The Ugliest Car in the World

 

Ricochet’s Group Writing topic for this month is cars, and I’ve noticed many people fit into one of two molds: either they love cars, or they hate cars. I’m an exemplar of a third type when it comes to a person’s relationship with horseless carriages. Sometimes I love them, and sometimes I hate them.

I love them when they’re cheap, they get great gas mileage, they’re useful, and they never break down. I hate them when they’re expensive, they’re gas hogs, they don’t do what I need them to, and they’re always in the shop.

Like that 1981 Dodge Aries whose drive shaft fell off in the middle of the road on the “death strip” portion of Route 8 north of Pittsburgh in about 1984. Hated that car. Loved the Gerber baby food salesman who rescued me, gave me a ride to a motel, paid for my telephone call, and stayed with me until the AAA showed up. I think it’s the last time I got into a car with a strange man. (In the sense of a man who is a stranger, I mean. Not the other sort.) His car was full of strained spinach and puréed pears, for heaven’s sake. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing that already hadn’t, as it turned out. Awful car. Nice man.

Then there’s the first car I ever remember. Granny’s grey 1947 Rover. License plate GOV 141. Suicide doors, beautiful blue leather upholstery and polished walnut trim. She was an economy model, as the British auto industry was just getting on its feet again after WWII, but she was lovely and similar to the one pictured here.

On a cold morning, or when she was feeling a bit recalcitrant, you had to start her with a crank handle. (No “so, you’ve met my old girlfriend” comments, please.) She had mechanical turn signals recessed in the column between the front and back doors, which flicked “up and out” when you pulled the knob on the dashboard, and a lovely squishy armrest which pulled down to divide the back seat in two (it was my favorite place to sit, because I was up high and could actually see out the windows).

One day, I was driving around the old market town of Bewdley with Granny–think, Miss Marple, in her Margaret Rutherford incarnation–when a young member of the local Constabulary pulled her over to the side of the road and told she was driving too fast. “I do beg your pardon, Constable,” Granny said, smiling winsomely up at him all the while, “I didn’t think the old girl would do 40 miles an hour.”

“Well, Madam,” he replied, just as jovially. “Perhaps I could give you a certificate attesting to the fact, in case you ever decide to sell her.” Then he wrote up a ticket.

Loved that car. And my granny.

Or there’s the 1957 or so green Ford Zephyr Zodiac whose driver-side door had fallen off. When I was tiny, I used to sit between Mum and Dad, on the front bench seat (this was before seat belts, child car seats, or rules about where kids were allowed to sit), with a thick piece of rope stretched in front of us, threaded through the armrests on the passenger and driver sides, pulled tight, and tied in an enormous knot in the middle.

It was always a fun ride, during which I eagerly waited to see which happened first: whether one of the armrests would pop off due to the strain, or if the knot would come undone. In either case, occasionally, the door would suddenly disengage, fly through the air, and land in the middle of the road with a huge crash. Of course, this was in Nigeria, so no-one cared all that much. (In fact, compared to some of the other vehicles on the road, our car was in almost mint condition.)

Loved that one, too. Or at least the excitement and anticipation that attended any trip we took in it.

But I don’t really want to write about any of those cars. The car I want to write about is, perhaps, the only perfect car we’ve ever owned. A cheap car that sipped small amounts of gas, did everything we ever asked of it, and never broke down.

The ugliest car in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . .

The 1978 Datsun F10 Sportwagon!

Here’s how it measured up, according to my specifications:

Price: It was cheap. I can’t remember how cheap, but I know it was cheap, otherwise we could never have afforded it. (At the time, we were quite penurious, and lived in a dingy, five-room house, right on top of the exhaust vents for the Liberty Tunnels, the main connecting thoroughfare between downtown Pittsburgh and the South Hills. Every so often the cops would show up to quell a near-riot at the house across the street, where, for example, the man of the house had locked himself in the bathroom, while his lady love stood at the top of the stairs like a circus performer, with a quiver full of sharp knives, flinging them exuberantly and accurately, one-at-a-time at the door, where each one buried itself about an inch deep. Crowds would gather, supporting one side or the other, and eventually some drunken sot, usually female, would throw a punch and a melee would start. Our mortgage payment was $71.97 a month, not because we had a 500-year mortgage, but because we only paid $7,200 for the house. And no wonder.)

