A Matter of Pride

Since I was a boy I have had a fascination with cars. I made them with my Legos. We’d set four folding chairs in the yard and imagine we were on road trips. My neighborhood buddy and I sketched countless pictures of them. Always set in action, with smoking rear wheels, quarter panels repleat with flames and pipes and vents and the requisite jack job on the back with over sized rear wheels.

…and always decidedly American.

When I was a kid, imports were “Jap Crap.”

It didn’t matter that my Dad’s brand new company car, a then downsized 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a gutless piece of crap with a V6 that was as smooth and as powerful as a coffee grinder and paint that came from the factory looking like it had already baked in the sun for a few years.

No one considered the Japanese playas yet.

My first car was a used 1973 Ford Pinto Squire Wagon, with yes, you guessed it, the woody decals and plastic “wood” trim down the flanks. $1,100; borrowed from the bank. What a piece of shit that car was…but it was mine all mine.

Lucky for me, girls didn’t seem to care if your car was cool. It was enough that you had one.

It blew a timing belt one day and fortune found me again. Ford engines of the time had so much clearance that the pistons didn’t smash the valves. A few hundred dollars later and I was put-putting down the road in four-cylinder bliss.

Next, I had a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a 305 V8 with a two-barrel carburetor that I inherited from my grandmother when she died. Deep Maroon, a matching crushed velour interior and a white vinyl “Landau” roof.

Yeah baby!

One day someone busted one of the opera windows to open the door and steal a radar detector I forgot to conceal when I parked it one night. I couldn’t afford to replace the glass, and my girlfriend, now my wife, thought it was cute how I always had a little pile of snow on my back seat.

It actually was a pretty cool car…until the transmission gave out at 70,000 miles. My brother took it off my hands, fixed it, and ran it in the Olmsted County enduro races. I think he might have even won something with it.

In the mean time my dad lent me his 1981 Chevrolet Caprice Diesel Wagon. I don’t know which was worse – that it was a wagon, or that it was a GM diesel. Oh, and did I forget to mention, it also had the cheesy “woody” decals.

As it turns out, after yet another GM tranny rebuild, it was the fact that it was a GM diesel that led to our sad parting. One winter morning it blew a head gasket, as they often did. I couldn’t afford to fix that either and my fiance, now my wife, didn’t think it was so cute to drive a car with no heat. G’bye (to the car of course).

Next in line was a 1985 Buick regal with what must have been the same V6 that was in my Father’s Oldsmobile. That was as pretty cool car until it also blew it’s tranny at about 70,000 clicks. I sold it to my brother (the same) he fixed it and drove it for a few more years.

At that point,  I was done with American cars. Every car hence was sometimes German, mostly Japanese, and I had nary a problem. I put 66,000 miles on a new 1992 Honda Accord in three years and it wanted only for regular oil changes and a new set of tires.

But I always rooted for the Americans to vie for my attention, to return to glory, even if those heady days were well before I had the means or the license to drive. It was and is a matter of pride.

My first venture back was a brand new 1997 Ford Explorer XLT with the 5.0L V8 and All-Wheel-Drive; Metallic Cherry Red with a Tan Leather Interior. That truck rocked until we could no longer jam three baby sets abreast in the diminutive rear bench seat. Oh and until the left rear suspension started to sag around 55,000 miles. CarSoup. G’bye.

We didn’t give up – and were rewarded.

We’ve had two Chevy Suburbans, and both were (and are) great examples of what the Big Three can do when they put their best minds to it. A 2006 Chrysler 300C still remains my all-time favorite car and I was disappointed a month ago when they wouldn’t lease me another as the crisis hit home at lease end.

So it is with no great pleasure that I dispense my vitriol of late for the predicament that Big Three executives and the UAW have brought upon themselves, just as there seemed to be hope.

The Chevy Malibu, Cadillac CTS, Saturn Aura, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Buick Lucerne, and even the Chevy Cobalt are but a few examples that the Americans can make pretty good cars.

I hope that Congress can find a way to preserve at least one or two of The Big Three without taking us all down with them.

