Monday, April 16, 2012

Top Gear brings back car memories

I'm taking the rest of the day off so I can get ready for the Season 18 premiere of Top Gear on BBC America. I've wished that I could go and see the show live or someday become famous enough to be the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car. Heck, I only got Grand Tourismo 5 for the PS3 so I could "drive" the Top Gear track!

I was working away from home this time last year and living in a hotel that had crappy cable channels and didn't get to see Season 17 until this past weekend when I finally saw it on DVD. I love cars, even though I've not owned many remarkable ones. My first car was a 1980 Chevrolet Chevette. I usually referred to it as either "My 'vette" in the hopes someone would confuse it for a Corvette (never happened) or as "Fred." If I didn't give it a name, I wouldn't have anything to call it when it wasn't working correctly!

Mine was a petrol/gasoline 5-door, manual transmission, vinyl seat version in that shade of beige that makes your car look like it's a perpetually dirty white car. The seats had a "patchwork" pattern embossed in them which gave you the look of someone with a strange skin disorder if you sat on them in the summertime with shorts on. It always seemed like hours would have to go by before the pattern would disappear from your flesh. And heaven forbid that you jump into the car on a hot summer day wearing shorts or a skirt! The dark brown vinyl collected the heat of the sun better than solar panels and nearly branded that ugly pattern into your legs! But Fred wasn't all bad. It at least had air conditioning -- one of the few optional extras added. I've always joked that the owner's manual said "Zero to 60 mph -- pack a lunch" and if it didn't really, it should have. But mine was better than the diesel versions my Biological Father bought himself after he moved-out. Many a winter morning was spent giggling under my breath when I'd have to stay at his house and he'd jump into the car and forget that the engine heater was still plugged-in and tried to back out of the garage. Those were my first introductions to the large "SNAP" of a live electric wire and the smell of ozone that comes before an electrical fire.

After I'd married the first time and Fred was getting-on in years, I traded it to my then-Father-in-Law in exchange for a Ford Tempo. The Tempo had automatic transmission (something new to me), cloth seats (no more having to fear sitting down in the summer), FM radio stations, and cruise control. Yeah...I thought I was living the big time with that car....for a little while. Ex-Husband sold his car and started driving mine because (1) it actually ran and (2) he like the "newer" car better. However, I knew the Tempo's live would be short-lived because Ex-Husband didn't know squat about cars and had no idea what to do other than put gas in the tank -- and even that was a challenge. In the divorce settlement, the Tempo (which I never really named because I didn't get to drive it as much) became mine since Eldest Son was going to be living with me and I needed transportation for work (something else Ex-Husband didn't have). He had treated the car so badly that one time after a day of rain I went outside to look for something and found that the trunk was flooded. Everything in it was ruined. Only my Ex could damage the seals around a trunk lid that badly.

So, Future-Husband (who is now currently Husband and will be for the quite foreseeable future) helped me get financing for a new car. Well, not a "new" car but a "new-to-me" car. It was a 1994 Ford Aspire. "George" looked like a jelly bean on a roller skate. It was a two-door green tiny thing with automatic transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM AND Cassette Player (moving up in the world!) that looked as if it would have difficulties getting down the road. Nothing could be farther from the truth! That little car got 55 miles-per-gallon on the Interstate and if you had a good tailwind, it would be pushed along and your mileage was even better. I swore that if I had enough people in the car and we stuck our arms out of the windows they'd act like wings and we'd take off like a small airplane.

Husband, Eldest Son and I enjoyed the Aspire for quite a while. Husband and I even took it on our honeymoon which helped a lot with the cost of the trip. But a few years later, when we were told that Youngest Son would be arriving in the world, we knew we needed to get a larger car so everyone would have plenty of room. I took "George" to the dealership and traded-up for a 1997 4-door Ford Aspire!!

Okay, a 4-door version of the same car isn't really any bigger, but we needed the back doors so we could get Youngest Son in-and-out easily in his car seat. Plus, Eldest Son was beginning to hit puberty and he was already pretty tall, so squeezing-in behind the front seat with his added height wasn't going to be an option for long. The 4-door Aspire was blue and had all the bells-and-whistles we could ask for and still got excellent gas mileage. I only had it a year when a distracted driver plowed into the back of it and shoved me under a pickup truck that was stopped in front of me. I had stopped as well and Husband, in his large Dodge Ramcharger, was ahead of the pickup and heard the accident behind him. The poor thing was totaled but for a subcompact, it protected Youngest Son in his car seat in the back and me in the driver's seat pretty well. We weren't too badly banged-up and everyone was surprised at how well the tiny car did.

After the insurance settlement, I got a 1998 4-door Ford Escort in their version of "British Racing Green." I liked the car but missed the gas mileage and the way I could zip in-and-out of small spaces with the Aspire. Husband finally had to sell the Ramcharger after it was too old to repair anymore and I gave him the Escort. I'd gotten another "new-to-me" car in a weird deal. I went to a large dealership "show" (where all of the big town's dealerships bring cars they want to sell and compete against each other for the customers' attention in an old parking lot) when I spotted a strange-looking black car. I'd never seen anything like it. It was a tiny station wagon but had a streamlined shape that just made it unique. I asked about it and was told it was a 2001 Suzuki Esteem Wagon and they were willing to sell it to me there with the best financing I'd ever gotten AND they didn't want a trade-in but gave me credit for one anyway. I secretly began to wonder what was so wrong with it that they'd want to unload it quickly but that little car is still running today with over 200,000 miles on the odometer!

Of course, Husband drives that one now. I'd had my fun with it while he drove the Escort and even decorated the back with Irken Army symbols from the show Invader Zim (and if you've never seen it you're missing out!). But when the Escort became too expensive to repair after we'd paid-off the title, Husband began his ownership of the Esteem. I was working away from home for up-to 8 months at a time and when I came home for a 2-week vacation in 2006, we traded-in the Escort for a 2005 Suzuki Forenza Wagon. It was to be my car when I finally was able to come home but Husband could drive it to keep it running. Two months later while I was in Texas a large tornado wiped-out a town south of us but the hailstorm hit our town and did over $3000 worth of damage to my new car! And it was a NEW car -- less than 300 miles on it!! Fortunately the insurance paid-off all the damages and the car ran well for a while. Then, we discovered that it wasn't really a Suzuki (built by them) but was really a rebadged Daewoo wagon. As a matter of fact, when we were taking it to be serviced once we passed a Daewoo EXACTLY like my car -- so we knew that we didn't have what we thought we did. And that explained why my Esteem -- designed and built by Suzuki -- still runs but the Forenza crapped-out on us early. I went to the Suzuki dealership and was not happy.

Fortunately, they were willing to take the "Forenza" off my hands and gave me an awesome deal on a 2011 Suzuki SX4 4-door sedan. It's black, like the Esteem, so everyone thinks we're just addicted to black Suzukis. I bought it and then was deployed away from home with my old job so much that I'd owned it a year before I could put any actual mileage on it. Husband could have driven it but he was afraid to since it was brand new and didn't want to get it scratched or dinged and make me upset.

So, if I ever do become famous enough to drive on Top Gear, you can tell that Jeremy Clarkson is going to have a hard time trying to say anything remarkable about my car-ownership history. But I like my cars. Husband and I used to have a 1941 Willys MB Jeep that I got to help tinker with as we restored it, but that's for another story. Meanwhile, I'll watch some of the old episodes on TV and wish that I had the Stig nearby to show me how to zip around the track without crashing or flipping-over on Gambon.

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