Efficiency: In terms of fuel efficiency, the F10 was a marvel, coming in at around 40 miles to the gallon on the highway, and almost 30 around the city. With the average price per gallon of (leaded) gasoline hovering around 65 cents at the time, you could go a long way (a little over 400 miles) for a small amount — about seven dollars, to fill up the 10.8 gallon fuel tank.

But the F10 was efficient in other ways as well. It was an early front-wheel drive model, and it held the road well. It was good in snow and we never got stuck at the bottom of our considerable hill, even in the worst of weather (it is true that we sometimes had to go up in reverse, though). It never made a fuss, no matter what we did, and when things like brake pads, and even the clutch plate, needed to be replaced, it was a relatively simple job and something we could do ourselves, so it was easy and cheap to fix.

Versatility: We do not go easy on our vehicles. And this was particularly true of the F10. We were living in a crummy little house that needed a lot of work, and for a few years it was the only vehicle we owned. Although we never carried sheep or goats around in the back of it, as we’re prone to do now, we probably had every other imaginable thing, or substance, inside it at one point or another. But its most useful feature was its roof.

You may have noticed that it didn’t come with a roof rack. We didn’t care. 4×8 sheets of drywall? No problem. Strap them to the roof. 3/4-inch plywood? Strap it to the roof. Enough dimensional, pressure-treated lumber for a six-foot-wide, 20-foot-long, second-story deck (complete with posts, railings, and steps)? Strap it to the roof (yes, this did take more than one trip). Medium-size appliances? On the roof. Siding? On the roof. Mattresses? On the roof. Never a murmur of complaint. A bit of a dent, or perhaps more of an actual sag, over time, but nothing a few good thumps with a fist from the inside wouldn’t fix, at least for long enough to make it presentable for inspection. We probably carried 90 percent of whatever ended up in, or on, the house during the eight years we lived there, in, or on, that car.

And then there were the family vacations.

In 1979, Mr. She’s three children were 14, 12 and 10 years old. We were poor. We had one tiny two-door car which weighed less than a ton soaking wet, and came with a puny 1400cc, 80HP engine.

So, we thought, let’s buy a trailer and tow it around. Go camping with the kids. Sure! Why not?

We consulted the local Green Sheet (think Craigs List on 8.5×11 paper, cheaply produced, and freely available at most supermarkets and gas stations, in racks at the checkout). And we found, for the princely sum of $300, a (very) used Ted Williams tent camper-trailer, probably dating from the late 1950s.

We went to U-Haul, and asked them for their tiniest hitch. They laughed at us, but they installed it. And we proudly towed our newest possession home. And tried it out on a couple of weekend excursions.

In 1980, Mr. She and his three children took one of the most memorable (in so many ways) vacations of their lives, a six-week trip out West in the F10 and the Ted Williams camper. (I’d just started work as the receptionist at a small law firm, had no vacation time and couldn’t go. My job was to wire them small amounts of money periodically, whenever they ran out.)

The little F10 took it all in stride with never a peep.

The following year, it was New England and Maritime Canada. I did get to go on some of that trip, flying up to Boston, halfway through, for the second half of it. So, at that point we had two (large) adults in the front, and three still-growing children (16, 14, and 12) in the very cramped back seat, and the trailer, and all our stuff. Still, we made it through. (That was the year I learned to master a stick shift in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Mr. She had gone off into the hills with the boys to hike from hut to hut for a few days, and my stepdaughter and I were left to our own devices, with an automobile I didn’t know how to drive.)

If I were to dare to utter a criticism of the perfect car, it would be that its gearbox wasn’t especially smooth, but we both survived, in no small part due to the large number of very nice men who let me drift the F10 backwards onto the bumpers of their vehicles so that I could manage the brake, the clutch, the gear shift and the accelerator in the proper sequence and with the proper timing to get the infernal thing going on a hill.