And I don’t think unions are intrinsically bad either; they have served their purpose in history, but now, they have become too big and too powerful; undeniably existing for only their own sake. The Big Three talking heads have been equally culpable and complicent in the union’s gutting of the industry. Now, both will have to pay dearly for their sins.

Both must go.

It’s a matter of survival; and pride.

I can’t imagine an America without Chevy pickups and Corvettes; big resonating Cadillacs, Mustang GT convertibles and the indomitable Hemi.

18 thoughts on “A Matter of Pride

  1. The most reliable car I ever owned was a Chevy Nova. 100K miles before I gave it to my sister and it only did oil and tires (although it did need new brakes when I gave it to her). She drove it another 140K miles before selling it with nothing more serious than an alternator.

    Before you think I’m selling you a peeve-load, that was the Chevy Nova that was a Toyota Corolla.

    The worst car for reliability? My MGB, although the Porsche isn’t far behind.

    I still buy American if I can. Got two now that I’m reasonably happy with (until the Tundra Jap trucks were crap). I’d be sad if the American car makers went under, but other than a few exceptions American sedans are crap.

  2. Growing up in Detroit as a kid and later Southern Ohio as a yout, American was the only way anyone rolled. You pretty much had to travel to SoCal or Ann Arbor to see any Japanese made autos.
    My sister’s husband bought a Honda Civic in ’73 and routinely found it picked up and parked on a sidewalk in Ann Arbor, my dad told him he deserved it. My dad purchased Ford/Buick until his 225’s tranny gave out at 85,000 (almost all highway) miles. He purchased a couple of Mercury’s after that that had numerous problems (although he had one with a police interceptor engine that was great car to borrow as a teen). He purchased his first VW in ’82 (and two more after) and later went on to buy one of the first Acura’s sold in the US, which my mom kept for six more years after he died. Another relative was absolute solid GM, until the GM diesel came along. After being a test case in the Alfred Sloan method of moving up through the GM brands (Chevy, then Pontiac, then Buick, then Olds, then Caddy), he went Honda after his diesel powered Olds cracked the block at 50K. His good buddy the dealer, whom he had bought 5-6 vehicles from in a dozen years, said bo-fon-gula on warranty. He never purchased another US branded car again.
    Although I think the quality of US branded cars has increased by leaps and bounds in the last twenty-five years, they really poisoned the well for a lot of people. I disagree with people that claim Detroit only made big iron and are being punished now because the Japanese have always made smaller cars and know the market better, etc. If that’s the case, explain why Japanese cars have gotten heavier and larger in the last four decades. The Japanese were late to the party on mini-vans and if you want a big SUV you can look at the Sequoia. The really small cars they have in Japan couldn’t even be called tinker toys here and wouldn’t pass our safety requirements anyway.
    In my opinion, the Big 3 are going to have to go through the same liquidation big steel went through in the 80’s – 90’s. The mill stones around their neck; poor management, way too many offerings/brands, labor agreements based on the US economy after WWII and franchise agreements that require them to buy out their dealers if they decide to discontinue a brand will require bankruptcy to get them out from under these obligations and get on a smaller though profitable course.

  3. My first vehicle was a Chevette, and drove it for a number of years. It served me well actually, though the brakes went out at one point. And, I suspect my then fiance, now wifey, burned up the clutch once when I let her drive it.

    Got a Ranger next, really liked that little truck. Traded it for a minivan when we got the kids. That was a sad day.

    But, in 2005 got a new Toyota Tacoma. Love it. Toyota really does the little things like knobs and levers and doors well. Liked it enough that we got a new Toyota Sienna van a year ago. Haven’t had a problem yet with them.

  4. “although the Porsche”

    what model? My 911 was bullet-proof, except for the heating system.

    I’ve had bad luck with US cars. A 1980 Pontiac J-2000 that never ran in cold weather, and a ’98 Ford Windstar that blew a head gasket at 45K and then a tranny at 65K. Piece of crap.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a GM or Ford Truck or large SUV, but I’m not in that market. Now, all I own is highend Japanese, Acura and Infiniti. They’re not issue free by any means. The Acura is on it’s third transmission (all replaced by Acura).

