Weird wheels

I’ve owned or co-owned nine cars in my life, starting in 1982 and continuing to this day. Most of them have been what a lot of folks would think are weird choices, but they’ve been surprisingly practical as well.

I’ve been pretty lucky on the car front — I’ve generally been happy with and have enjoyed every one except the first, a 1975 Ford Mustang II that was craptastic in every way a car could be craptastic. Since my jobs were also craptastic at the time and I couldn’t afford a replacement for years, it taught me how to perform all sorts of minor repairs. It also taught me that I didn’t want to perform minor repairs going forward, and that became a big part of my subsequent car decisions.

Here are all of them, ranked in reverse order of how much I liked them:

1975 Ford Mustang II. Think of a Ford Pinto in a different skin. I think the moment I absolutely snapped came with the half-covered-in-vinyl roof suddenly peeled away one day on the highway, exposing a big pile of rust underneath. This was one of the most terrible cars from the era of the absolutely most terrible cars, and an ignoble death in a car crusher was too good for it. I’m still bitter.

1981 Plymouth Colt. This was from an era where small Dodges and Chryslers were actually made by Mitsubishi, and I bought this car out of a rental fleet. It was white, it was bland, it was a boring small 4-door sedan, it was completely and utterly reliable and that’s what I cared about after the Mustang debacle. It served me well for many years.

2002 Ford Ranger. It was a decade old when we bought it as a get-around-after-work vehicle for my wife, and we kept it for another decade. She loved it and I hardly ever drove it. The truck did truck things perfectly fine, was generally reliable and only ranks here because I just never messed with it much. It was a decent truck.

2005 Nissan Murano. This was my commutermobile in an era when I drove about 40 miles a day to and from work. It was comfortable, it was easy to handle, it was reliable, it could haul Home Depot stuff and it had some power. It also was embarrassingly big for a vehicle that contained one person most of the time, and a sudden surge in gas prices made it a whole lot less desirable. Still a worthy car, though; would have been better as a family hauler.

1992 Isuzu Amigo. The blandness of the Colt finally got to me and I may have overreacted when I bought this as its replacement, especially since I lived in D.C. where this Jeep-like vehicle wasn’t the best choice. But it was fun to hop around in and was easy on the gas, and the tailgate-mounted spare bounced away more than one urban driver who decided to follow too closely. However, it was very, very vulnerable to break-ins.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser. We got this in an era when I was a fairly busy musician, and I liked the old-school look. But the best part of this was its highly configurable interior — the rear seat folded flat, or vertically to create a barrier, or could be removed completely. The front passenger seat also folded flat and provided a nice platform. Unfortunately, it was underpowered, drank gas like a much more powerful vehicle, and had reliability problems (brakes needed replacement after 30,000 miles; radiator had to be replaced after 60K). The latter problem made me realize that a lot of other expensive repairs were probably coming, so I dumped it.

2022 Ford Maverick. This is my wife’s current vehicle; she had a company car for years but they pulled it, and now she drives this to/at work. It’s really a SUV that replaces the typical back end with a truck bed; it rides much more comfortably than a typical truck. It’s an excellent value and gets good gas mileage for what it is. I like it but I’m not a hopeless fanboy; this wouldn’t have been my choice but my wife is doing 90 percent of the driving in it, and she loves it. And people ask us about it all of the time.

2015 Mini S 4-door coupe. This is my current driver. Almost all of my driving is in the city, and this is an unbelievably fun city car. The ‘S’ designation, with its larger-horsepower turbo, also means this thing can hop up and go. I’ve torn away from rednecks on the interstate who think it’s hi-larious to tailgate a Mini, and this vehicle is also just big enough to be more useful than its smaller 2-door sibling. It’s getting up there in age and I’m concerned about long-term reliability (and repair costs), but I’ve certainly enjoyed it so far.

2008 Volvo C30. Here it is: My favorite car. Small without being too small, an actual hatchback made by Volvo, surprisingly utilitarian, funky, safety-oriented and sneaky-powerful, this was what I drove during my busiest car-commuting period of my life. I put about 100K miles on this thing in a little more than six years, and decided to move it when it became clear it would need a good chunk of work for the next 100K. It never was a big seller; if it had done better, I would have replaced the old C30 with a new one, but new C30s didn’t exist when replacement time came. I still miss it.

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