Reliability: Honestly, I don’t remember a single problem with this car, other than a few flat tires (not its fault), and the standard swapping out of “consumables” such as brake pads, various filters, a new battery, and so on, when the time was right. The body of it rusted out prematurely, but that was more a hazard of living in Pittsburgh, a city of hills, and one which uses vast quantities of salt in the winter, than it was a defect in the car. (Undercoatings and paint must have improved significantly over the past 40 years, because, in general, that is much less of a problem today, although the Western PA roads are certainly no better now than they were then.)


That about wraps up my paean to “the little car that could.” Intrepid and stout of heart. Indefatigable. Unflinching. Dependable. There’s never been another one quite like it.

In 1984, we traded in what was left of it on a larger and much more comfortable vehicle, a Nissan Sentra Wagon. That one got totaled twice (rear-ended one time, and a tree fell on it the other). In both cases, we had it cobbled back together and happily drove it until about 1998 when it started to disintegrate to such an extent that even we were ashamed to be seen in it. Somewhere in the same decade we also had a Ford Festiva (another excellent, cheap, uncomfortable little car), a small Ranger pickup, and a second-hand Chevy we bought as my stepdaughter’s first car, fondly known in the family as the Dissmobile, because no one who ever saw it gave it any respect at all.

At some point, I began to notice that my ill-assorted and extremely well-used vehicles were serving as a source of considerable amusement, not only in the parking lot at the large urban hospital where I worked in the late 1980s, but also in the one at the local community hospital just up the road from where we live now, where I started work in 1990. My car always stood out: It was either the dirtiest, or the most dented, or the rustiest, or the one with the fender whose color didn’t match the rest of it, or the one trailing the most bits of hay or mud up the road. Even out here in the sticks, my vehicle was memorable.

Finally it came to pass, in about 2003, that we bought our first new car in years, a dark green Ford Escape. The next morning, I drove it to the hospital and parked in my usual spot.

When I left work at the end of that day, I noticed that the IT building seemed to have emptied out, and as I exited the back door to walk to my car, I saw why. Almost the entire department was encircling my brand new car, holding helium balloons and eating slices of cake. They offered me one.

They were cheering.

As I drove away on that sunny afternoon, I felt like the Queen of England.

Published in Group Writing
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  1. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Love it!

    My best friend grew up quite poor, and the only “nice” vehicles his family ever got were their work trucks (father was a siding contractor).  Their most memorable car was the Oldsmobubble, an early 80s sedan cobbled together from bits of others.  Looked fine on the driver’s side, but when you rounded to the passenger side… well, it wasn’t pretty.  No 2 body panels matched.  But it ran, and that’s what mattered, and it was an improvement over their 4th-hand AMC Hornet.

    My wife’s family also was often skint and drove cars donated or cast off by members of their church.  The Beast, Beast II, and other assorted contraptions.  My father in law did all the work he could himself, only paying others to do whatever was needed to eek them through Pennsylvania’s horrid inspection laws.

    • #1
  2. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    She: Like that 1981 Dodge Aries whose drive shaft fell off in the middle of the road on the “death strip” portion of Route 8 North of Pittsburgh in about 1984. Hated that car.

    My first car purchase was also a 1981 Aries wagon, but the experience was much better. Being a brand new design, I purchase it in June 1981, near the end of the model year. The only problem in 1995 after 140,000+ miles was getting the 4 speed manual into reverse. The car was light enough to manually push backwards on level terrain hard surfaces. Gave the car away in 1995 after purchasing a used 1992 Plymouth Voyager mini van. The 5 speed manual Voyager is still running, which would win the Ugliest Van Award for rust.

    • #2
  3. She Member
    She
    @She

    skipsul (View Comment):
    Love it!

    My best friend grew up quite poor, and the only “nice” vehicles his family ever got were their work trucks (father was a siding contractor). Their most memorable car was the Oldsmobubble, an early 80s sedan cobbled together from bits of others. Looked fine on the driver’s side, but when you rounded to the passenger side… well, it wasn’t pretty. No 2 body panels matched. But it ran, and that’s what mattered, and it was an improvement over their 4th-hand AMC Hornet.

