Grumpmobiles

For no particular reason other than kicks, here's every car I've ever owned—all thirteen of them. Note a common theme: not one sedan. I hate sedans. (Except for the last four, none of the photos are mine, but they're accurate, including the colors.)

1972 Opel Kadette Wagon. I bought my first car from my mother. It put up with a lot of abuse from me—it was built like a tank—but I also kept it running exceptionally well. However, a relatively minor accident spelled doom because a rusted battery clamp broke; the battery crushed the carburetor and caused other significant internal damage. (Many years later, suffering from acute nostalgia, I bought one just like it to fix up, but the transmission was totally shot, and I scrapped it.)

1972 Ford Pinto. When the Opel died, my hobby shop boss gave me this wreck. It was in horrible shape and ran like crap, but it lasted just long enough for me to save my pennies for something (marginally) better, at which time I gave it back to my boss.

1980 Chevy Chevette Scooter. Although my first new car was admittedly something of an embarrassment, it got me from point A to B reliably enough... until some guy working a night shift fell asleep at the wheel, blew through a stop sign, and ran me off the road right into a construction site, where I struck a concrete barrier. The impact nearly folded the car in two—vertically; the passenger side front wheel was torn off, and you could stick your hand through the gap over the passenger side door. I took the other driver to court and won, which enabled a significant upgrade...

1981˝ Dodge Charger 2.2. My girlfriend at the time talked me into this beastie, which I bought off the showroom floor. It was actually just a Dodge Omni 024 with a fancy paint scheme and a tuned exhaust that gave the four-banger an impressive throaty growl; my college buddy nicknamed it the "land speeder" because it was rather quick. But the engine seals began leaking badly after only 50,000 miles—a known issue with this model.

1983 Nissan Sentra Hatchback. My first "adult" car was about as plain vanilla as they come. It was also my first automatic. Although it ran well enough, unfortunately Nissan used crappy steel, and the rear strut mounts rusted out after three years—it was pretty scary when one of the struts popped through the trunk on the way home from work one afternoon. I also made the mistake of leasing it, and learned the hard way what happens when your leased car is towed in New York City. Hint: it's a nightmare getting it back. Last time I ever leased.

1967 Ford Country Squire Wagon. When my folks retired to Florida, my father gave me his "pride and joy." I never actually drove it more than just around the block a few times; with a three-on-a-tree stick shift and a clutch the Hulk could barely work, this beast was basically a 2˝-ton land yacht with a half-acre of hood in front of you. Genuinely scary! So I gave it to my brother-in-law at the time.

1983 Honda Civic CRX. I'd had my eye on the CRX for quite some time, and I finally found a used one for a song. Later, when I looked under the carpet, I found out why it was so cheap: it was very close to becoming a "Flintstone" car (the carpets would become soaked if I drove it on a rainy day), so I didn't keep it long. But, of all the cars I've ever owned, it was the most fun to drive—I still miss this one the most.

1986 Honda Civic CRX. Still craving the fun of the nimble '83 CRX, I got another used bucket of bolts and did my best to patch it up. But the prior owner had left the sunroof open during one too many Seattle rainstorms, so it had a lot in common with its predecessor. The beginning of the end was when I got rear-ended by a distracted driver—just before I was laid off from work, no less—and because it was so old, I got next to nothing for it from insurance.

1999 Suzuki Swift 3-Door. Having to buy a car while I was unemployed forced me to get the absolute cheapest one on the market. But, as it happened, this $8K "turdlet" (as I called it) was a remarkably good little car, with utterly unbeatable gas mileage: 50+ MPG! Better than most "hybrids" today. Plus, it had an enormous amount of driver space—with the seat all the way back, I couldn't reach the pedals (I'm six feet), and there was at least a half-foot of headroom. More than a few times I'd driven around with three adult passengers, and there were never any complaints. Amazing. If only it had rack and pinion steering, it would have been nearly as nimble as a CRX.

2005 Subaru Forester XT. A fantastic new job allowed me to finally ditch the turdlet and get a "real" car, and this Forester delivered quality and performance in spades. It was also the fastest car I'd ever owned—way faster than the Charger. Scary fast, actually—it could keep up with a lot of sports cars. Seriously. The only drawback was pretty dismal gas mileage (~22 MPG at best), and I had a 1.25-hour commute to work.

2015 Subaru Forester XT. Thoroughly pleased with my '05 Forester, I replaced it with another one. When my home was done, I'd planned to trade in the new one for an EV—probably a Chevy Bolt, mostly because of its range (I'd even installed a car charging outlet in the garage). But the commercial property debacle ended that plan, and I was instead forced to downgrade to a fourteen-year-old rust bucket to help ease the worst of the financial crunch.

2002 Honda CRV. I'd have stuck with this poor thing to the bitter end—indeed, I'd already invested a few thousand in repairs—but when I discovered that its rear suspension was at risk of catastrophic failure, I needed another car right away. And I refused to get another cheap used car loaded with potential problems.

2019 Subaru Crosstrek. Although I'd wanted to go "greener" for a long time, EVs simply aren't ready for the masses yet, even the "affordable" Bolt (and you couldn't give me a Tesla, a.k.a. a "smart phone on wheels"). It's tough to beat the base price of $23K for the Crosstrek—possibly the most affordable SUV ever—when an EV would have started at $37K or so. Besides, even the impressive range of 200+ miles for the Bolt is no match for a modern internal combustion vehicle (more than double), and the Crosstrek delivers half-decent mileage (~35 MPG). I might have gone with another Forester, but as is so often the case with established car models, it was getting larger every year. By 2019, it had grown to nearly the size of its bigger brother, the Outback—too big for my tastes, not to mention waaay too expensive.

Now, to be fair, I'd also seriously considered a Chevy Spark solely because one can be had for less than $15K. But in the end I simply couldn't stoop that low, because the Crosstrek brought so much more to the party for only an additional $8K: all-wheel drive, impressive ground clearance, an outstanding track record, and a raft of other perks, not to mention styling that's not an embarrassment. And given that I live at the end of a half-mile driveway, only some of which occasionally gets plowed, I've come to appreciate the advantages—and, in particular, the safety—of a car like the Crosstrek. Plus, given that it's the last car I'll probably ever own, I needed something reliable enough to see me through to the end.

So, while I regret not being able to jump on the EV bandwagon, I'm actually more comfortable with the choice I've been "forced" to make, in spite of the fact that it made finishing my home a bit more financially challenging. I had a choice: having a very reliable car and no deck for some time to come, or having a deck right now plus an unreliable car that was at risk of failing completely at any time. Not a difficult decision, really.

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