Automotive Life Upheaval

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I replaced my car again. For a “car guy” like me, that’s a major life upheaval. It seems like I just did this yesterday, but it was actually March 2012 that I pulled an old-not-classic-but-rather-just-used green Thunderbird into my driveway, and was insanely stoked to have it.

Well, it wasn’t yesterday, but it was last week that I took the Thunderbird for its last drive, and came home with a ginormous, silver Mercury.

So as an aforementioned “car guy,” it is a time of reflection and introspection and what-not for me. A time to remember all of the cars I’ve had since I started driving, the good, the bad and the ugly…and the few that combined two of those traits, usually bad and ugly.

So…the Thunderbird. The outgoing champion. Nah, that’s too much…the tired horse is closer to the truth. It was nice when we bought it – 79,000 miles, shiny, and it didn’t drive as much as fly down the road at low altitude. I’ll tell ya, I was excited. I’ve liked that style of Thunderbird since they were new. When they came out, I was 20-something years old, and a janitor at a Ford dealership. I sat in a brand-new, supercharged Thunderbird Super Coupe in 1989 or so, and swore that it was my dream car, and I was going to own one some day.

T-Bird Right Front Quarter

The one I bought in 2012 wasn’t the supercharged car – the fullness of time has proven that the supercharged V-6 in them was a pressurized grenade waiting to detonate. I had one with a 200 horsepower V8, and it could move out with a fair piece of authority. The kids declared it “the coolest car ever,” and “the fastest car ever,” and “I want some mac and cheese.”

The problems started a couple of months after buying the car. First, the tires were worn through from suspension bushings that let the wheels push out and wear the inside edge. The new tires never, ever seemed to be properly balanced, and the car shook at anything over 55mph for pretty much the entire time I drove it.

Then the odometer broke. And the power antenna broke. And first one window motor broke, then the other. And the suspension started clunking when I went over bumps…or turned the steering wheel fully to the left. Then I pushed the rear defrost button into the dash when I turned it on…and I destroyed the heck out of the dashboard when I pulled it apart to fix it.

But it wasn’t over. It ate a ball joint in the front suspension. It chewed up the front brakes and wore out the rear brakes. Then after I replaced the brakes, it warped ‘em. And the radiator fan died in downtown Tampa. Then the radiator started to leak and needed replaced. And after that it developed a transmission drip that I could never actually fix…so I took to topping off the transmission fluid every week when I filled the gas tank.

And little interior pieces would just fall off. So would larger underbody pieces, like air dams and stuff.

And the cassette deck would only play through the right side speakers, though the radio played through them all.

Oh, and the headliner was rotting and flapping in the breeze, from water leaks around the windows.

And the air conditioning didn’t work. In Florida.

Somewhere in there I told my wife that it was going to need a lot of work in the near future, and I started idly looking on the internet for a replacement. Kinda hypothetically, if you know what I mean.

Then last week, Monday and Tuesday, my wife had to drive my Thunderbird to work. After Monday she reported, “Your car’s broken – the wheels are going to fall off it, aren’t they? Why don’t you replace it?” And since it was my wife’s idea, I agreed heartily.

Monday night I lined up a car loan. Tuesday I contacted dealerships, and Tuesday night I drove to one to look at a car. And, I traded in my 120,000 mile, 19-year-old, crusty, shaky, floppy, clunky Thunderbird on a 10-year-old, silver Mercury Grand Marquis…with only one owner in its history, and only 27,000 miles on its odometer. I talked the dealership down a little on the price, and they gave me more than my T-bird was worth on trade, and I drove home in a cream-puff, time-capsule, super-clean grandpa car.

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I am over the moon with my new 10-year-old car. It drives like it’s brand new. It’s shiny. It’s nice. I like these full-sized Fords and Mercuries. They can carry my entire family of six, they are durable, and comfortable and relatively powerful. I owned an old one a few years ago, and they really haven’t changed all that much since the 1980’s.

While the current crop of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans are all the rage, I see that they’re made with less quality and more toys, to appeal to my IT-nerd contemporaries who value Bluetooth and navigation, but could care less what kind of motor is in the car. The big Fords, though, are made to appeal to my parents and grandparents, who value durability, longevity and quality. In fact, my grandpa did have one when he passed away in 1997.

I’ll admit, a 2004 Mercury has very few toys – the CD player is about it. There’s no navigation, or backup beeper, or trip computer. The only steering wheel controls are the horn and the cruise – contrasted with a Camry I rented last year that felt like it had a complete Xbox controller on the steering wheel, and had a camera for backing up, and a touchscreen to run the radio and stuff. I’m fine without that stuff. I like driving too much to try to play video games with the air conditioning while I’m on the road.

There are things I really liked about the Thunderbird. I liked the way it looked, I really did. I liked the power, and the way it handled; its cornering was hand-and-fist better than the Mercury, even with most of the suspension pieces worn out. I liked the low-slung seating.   But there are things I won’t miss at all. The extra 100,000 miles it had. The clunking, the shaking, the broken AC…in Florida. The dripping, the constant need to fix something on it.

So, for a “car guy” like me, this is like opening a new chapter in my life. The chapter where I have a large, silver missile of a grandpa car.

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