    My wife’s family also was often skint and drove cars donated or cast off by members of their church. The Beast, Beast II, and other assorted contraptions. My father in law did all the work he could himself, only paying others to do whatever was needed to eek them through Pennsylvania’s horrid inspection laws.

    All of those sound like cars I’d be proud to drive!

    • #3
  4. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    She: Or there’s the 1957 or so green Ford Zephyr Zodiac whose driver-side door had fallen off. When I was tiny, I used to sit between Mum and Dad, on the front bench seat (this was before seat belts, child car seats or rules about where kids were allowed to sit), with a thick piece of rope stretched in front of us, threaded through the armrests on the passenger and driver sides, pulled tight, and tied in an enormous knot in the middle. It was always a fun ride, during which I eagerly waited to see which happened first: whether one of the armrests would pop off due to the strain, or if the knot would come undone. In either case, occasionally, the door would suddenly disengage, fly through the air, and land in the middle of the road with a huge crash. Of course, this was Nigeria, so no-one cared all that much. (In fact, compared to some of the other vehicles on the road, our car was in almost mint condition.)

    Would it run on palm wine? I can’t think of any other good use for it – certainly not to drink.

    • #4
  5. She Member
    She
    @She

    Hang On (View Comment):

    She: Or there’s the 1957 or so green Ford Zephyr Zodiac whose driver-side door had fallen off. When I was tiny, I used to sit between Mum and Dad, on the front bench seat (this was before seat belts, child car seats or rules about where kids were allowed to sit), with a thick piece of rope stretched in front of us, threaded through the armrests on the passenger and driver sides, pulled tight, and tied in an enormous knot in the middle. It was always a fun ride, during which I eagerly waited to see which happened first: whether one of the armrests would pop off due to the strain, or if the knot would come undone. In either case, occasionally, the door would suddenly disengage, fly through the air, and land in the middle of the road with a huge crash. Of course, this was Nigeria, so no-one cared all that much. (In fact, compared to some of the other vehicles on the road, our car was in almost mint condition.)

    Would it run on palm wine? I can’t think of any other good use for it – certainly not to drink.

    Yes, it’s foul stuff.  Haven’t thought about palm wine for a long time.  One of my favorite books, The Bafut Beagles, by Gerald Durrell, has some entertaining stories about palm wine.

    • #5
  6. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Your stories brought back memories.  In 1981 we couldn’t afford the Aries so we got the Dodge Omni instead.  “American” car with a German (VW) engine and Japanese starter motor.  The starter kept breaking teeth off the flywheel.  As we lost more teeth, there were more times that the starter wouldn’t engage.  Sort of like roulette – where she stops nobody knows.  We kept a socket wrench in the car to manually crank the engine a few degrees so the starter would catch.

    We once put a 12′ extension ladder on the roof and drove it from central NY home to north Jersey.  The car is long gone, but we still have the ladder.

    • #6
  7. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    She: The body of it rusted out prematurely, but that was more a hazard of living in Pittsburgh, a city of hills, and one which uses vast quantities of salt in the winter, than it was a defect in the car.

    I’m surprised the thing didn’t rust through to nothing. That was there biggest setback. Good engines.

    • #7
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    She (View Comment):
    Yes, it’s foul stuff. Haven’t thought about palm wine for a long time. One of my favorite books, The Bafut Beagles, by Gerald Durrell, has some entertaining stories about palm wine.

    Oh my goodness, thanks for pointing this out. Will definitely be reading this.

    I know so many people from Bamenda. Spent my first three or four months in Cameroun in Victoria. I also met the Fon from Bafut though I’m sure it was a different one. I almost went into chicken business with his son.

    • #8
  9. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    By happy (but wallet-draining) coincidence, I’m looking to buy a new vehicle now. I was about to open a conversation about how the internet has changed the buying process when I saw your post. My cousin used Vroom.com for his last purchase. There’s also Carvana. The prospect of avoiding salesmen and haggling thrills me, but something like Carmax might be the safer bet. What do y’all think?