  5. “…what model?

    911, but an early 70s one. Heater? Yeah, always a joke on them. I wouldn’t own a 911 up here, but where I was the lack of a heater annoying but not deadly. I was into restoring cars then: no money, no wife, no kids, lotsa time.

    Near as I can tell the 70s and early-to-mid 80s poisoned a lot of folks on American cars, and rightly so. But those were lean years for me and I was into restoring older cars, driving them, then selling them. I owned more sports cars then than I have at any point since.

    You can tell J’s from the north. Jap cars weren’t “playas” yet because before the 80s Jap sheet metal had the durability of chewing gum wrappers. If you got a Jap car within 50′ of a salt shaker it’d rust through. Down south and in CA where rust and salt weren’t an issue they were “playas,” especially with the 240Z.

  6. My least reliable car? Mercedes. 99ML430. After it spend 4 weeks out of its first 3 months in the shop getting all the predelivery glitches fixed (we purchased it new) it was pretty much carefree driving until about 60K miles or so. Then a cat split – right along the seam, a kid in a high school shop could have welded better. Replaced under warranty. Then the other cat went a year later – exactly same failure and MB refused to fix it. Then the final straw, at 108,000 miles, 8k mi out of warranty, a fuel injector got stuck in the open position and kaboom! bye bye engine. And I thought MB’s ran forever. Isn’t that what their ads say? MB refused to even talk to us – sorry, out of warranty. I had been working very close with the dealer and MB would not even give us a deal on a new vehicle. So we went with a Q7. ML was a right off – I sold it and took a 7K loss vs running value. So, based on my experience, we would never buy another Mercedes again ourselves, nor would ever recommend one to anyone.

    BTW, all my American vehicles – LeBaron GTS, Plymouth Lancer RS, Jimmy all run well past 100k mi – very hard mi, including racing. All but Ford Contour which I despised for oh so many reasons – it required an engine swap at 24k miles because it lost compression.`

  7. BTW, all my American vehicles – LeBaron GTS, Plymouth Lancer RS, Jimmy all run well past 100k mi

    And I remember when 100K was a momentous event in a car’s life, something they very rarely did. That says something about what the Jap cars made the American cars do. Before competition nobody cared about a durable car, now it’s unusual to see one croak before 100K.

  8. My least reliable car? Mercedes. 99ML430.

    MB used to let their engineers design their cars and then marketing would price them afterwards. They were the best cars in the world then.

    At some point however, they decided to reverse the process and their quality and reputation suffered irreparably. I read an interview of their CEO some time ago which was a de facto apology to MB owners.

    Nowadays I think their process is somewhere in the middle. Quality is reportedly better, but they can’t possibly make the cars the way they used to or a C Class would be $80,000; base price.

  9. When I turned 15 we had:
    66 Impala SS with the 350 hp 327 – that motor would spin!
    32 Ford Roadster
    76 Ford F150 SuperCab. 390 (big block, but small block displacement, that got 9 mpg).
    My Dad promptly sold the Impala and the Roadster, and picked up a used Toyota Corona – that was one SOLID car. Huge automatic tranny in that one.

    My first car – 74 Mercury Comet two door. 302 V8, C4 Automatic, white vinyl top, and bright orange. Orange paint, seats, headliner, dash and steering wheel. Only thing not orange – Black carpets. I built that engine with a ridiculous cam, 10:1 compression, Holly 650. I added a custom valve body to the C4, as well as high stall converter. That car would spin the tires on the freeway at 60 MPH when it would drop from 3rd to second. I replaced 2 flexplates because the engine and the converter were just too much.

    Added an 84 Ford Mustang CHP. Completely stock, that car was wild.
    86 Ford EXP – an okay car for the wife while we were young.
    94 Pontiac Grand Am that was always in for warranty work. We still have it at 130,000 miles – we leave it down in town with my 74 year old Mother.
    95 F150 4.9 5 speed. Bought it new for $11500. Put 270000 work miles on that. Many repairs, but we gave it to my 76 year old father in law, and when he got ill, we sold it for $3000 last year – that’s sick.
    2000 Nissan Maxima – top shelf, fully loaded with everything. Faster than the stripped down Mustang ever was. 170000 miles, still runs great.
    2005 F150 Super Crew XLT. Replaced three power window switches in three years, and two weeks ago, the driver’s power window regulator exploded. 80000 miles in 3 years for work. Constantly replacing the brakes. Not just the pads and rotors, but the calipers, and everything else too. $1100 brake jobs every 18 months, with plenty of pad left. You can have it.

