This post is one in a series based on a format at another website; like music albums, I can measure periods in my adult life with the cars I’ve driven.
By about 1998 or so, my trusty CRX was getting long in the tooth. It was beginning to blow lots of oil through the tailpipe, to the point where whenever I got on the gas I left blue haze in my wake. The A/C was inoperable, and it began to overheat in traffic, which made it unusable in the city (which was where I lived at the time). I was dealing with two vehicles that needed constant mechanical attention: I had a ’78 Scout that started up and ran whenever I asked it to, but was really only meant as a semi-occasional driver and not a full-time commuter (14mpg and a 4-speed stick in Beltway traffic kind of sucks). Something had to give.
By chance, my mother was shopping for a new vehicle, and we came up with a plan. She was planning on trading in her Taurus for a new Subaru, but knew I was looking, and graciously offered it to me.
She had an LX model with a 3.0L V6, which was a nice upgrade from my wheezy but thrifty 1.3L 4-banger. This was the second generation, the one that sold like hotcakes before they redesigned it with the fishbowl windows. As the luxury model, it came with electric windows and locks. It had a bench seat (technically a split 60/40 with armrests, but a bench seat). It was a dull shade of gray with a gray interior, which made it invisible to the naked eye, but it was easy to park in the city and got decent gas mileage. Sadly, it was a column-shift automatic.
I sold the CRX to a guy who had plans to autocross it and took delivery of the Taurus, driving it home from Upstate New York in the fall. Over the next five years, it served me (and my future wife) well, if not anonymously. Even though it was almost double the curb weight of the Honda, it would move when I got on the gas. It was a decent highway cruiser, but lacked any kind of lumbar support for drives over 2 hours in length. The interior fittings were typical of that era: Ford’s idiot-sized buttons were laughably larger than the Honda controls I was used to. And even though it was a 4-door, I found that it was surprisingly less accommodating than the CRX’s hatchback for things like bikes, oversized furniture, or drywall. Having a trunk was nice, though, even though there was no passthrough.
The year I bought the car, I’d been laid off from my job, so I set about finding a new one and keeping busy. I rehabbed the bathroom in my rowhome, which required several loads of drywall. I picked up an inexpensive crossbar rack from somewhere and became skilled at driving sheets of plywood home strapped to the roof. Then I heard about a warehouse close by in my neighborhood that was being knocked down. I stopped over and asked if I could reclaim some of the brick they were hauling away, and they let me take as much as I wanted. I made several trips with the trunk loaded down to the alley behind my house where I could drop it off. This saved me a lot of money on raw materials but blew out both rear shocks. I never replaced them.
I had few problems with it in the first few years, but as it reached the 10-year-mark, expensive things started breaking down. It began to have overheating issues, something I thought I’d sold off with the CRX, that manifested the exact same way: Sitting in traffic, the temp gauge would begin to creep upward, then suddenly zoom into the redline. My mechanic looked things over but found nothing wrong with the cooling system; even after leaving the car running by itself for an hour, he couldn’t replicate the issue. This seemed to be an issue with the Vulcan V6.
I continued to have inconsistent, nagging problems with overheating, negating use of the A/C, and then the transmission began slipping. It would suddenly clunk out of gear completely, usually as I was cornering at speed, which got tricky when I was on the Beltway. Or, it just plain refused to shift upwards out of second, leaving me screaming at 5,000RPM in the slow lane trying to make it to the next offramp.
The last straw came as I was driving to pick up the catering for our rehearsal dinner. At this point the Scout was out of commission–the exhaust was missing behind the headers–so the Tortoise it was. With delicious barbecue for 30 loaded in the trunk, I started back to the house but got bogged down in Beltway traffic, and the temp gauge started climbing. I pulled over to the shoulder and let it cool down for a half an hour, and then continued down the road–for a half a mile. This on-again, off-again voyage continued for three more hours until I was able to get it home, where I parked it, unloaded it, and probably kicked it.
After we returned from our honeymoon, I spied a For Sale sign on a car in our neighborhood, and gave the owner a call. Once that deal was done, I called up and donated the Tortoise to our local NPR station for a tax writeoff.