    I’m primarily looking at used SUVs of recent years. Any recommendations? Reliability, gas mileage, and cargo space are my main concerns. My 2000 Maxima has been very reliable, but it’s not worth the cost of a new transmission now.

    That Rover is a beaut! Why no manufacturer is stuffing modern innards into the body styles of vehicles from the 1930s and ’40s is beyond me.

    I hope you saved me some cake.

    • #9
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I’m not yet over the hill, so my earliest vehicle was a 1980 Impala. We called it The Tank because it was just old enough to still have a steel bumper and a solid frame. Not that we tested its durability, but it was good to know when my brother took me joy riding before either of us had a license. And it helped when we jumped the railroad tracks Dukes-of-Hazard style on our way to school.

    The Caprice was practically identical. It was more sensible than my cousin’s 1970 Chevelle Malibu, but not as fun. If I learned nothing else from that time, I learned that it is possible to survive 100-degree heat without AC… but in that case it helps to have a sports car.

    I’m not sure if it was the Caprice or the Impala that had to have its back window resealed because I slept there as a kid on long trips. My older brother slept on the seat. My older sister slept on the floor, where my dad had constructed a panel over the hump to make it comfortable. My dad was not a patient driver. When he had to brake suddenly, which was often, my brother and I both came tumbling down onto my sister.

    We also used to ride in the open bed of my grandpa’s old Ford truck. He had a horn that could play several songs, but it was usually Dixie. Simpler times.

    Then there was the van we called The Partywagon…

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    Hang On (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    Yes, it’s foul stuff. Haven’t thought about palm wine for a long time. One of my favorite books, The Bafut Beagles, by Gerald Durrell, has some entertaining stories about palm wine.

    Oh my goodness, thanks for pointing this out. Will definitely be reading this.

    I know so many people from Bamenda. Spent my first three or four months in Cameroun in Victoria. I also met the Fon from Bafut though I’m sure it was a different one. I almost went into chicken business with his son.

    That sounds like a wonderful basis for a future post!  My younger sister was born in Mubi in the Northern Cameroons.

    • #11
  12. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    but something like Carmax might be the safer bet.

    Friends have had mixed results with Carmax.  Usually no problem, but when there is a problem you’re then dealing with the corporate office.

    • #12
  13. She Member
    She
    @She

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
     

    We also used to ride in the open bed of my grandpa’s old Ford truck. He had a horn that could play several songs, but it was usually Dixie. Simpler times.

    Then there was the van we called The Partywagon…

    Here’s my dad and his family in their “Partywagon” from 1931:

    • #13
  14. She Member
    She
    @She

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    but something like Carmax might be the safer bet.

    Friends have had mixed results with Carmax. Usually no problem, but when there is a problem you’re then dealing with the corporate office.

    I’m the wrong person to ask about this.  Here’s how it goes when I buy a car:

    She (walks into dealership):  Hello.  I’m here to buy a car.

    Car Salesman, on the order of Guy Smiley, or the Wide-Mouthed Frog:  Well, hello there little lady.  Let me show you all the great features on this new [insert name of expensive ride].

    She: Hold it.  I want the cheapest car on the lot.

    Car Salesman (thought bubble–“well, here’s an easy mark”):  Oh, I’m sure we can work out a deal.  How much would you like to spend.

    She:  Where is the cheapest car on the lot?

    Car Salesman (thought bubble–“what a [redacted]”:  Err.  Well.  There’s this one.  

    She:  Done.  Where do I sign?

    Car Salesman (desperately):  Don’t you want to see what color the upholstery is?

    She:  No.

    More or less, like that, usually . . .

    • #14
  15. Typical Anomaly Inactive
    Typical Anomaly
    @TypicalAnomaly

    I enjoyed the theme of the OP immensely: cars that are cheap, efficient and reliable.

    Although I’ve passed my peak earning years, I have never owned, nor will I likely own a new vehicle. We have had 3 Corollas in the past while–2 are mine, 1 belonging to a kid buying her first ride–and find them just grand. Grand is defined as ugly, out-of-date, rarely well-kept but indeed cheap, efficient and reliable.