    I like the Nissans – everything feels right in them. Toyotas felt cheap (high end Avalon). Lexus was nice, as was the infinity.

  10. My BIL and sister have a partner in Germany. He talks disparagingly of German car quality that went away about a decade plus ago. He says that the Germans prefer Japanese quality.
    My Dad was a GM and especially a Buick man. The last Buick he bought was from the old Swanberg and Schefee in Minneapolis in 1977.
    When Dad picked it up, he commented that there were three shades of paint. The new car prep guy said “Yah. We all agreed that it was one of the best paint jobs we’ve seen this year!”
    Poisoned well indeed.

  11. First car: ’73 Malibu with a 350. It was a northern MN farm car with 165K on it’; it was so rusty, the driver door panel flapped in the breeze. Bought in college for $200, drove through about my first year in the Twin Cities. Ran like a tank, flew on the highway.

    ’78 Jeep CJ7. GREAT vehicle; inept a mechanic as I am, I could do most of the work on it. Transfer case went bad just before I unloaded it.

    ’83 Honda Accord. Best car I ever owned. Had 45K on it when I bought it, 190 when I sold it in ’93. It got beaten up pretty bad (passenger door got smashed by a moron in a parking lot, driver door by a piece of 4×4 that fell from a passing truck), but other than needing the clutch repaired when I sold it (slipped terribly), never had a serious problem.

    ’91 Hyundai Excel: New head gasket at 120K, new tranny around 140. Otherwise, ran great.

    ’94 Ford Ranger: got it for an absolute steal; ran like a swiss watch. Naturally, got totalled by a drunk driver.

    ’88 Ford Escort Wagon; bought for $500. Ran OK, but caught fire on the road one day.

    ’93 Ford Tempo – what a piece of garbage. It was always breaking down. Electrical, transmission, you name it. Finally blew an engine – on 35W, right next to the dealership to which I walked down the hill and checked into buying…

    ’01 Saturn SL2; second-best car I’ve had. Five-speed, ran great, never had a problem. Also picked up…

    ’85 F150: $500 from the PiPress Thrifties; needed a new starter, but ran GREAT for me. Unloaded it the year I was out of work; I miss it terribly.

    ’01 Taurus: I haven’t treated it well, but it’s been OK. Just replaced alternator. And I hated power windows even BEFORE the motors on mine all fritzed out and became useless.

  12. You know, Roosh, you’re allowed to move that gearshift lever up from 1 to 2 or even D. Lots easier on trannies.

    First car love: 1967 Mustang, candy apple red, Keystone Klassic mag wheels with Superwide 70s. Looked like a dream but handled like Grandpa’s Ford Fairlane. Loved it, though. Sold it for college money – still not sure that was the right thing to do.

    Most dependable car: 1974 Dodge Dart with 225 slant six. Engine absolutely would not die. Front right frame rusted so badly the torsion bar suspension collapsed. Car mechanic wouldn’t touch it. Guy in a welding shop allowed as how he could weld on enough steel to get it on the road but he wouldn’t guarantee how much it would cost . . . or how much it would weigh! Drove it another 2 years canted to the northeast then sold it to a high school kid who was thrilled to get it.

    Most fun car to drive: 1967 Olds 98 with 427 Rocket V-8. Had tilt-telescope steering so when you stomped on the gas and that rocket pushed you back into the driver’s seat, the steering wheel came with you. Designed for days when gas was 15 cents a gallon – you could accelerate from 0 to 60 in seconds but you could actually see the gas gauge go down as the speedometer went up. Unbelieveably huge car – the engine compartment, passenger compartment and trunk were all equal lengths. Awesome ride.

