Honda’s compact crossover, the CR-V, got into the act in 2012.

HondaCRV

2014 Honda CR-V

I’m used to cars by the same maker wearing similar or even identical styling. GM was king of this for decades. They made one basic car, put different front and rear clips on for each of their brands, and sold them by the boatload. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many similarly-styled cars across so many different makers. I find this six-window styling to be plenty attractive – but I guarantee that ten or fifteen years from now when these are all cheap wheels on the used market, we’ll all look at them and say, “That styling is so mid-2010s!”

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Wanna see some classic car style?
Then click here and here and here.

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