    But we’ve owned lots of other used vehicles like vans, Subarus and American sedans (all also mistreated and not kept well). The one thing they share in common is that we are always the last owners. About 10 years ago I began to refer to this phenomenon as our home being a “car hospice.” That’s right, they come in, but the only way they go out is as scrap.

    We also seem to have a taste for cars that have aged a bit, like a good cheese. The newest one is a 2006.

    • #15
  16. Justin Hertog Inactive
    Justin Hertog
    @RooseveltGuck

    One of my favorite car movies is Trafic, by Jacques Tati. One of the funniest scenes in the film is this one.

    • #16
  17. She Member
    She
    @She

    Justin Hertog (View Comment):
    One of my favorite car movies is Trafic, by Jacques Tati. One of the funniest scenes in the film is this one.

    Great fun!  Never had a vehicle that clever, although during the late 1960s my family vacationed with a tent that had a “snout” that fit into and around the back opening of the family station wagon.  The back of the station wagon (consisting of the back seat area with the seat folded flat, the far back area of the car, and the tailgate, could be used as about a double-bed size bunk, and the rest of the tent (I think it was 10×10) was available for a kids sleeping area and everything else.  What I most remember about those old camping days, and even the Ted Williams camper-trailer was how very heavy, bulky, and seemingly always wet, the canvas was, as opposed to the ripstop nylon that’s used now.

    • #17
  18. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    Loved your piece, She.  Your descriptions of your various cars and your experiences with them are priceless.

    She: The body of it rusted out prematurely, but that was more a hazard of living in Pittsburgh, a city of hills, and one which uses vast quantities of salt in the winter, than it was a defect in the car.

    Ah, Pittsburgh.  City of rusted underbodies and potholes…One morning on my way to work and driving a bit too fast, I managed to get two flat tires zipping through a largish pothole.  Luckily, my neighbor happened by and helped me out. Actually, the tires were OK; I had bent the rims on both wheels.  Did you ever notice that the shortest distance between any two points in Pgh was always under construction?  (Often, it was pothole repair.)

     

    • #18
  19. She Member
    She
    @She

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    Loved your piece, She. Your descriptions of your various cars and your experiences with them are priceless.

    Thanks!

    She: The body of it rusted out prematurely, but that was more a hazard of living in Pittsburgh, a city of hills, and one which uses vast quantities of salt in the winter, than it was a defect in the car.

    Ah, Pittsburgh. City of rusted underbodies and potholes…One morning on my way to work and driving a bit too fast, I managed to get two flat tires zipping through a largish pothole. Luckily, my neighbor happened by and helped me out. Actually, the tires were OK; I had bent the rims on both wheels. Did you ever notice that the shortest distance between any two points in Pgh was always under construction? (Often, it was pothole repair.)

    Yep.  Some of the worst roads in the country.

    • #19
  20. dnewlander Coolidge
    dnewlander
    @dnewlander

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    Did you ever notice that the shortest distance between any two points in Pgh was always under construction? (Often, it was pothole repair.)

    And covered by half-inch steel plates that were super slick in any precipitation. Especially the constant drizzle we used to call “Pittsburghing”.

    By the way, @She, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ‘Sliberty Tubes called tunnels before.

    True story: a friend of mine and I drove from Colorado Springs to Pittsburgh one summer in an early 80s Oldsmobuick with a bad radiator. We had to drive across Kansas with the windows rolled down and the heater blasting to avoid overheating.

    A few months later, my friend had scraped up enough money to replace the radiator, and the only shop he could find willing to do the job was in the South Side.

    Pre-Google Maps, my friend asked for directions. The Tubes were closed for renovation, and the guy at the shop had no idea how we could get from “Ackland” to the South Side.

    We finally found a way, but it took about two hours to drive five miles.

    Pittsburgh.

    • #20
  21. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Fascinating post for both the car stories and the Pittsburgh settings. I spent a bit of time around the Liberty Tunnel Fan House as part of my job. It is a rather impressive building for the huge brick stacks. Often people have no idea what it is since it is so far above the tunnels themselves.

