Every once in a while, I find myself wondering about my next car. Do I need a new car? No. I love my car, and there is every indication that it will last me another 150,000 miles. But if not now, then someday… I will need a new car. And it’s not a small decision. I can’t tell you how much thought went into the one I have now. Like any red-blooded American male, I’ve had desires for various “dream cars” over the years. These include:
- 1987 Buick Grand National “GNX”
This was probably my longest-running dream car. The Grand National was a special edition of the Buick Regal for a few years in the mid 80’s (the exact same years The Smiths were together, as it happens). A luxury car’s body, but with high performance. Only came in black. Darth Vader in car form. The final year, 1987, saw a further upgrade to the already menacing Grand National package. There were just 547 of these “GNX” models, upgraded by McLaren. It was the fastest production car in the U.S. that year. Faster than the Corvette! 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. And all while looking scary as hell. When it finally came time for me to buy my first “real” car after getting my first “real” job, the GNX — rare as it was — was still in my price range. But by that time, I’d grown up a bit. And the not-so-modern interior wasn’t wowing me anymore. I ultimately passed on the chance to own one. I’m not really sure I regret it either, but damn they’re fun to look at!
- 1971 Plymouth Barracuda
As I got more into the subject, I eventually discovered the golden era of American muscle cars. There are many in this category to admire, and in the Mopar family specifically. They had the performance but also the style. The Roadrunner, the Super Bee, the Charger and Challenger. Plus who else was releasing cars in stock colors like hot pink? I eventually got my heart set on a lime green ‘Cuda, but for the same reasons I mentioned with the GNX, it just never happened.
- 1957 Ford Ranchero
As much as I love old cars, I am also very lazy. The idea of owning a beautiful and iconic vehicle is trumped by the impracticality of maintaining it in modern urban life. As a second car, maybe. And then I also don’t know much about doing it myself, so then what — hire someone to maintain it? That wouldn’t be very greaser of me. In the realm of what you might call “classic” cars, the Ranchero has always seemed like the most “me.” Don’t get me wrong, there are countless cars of all makes and models in that era that I would die to own. But the Ranchero is the one that speaks to me most. It’s got unusual lines and trim. It fits the time, but it’s definitely unique even among those classics. So I’ll go ahead and take one in two-tone turquoise and white. Please and thank you!
- Monster Truck (unspecified)
When I was in high school, I badly wanted a monster truck, and almost got one a couple of times. I would have been happy with an older Chevy Stepside pickup, or a Scout. Or even a lift kit on my Chrysler New Yorker would have done me just fine. As long as it had big, ridiculous swamper tires. It’s probably a good thing I never followed through with that. Hell, those tires alone are like $200+ a piece. And imagine if you had a blowout on the freeway while up on those things. Not to mention whatever it might say about me psychologically to drive something like that.
- Big Rig (unspecified)
Then for a while in college, I thought about how funny it would be to drive a big old diesel big rig to school every day, but with nothing in tow. It would be hilarious to me to be known as the guy who drove that totally impractical vehicle everywhere. But not so hilarious that I’d ever actually do it.
- 1959 Cadillac Hearse
As an adult, the totally impractical car I’ve often considered has been a classic Hearse. I just like the idea of pulling up to gigs in one, and pulling all my gear from the back of it. It’s not like I’m the first person to think this is cool or anything… there are whole car clubs dedicated to the Hearse. And in fact it is from those clubs that I’ve learned just how impractical it really is. My current care is huge and hard to park at about 18′. Hearses tend to be more like 23′, and require a commercial drivers license to operate. And because of their increased size, a lot of the parts like brakes, etc. are commercial grade… and are rare and expensive. And then there’s the obvious issue of how many corpses have been through that car. I understand a premium is charged for Hearses that have had very little… uh, professional usage. I don’t know if I’d want to drive one that had ever been used that way! And that tells me I’m probably not the kind of person who should be driving one.
- 1998 – 2002 Lincoln Town Car
My final dream car was a black Town Car within a very specific range of years. In my mind I’d pictured a plush, blood red interior (which they do not come with). Something that evoked some kind of Victorian carriage… and maybe Dracula. It was this car, minus that red interior, that I eventually came to own. So hey, I’ve had at least one of my dream cars. And the most practical one at that.