    Today? Chrylser mini-van. Hey, it’s the most all-around useful vehicle for my urban lifestyle. Grandkids love having car seats sitting up high so they can see out the windows.


  13. Let me take a shot in the dark, nerdbert on the MGB. Electrical system?

    I’ve never met an English electrical system that was worth the price of the copper wiring used in it. Two batteries because something was always shorting out.

    But when it worked, it was a fun car to drive.

  14. Nate noted: “You know, Roosh, you’re allowed to move that gearshift lever up from 1 to 2 or even D. Lots easier on trannies.”

    Yeah, Roosh sure is hard on trannies. Wears ’em right out, he does!

  15. In this context, Angry Clown, a ‘tranny’ is something workin’ folk may need to mess with to get there car to work.
    I understand your confusion. Remember: Midwest: used trannies are found in the ‘auto parts’ section of the classifieds. In NY they’re in the personals.

  16. But when it worked, it was a fun car to drive.

    Best sticker on a car – a Mini Cooper woody station wagon: “All parts falling off this car were made with genuine British quality.”

  17. My first car was a 1976 Olds Cutlass with the 260ci V8. It was lovingly nicknamed “The Gutlesss”. Factory rated at 115 hp, I measured 0-60 at 14.5 secs once. A Ferrari F40 could do 0-150 quicker. That was a very good thing, given my interest in cars and lack of self control at that time. The tranny died somewhere around 100K after 10 months of my abuse. I then bought an 86 Escort in 92 with 78K miles that lasted me to over 160K until something burned a hole in the throat of the carb. Its life included 2.5 years and 90K miles of Domino’s delivery. I bought an 89 Escort GT in 1996 and put about 40K on it til 1999 when we bought a 98 Nissan Maxima with 38K. In 1997 my wife bought a 91 Nissan Stanza with 51K. The Stanza is now “my” car and the Maxima is “her” car. Both cars have about 183K on them now and they have been FANTASTICALLY reliable. Other than brakes, serpentine belts, tires and other wear items, the Stanza has had a radiator burst, an HVAC fan die, ball joints replaced in 06, and the sunroof leaks (so I sealed it with silicon caulk since I never used it anyway). Other than that, nothing major has failed. The clutch died at 85K, but it was mushy when we got it at 51K. The Maxima has had a few more things fail on it. An O2 sensor failed @ 110K but was replaced for free under recall. The water pump failed about 170K spring of 07, and a fuel injector failed this past summer. It was one of the rear ones and the mechanic suggested I bite the bullet and replace all 3 ot the rear ones at the same time since to replace one or three required 3 hours of labor to pull the intake manifold. The Stanza’s OEM exhaust also rusted out in 07 (16 years!) and the Maxima’s rusted out in August. The Stanza’s CV joints/driveshafts started clicking in 06, and the Maxima’s last year. We haven’t replaced those on either car yet, but will probably do the Maxima’s CV’s and exhaust before the Xmas road trip this year. Neither car has ever had any problems with A/C, electrics, short block, steering, or drivetrain (besides driveshafts). The Stanza’s A/C doesn’t engage when it’s below 40, but it still blew plenty cold air this past summer. Both engines also have timing chains instead of belts so that is $600 each every 100K I don’t have to worry about. Unfortunately, Nissan’s initial and long term quality has slipped the past several years.

    I have a friend who worked at an automotive part supply distributor for 1.5 years a couple years ago. They handled the big 3, a bit of Honda and a bit of some other Japanese company (maybe Mitsu). He said that 40% of their volume was JUST GM FUEL SYSTEM parts. Sure, the 300C, Malibu, Lucerne, Aura and so on are great cars initially. I buy used (beaters in my 20s, lease returns in my 30s) and drive them into the ground. I couldn’t care less about resale value, but long term reliability is 2nd priority behind “enjoyable to drive” in my book. 5 year reliability of the big 3 is FAR below Honda, Toyota, some Mazdas and Subarus. Chrysler’s are stereotyped for the transmission taking a shit at 100K miles for a reason. The only way I’d buy a GM is if I were to lease one and never drive it out of warranty. And like Dave Ramsey says, Lease rhymes with Fleece.

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