    Liberty Tunnel Fan House on Secane Ave.

    • #21
  22. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    She: I’m an exemplar of a third type when it comes to a person’s relationship with horseless carriages. Sometimes I love them, and sometimes I hate them.

    Apparently there’s a fourth type not mentioned:  I neither love nor hate cars.  I just want my vehicle to get me where I’m going.

    • #22
  23. She Member
    She
    @She

    dnewlander (View Comment):

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    Did you ever notice that the shortest distance between any two points in Pgh was always under construction? (Often, it was pothole repair.)

    And covered by half-inch steel plates that were super slick in any precipitation. Especially the constant drizzle we used to call “Pittsburghing”.

    By the way, @She, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ‘Sliberty Tubes called tunnels before.

    Yeah, that’s what I learned to call them too, just “Liberty Tubes,” though.  “‘Sliberty” is usually what folks call East Liberty, which is on the other side of Pittsburgh.

    They’re much more often referred to as “Liberty Tunnels” these days, for some reason, especially in the media.  Maybe for the same reason I used the word–which is that if you’re talking to non-natives about a transportation feature, the term “tube” often implies some of underground rapid transit.  There’s nothing “rapid” about the Liberty Tunnels, and hasn’t been for at least fifty years.  And as you say, one or the other, or both, is always under construction, here in PA, the “orange-barrel state.”

    True story: a friend of mine and I drove from Colorado Springs to Pittsburgh one summer in an early 80s Oldsmobuick with a bad radiator. We had to drive across Kansas with the windows rolled down and the heater blasting to avoid overheating.

    A few months later, my friend had scraped up enough money to replace the radiator, and the only shop he could find willing to do the job was in the South Side.

    That would be something on the order of “Sahside.” (Full disclosure, I’m a Brit.  But good with foreign languages.)

    Pre-Google Maps, my friend asked for directions. The Tubes were closed for renovation, and the guy at the shop had no idea how we could get from “Ackland” to the South Side.

    Maybe you weren’t saying it right . . .

    We finally found a way, but it took about two hours to drive five miles.

    I can believe this.

    Pittsburgh.

    As an alumna of Duquesne University, up there, on the Bluff, I’d be very familiar with SahSide, even had Mr. She not been born many years ago three floors above Yurasik’s Saloon, in a building which his grandfather owned at 1828 E. Carson Street.  Yurasik’s Saloon is now Piper’s Pub.  His every male relative I can think of worked at the “Jay ‘nEll” Still Mill, even Uncle Steve, who’d lost his leg in a mill accident early on, and who had an office job.  Many of them went off to war, some to the army, some to the Seabees.  Thankfully they all came back.  Mr. She’s dad, who did the dangerous welding jobs no-one else wanted to or could, was exempted from service.  There were large families, there was little money, but there was a great sense of community.  Mr. She, and his childhood schoolmates formed lifelong friendships that carry on today.

    @casey, @phcheese, any Pittsburgh stories?  Especially about cars.  Which this one was not.

    Oh, wait.  Before I’m accused of hijacking my own thread, here’s a picture of a car.  No idea what it is.  @skipsul?

    This was taken in Carrick, just outside Pittsburgh, and where one set of Mr She’s grandparents lived.  His mother and her sister are second and third from the left (warning: shameless self promotion alert.)

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  24. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    I guess this post is a sign for me to get up and go do the brake job on my Subaru Outback. Replacing the discs and the pads on the front – the right front wheel makes an awful grinding noise when I hit the brakes…

    Good car, though. 173,000 miles, and while things do tend to go wrong on a semi-regular basis, they’re mostly things I can fix myself.

     

    edit: Brakes fixed, grinding noise gone.

    …after getting the left wheel off, brake disassembled, and figuring out I didn’t have all of the pieces I needed. Rode bicycle to auto parts place, they didn’t have it, rode several more miles to another one, got parts, bought a tool I thought I needed (I didn’t), got home, finished wheel, decided to wait until it cooled down to do other wheel, finally finished at 7PM. Took for test drive with hard braking, nothing fell off, no scary noises.