I truly cannot say enough nice things about my Town Car. There are lots of cool rides out there, but my personality is so wrapped up in the big black Town Car. It says so much about me. I don’t know if I’m ready to let that go. Being both ominous as well as totally anonymous in a city filled with identical black limos. A certain authority and mystery that comes with this particular model and color. I’m ignored by cops. Practically invisible. Thieves must assume its an off-duty livery vehicle and unlikely to contain anything of value, so it has never been broken into. Of course, it also means I’m constantly being flagged down by drunks wanting a ride 2am, a problem unique to my car. But because of that livery tie-in, I am fortunate to have found a repair shop that specializes in Town Cars only, catering to the areas many, many limo drivers. A whole (huge) shop dedicated to my model. What other car can say that?
Come to think of it though, all of that is stuff I hadn’t anticipated. It was all bonus. So why did I actually choose this car? When I finally had a “real” job and could afford a real car, I looked very seriously at what was on the market, but it was clear this was the only choice for me in terms of new cars offered in those days. It was the first car that was really nice when I got it, so I was motivated to keep it nice. Nearly 10 years now. Top quality window tinting. Upgraded stereo. Kept it clean and well-maintained. I will miss it someday when it’s gone. I guess if I’m being honest, I was a bit enamored with the black Town Car as the quintessential hitman / mafia / g-man vehicle. The kind of car you don’t want to see coming. The kind of car where you might be asked to get in the back… the way back (i.e. the trunk). And the Town Car has what you might call a “three-body trunk.” You know how trunks these days have a little pull tag to release the latch in case you get stuck inside? I used to joke that the first modification I made to the car was to snip that right off. Because if you find yourself in my trunk, you’re there for a reason. (Have you ever looked at the icon on those pull tags? It pretty much says it all.) But most of all, I can’t describe the feeling of getting behind the wheel of my car, especially after a plane trip where I’ve spent a week in a rental… like floating on a soft couch rather than riding in a simple car. It’s unlike anything else I’ve been in. Those of you who’ve ridden with me can attest. The buttery smooth power steering that requires almost no effort, you could just blow on it to move it. Turning it feels like you’re navigating a ocean liner. I grew up on hand-me-down beat up luxury cars, and when it came time to pick one of my own, what was I gonna do? I chose luxury over performance and have never regretted it. A vision of terror and salvation all at once… a shining and steaming machine, a slick black carriage emerging from the silent gray abyss of a cold and foggy San Francisco night. How could I ever give that up?
On August 29th of last year, the final Town Car rolled off the assembly line, discontinued after all these years. This despite it winning the hilarious and bizarre Rental Car Olympics (where we learned that it may be the fastest car made… when it comes to driving in reverse). I just can’t see myself ever getting rid of mine. Maybe I’ll keep it forever as a hobby, to restore someday even after I have another car to replace it as my main vehicle?
OK, so how about a more realistic list of cars I’d consider when Town Car is some day laid to rest? Modern cars have some really cool stuff, you know. Luxury cars often get cutting edge features first, but these days my Town Car’s bells and whistles are standard on nearly everything on the market. I want some new stuff. I was in a friend’s car recently and it had a camera on the rear so you could see if you were about to run into anything while backing up… plus it overlaid dotted lines to show where your reverse path will take you based on the current orientation of the steering wheel. So you could see the exact angle you needed to back out of a tight spot. How cool is that? So let us consider:
- Chevy HHR Panel
Now I fully realize that virtually no one gets what I see in these things, but I am really drawn to these little guys. The panel version only, though. It’s little and practical, plus it looks like a cross between a delivery truck and a PT Cruiser. And they’re cheap too! Only problem is they were discontinued after 2011. Well hell, I guess they’ll be even cheaper used!
- Dodge Challenger
The modern Challengers are amazing looking beasts. With Mopar’s history of innovative and retro cars like the PT Cruiser and the Prowler, leave it to them to reintroduce a 70’s muscle car that actually still looks like a 70’s muscle car. I applaud what they’ve done with this, and the only reason I could see not to snatch one up right away is the fact that I’d never be able to transport my guitar equipment in it for shows! Otherwise, I’d be all over this thing.
- Electric Car (unspecified)
The idea is that these are the cars of the future, and my next auto purchase ought to be ready for what’s next. I like what Tesla is doing, but all other electrics and hybrids are kinda boring. If they made an electric Town Car, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because I’d already own one. Or even more ideally, I’d love to convert a classic (how about that ’57 Ranchero?) to an electric, with modern suspension, brakes, etc.? I know that can be done (doesn’t Neil Young do it?), but it’s probably prohibitively expensive at the moment. But someday…
- Smart Car / Mini Cooper
On the same wavelength as an electric car would be something tiny and infinitely parkable in San Francisco. Enter the Smart Car and/or Mini Cooper. Ultra practical and — at least in the Cooper’s case — potentially even cool lookin’. But again, where would put my guitar gear? If I’m gonna go this small, I might as well get that motorcycle I was talking about.