    Simple.

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  25. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    @she

    here’s a picture of a car. No idea what it is.

    Looks like 1955 Plymouth to me.

    • #25
  26. Chuck Enfield Inactive
    Chuck Enfield
    @ChuckEnfield

    Thanks, She, for the great read.  I’ve always had immense respect for the people who keep beat-up old cars on the road.  From an economic perspective, it’s really the only responsible thing to do.  That said, I respect them in much the same way I respect coal miners.  I’m thankful that we we have such people, but also thankful that I’m not one of them.

    That said, my F10 was an ’86 Chevy Sprint.  I got it in ’91 with 80,000 miles on it in trade for my Remington 700 30-06.  It was my freshman year of college and I had little money to buy a car, but I had no money for bullets, so the trade was a no-brainer.  Lots of things broke on that car, (interior trim, the fuel gauge, etc.) but it never broke down.  It averaged about 45 MPG, so gas money was rarely an issue.  If it did run out of gas, I could push it to the station by myself.  Parts were cheap, and repairs were always easy.  I was able to replace the clutch in the parking lot of my apartment building.  I used wooden blocks to lift the car and support the transmission while removing the last bolts, and lifted the tiny gearbox out by hand.  It is still the best car I’ve ever driven in the snow.  The 12″ Blizzaks cut right through the snow to the road surface, and a set of four cost $50.

    I drove the Sprint almost for free for 6 years and 85,000 miles before its fatal flaw became apparent.  There was a 14″ long steel tube in the cooling system.  It rusted out from the inside, and the leak starved the temperature sensor of water, so the gauge never went up.  Even though I pulled over as soon as I sensed something was wrong, the aluminum cylinder head never held compression again.  Nonetheless, I drove it for another year.  Mileage dropped to a gallon of gas and 8 ounces of motor oil for every 35 miles, but I rarely got tailgated with all the black smoke spewing from the tailpipe.  I feel fortunate to have stumbled onto the right car for me at the time I needed it.  Even though I’d feel put out if forced to drive the same car today, I have fond memories of it.

    PS, That car had one feature I really miss.  The button to spray washer fluid was independent of the wiper motion.  This allowed me to pre-soak the windshield to loosen bug splatter, and apply precisely the right ratio of fluid to wiper motion.  I almost never had a streaky windshield in that car.

    • #26
  27. Chuck Enfield Inactive
    Chuck Enfield
    @ChuckEnfield

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    but something like Carmax might be the safer bet.

    Friends have had mixed results with Carmax. Usually no problem, but when there is a problem you’re then dealing with the corporate office.

    We’ve had a used car dealer for a long time in our area with no-haggle pricing and small mark-ups, similar to Carmax.  They make their money by moving a lot of cars.  Popular models disappear within a day or two of arrival.  I understand that’s a growing sales model in the used car industry.  Perhaps there are dealers in your area other than Carmax that do it?

    We also have a guy that takes orders.  You tell him what you want (model(s), features, price, etc.) and when he finds one he’ll buy it and give you a call.  You’re under no obligation to buy it from him, but most people do.  I don’t know how common that is, but it could be an interesting way to buy a car.

    • #27
  28. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    (deleted duplicate!)

     

    • #28
  29. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    She (View Comment):
    Before I’m accused of hijacking my own thread, here’s a picture of a car. No idea what it is.

    I think that’s a Cadillac badge, circa 1950.

     

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    She, I just love your stories! I think I’m in love with your ugliest car!

    The car I loved the most was my dad’s white Renault 4CV. It was adorable, and he actually bought it new. My dad was called “Tex” (his name was Carlton and he was nicknamed after a baseball player, Tex Carlton), and he had a simple caricature of a bug’s face painted on the left rear (maybe it was on the right side, too?) that said, “Tex’s Termite.” We loved taking the trip on the week-end with dad to the patio shop he owned, and most of the trip was filled with honking horns and waves for the Termite. What fun!

    • #30
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