- Ford Mustang
Now hold on just a moment. Let me preface by saying that in general I find Mustangs very uncomfortable to drive. The complete opposite of a smooth Town Car. However, given their current 70’s styling, all the cool internal lighting features and color changing stuff they can do, and most importantly the fact that they are the perfect convertible Maui car for when I move there eventually, I can see myself in one. On the island though.
And remember too that I can always make any of these cars my own by adding some of those special touches. Now when I was much younger, I dreamt about “cool” stuff like adding neon lights under my car, an obnoxiously loud subwoofer, or those kits to make flames shoot out of your exhaust pipe(s). I’d like to say I’ve grown out of that stuff, but really my tastes have just changed some. I still like obnoxious things. I’d like to install black lights in the car’s cabin just ‘cos I think they’re sexy. I’d love to set up a CB radio to talk to truckers while on road trips but that is also connected to a hidden PA so I can scream at jaywalkers. I used to want to install a big rig truck horn just because I thought it would be funny and unexpected. Nowadays, people install train horns, and even cruise ship horns. Go look on YouTube and see. I know there are a lot of reasons why that is a very bad idea. But I still want to do it. I mean imagine unleashing that on one of those urban brazen jaywalkers that look you in the eye challengingly even as they fuck you out of your right of way. Makes me giddy to think of it. I wouldn’t mind a crosshair hood ornament for pedestrians. I remember when I was more into funk, I wanted to cover my car with mirrors like a giant disco ball, where all you’d see is blinding light as I rolled down the street, but I don’t guess that would be legal. I heard the Loco Gringos had a Cadillac Hearse with — among many other decorations — a tequila bottle mohawk. If I were a bigger drinker, I could go for that. I also used to think it would be cool to have a replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel airbrushed on my car’s own ceiling, maybe so that the hands of Michelangelo’s God and Adam touched at the dome light. Yeah, I was a weird kid.
A small digression… Prior to the Town Car, I used to drive a burgundy 1990 Chrysler Le Baron convertible. The Mopar family isn’t exactly known for reliability. My previous cars (an inherited Fifth Avenue, then a turbo-charged New Yorker) were both Chryslers and did not last long. But good old Le Baron managed exactly 155,432 miles before I parked him for good. I chose to donate him to PETA through a third party car donation program. That was when the troubles began. The donation company came with a tow truck, but decided first to try to start Le Baron. He would not start. Then they took a full jump box to charge him to get him to start… but the moment they touched it to Le Baron, it was immediately drained and rendered useless, something the tow truck driver had never seen. They eventually got it onto the truck. I later heard that they managed to lose the pink slip, which I had 100% for sure given them. Could be coincidence, but I prefer to think that these events were examples of Le Baron’s curse. The final proof? Well, I took my plates off Le Baron, for use on my next car. They were then registered to that new car. Years later, I found out from the city of San Francisco that there was a recent parking ticket attributed to my license plate number, in a neighborhood I never go to. In researching the ticket, it was attributed to a burgundy two-door sedan. So to recap… I donate a burgundy two-door sedan in the East Bay, physically removing and re-registering the plates to a black four-door. Years later in SF, I am informed I received a ticket on a date and place I was not at, attributed to my same (and still current) license plate number, matching my old car’s description. Could the DMV mistakenly have re-issued my plate number to my old (and I guess refurbished?) Le Baron such that there are two cars on the road with the same plates? And that they’d get (and not pay) a parking ticket in the city I just so happen to have moved to? It all seems impossible. I maintain it was… the ghost of Le Baron!!!
Incidentally, I feel like I could and should write some memories of my first three cars, which are flooding back to me even as I type this. Perhaps that’ll come in the future. At that time, you’ll read about how we used to pick up roadside junk or even race the unsuspecting using passing gear. The massive disco mirror ball I had hanging from the rear view. Or how the New Yorker could talk (his voice was immortalized in the song “Malfunction“). Or how Le Baron’s passenger door fell off, while its ragged rag top admitted more spiders than you would believe… which I had strategies to address (e.g. a tee-ball bat, a spray bottle of “Spider-B-Gone,” etc.), and only once nearly crashed the car when startled by an eight-legged hellion. Ah, but another time.
The completely unrelated quote of the week comes from the archives… sometime last year, I think.
Friend: “Ryan Reynolds was just named People’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ this year. What do you think my chances are of being next year’s sexiest man alive?”
Me: “I dunno dude. You’d have to kill, like, a lot of people.”
Listening to: The Cramps – “File Under Sacred Music: Early Singles 1978-1981“