Cars. 

Money-sucking, wrath-inducing, polluting, pains-in-the-butt prone to breaking down at the most inopportune times.   The Golden Geese of the auto, insurance, repair, tax and petroleum industries.  With depreciation beginning at the signing of the papers, these have to be the worst  'investments' most people will ever make.

Freedom really does carry a price.

Freedom to roam at will and explore new horizons.  They're workhorses which sure beat public transportation (in this area anyway) and are generally available at the turn of a key.  More than a convenience, they're a necessity for many and definite life-savers for others.  As much as I'd jump at the chance for a window seat on a trans-continental flight, there's really no experience like a good road trip.  Even bad road trips can have redeeming qualities and there's been enough of those to test this intrepid traveler.

I love driving.  Long haul driving.  The first year owning a 1987 Mercury Sable LS wagon, I logged more than 42,000 miles (76,200 km) with much of that  traveling throughout the Provinces of Ontario and Québec.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.


There are those who go beyond merely maintaining their set of wheels... these are the real gear-heads who find dropping the transmission for repairs a pleasant way of spending an afternoon.   There are also those who spend more time and money on their car(s) than they do on housing with the result being either a gleaming showroom beauty or the familiar patchwork of body filler.

To be fair,  the price of a new car in particular can easily cost more than the previous generation's first house... so it comes as no surprise a gussied-up version can equal a mortgage payment.  The sky's the limit.

The flip-side are those who change the oil and air filters every... oh, 60,000 miles or so (96,000 km).   A good downpour is about as close as the vehicle gets to a car wash.  Ignoring the vibrations in the steering wheel, these people damn the car for chewing up their  tires with a UTQG Treadwear rating of 300 because the alignment's off from hammering potholes or curbs.Choose Michelin

(Understanding what the Uniform Tire Quality Grade - UTQG - means makes tire buying much easier.  I swear by Michelin and with a Treadwear rating of 620, getting 70,000 miles on a tire is no problem provided alignment, inflation and rotation schedules are followed.  Tires with a Treadwear rating of less than 400 are, in my estimation, a waste of money.  Michelins cost no more than any other quality tire if you're a semi-intelligent shopper.  Cheap tires are no bargain.)

"Cars are more reliable, safer and efficient", they say.   That may be true, but repair complexity and costs have increased logarithmically as well.  Ever check how much it costs to replace the main computer module?  The days of dropping the car off at Handy-Sam-The-Fixit-Man's corner Shell station are long gone.  Diagnostic gear rivaling heart surgery equipment  is needed to even determine what needs to be fixed.... a timing gun and a twist of the distributor cap just doesn't cut it anymore.


1973 Edmund's New Car Prices

Model

Base Cost

MSRP

AMC Gremlin  ·  6cyl, 232cid, 100HP, 1bbl, 3-spd man. trans, 2dr

1778

2021

Buick Electra 225 Custom  ·  V8, 455cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 4-dr sedan

3899

5060

Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine   ·  V8, 472cid, 220HP, 4bbl

9033

11880

Cadillac Eldorado Coupe  ·  V8, 500cid, 235HP, 4bbl

5499

7230

Chevy Vega Notchback Coupe   ·  4cyl, 140cid, 72HP, 1bbl, 3-spd man 

1752

2060

Chevy Malibu Sport Coupe   ·  6cyl, 250cid, 100HP, 1bbl, 3-spd man

2308

2847

Chevy Caprice Convertible   ·  V8, 400cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto

3303

4285

Chevy Camaro LT Coupe   ·  V8, 307cid, 115HP, 2bbl, 3-spd man

2732

3212

Chevy Corvette Coupe   ·  V8, 350cid, 190HP, 4-spd man

4286

5562

Chrysler Newport Royal   ·  V8, 400cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr sedan

3104

4054

Chrysler New Yorker Brougham · V8, 440cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

4093

5350

Chrysler Imperial Le Baron    ·   V8, 440cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

5203

6797

Dodge Dart   ·  6cyl, 198cid, 1bbl, 3-spd man, 4dr sedan

2082

2434

Dodge Charger SE   ·  V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr coupe

2646

3267

Dodge Challenger   ·  V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr hardtop

2485

2924

Dodge Monaco   ·  V8, 360cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

3233

4216

Ford Pinto   ·  4cyl, 97.6cid, 1bbl, 4-spd man, 2dr sedan

1674

1968

Ford Mustang Mach 1   ·  V8, 302cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man., 2dr sports roof

2537

3003

Ford Gran Torino Brougham · V8, 302cid, 2bbl,3-spd man,4dr pillared hardtop

2501

3110

Ford LTD Brougham  ·  V8, 351cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

3109

4074

Ford Thunderbird   ·  V8, 429cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr hardtop

4168

5459

Lincoln Continental   ·  V8, 460cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr sedan

5500

7322

Lincoln Mark IV   ·  V8, 460cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr coupe

6603

8774

Mercury Comet   ·  6cyl, 200cid, 1bbl, 3-spd man, 4dr sedan

1969

2314

Mercury Cougar XR-7   ·  V8, 351cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr convertible

3232

3826

Mercury Marquis Brougham   ·  V8, 429cid, 4bbl, 3-spd man, 4dr hardtop

3919

5134

Olds Cutlass Supreme · V8, 350cid, 4bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr Colonade HT coupe

2648

3266

Olds Delta 88 Royale   ·  V8, 350cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr sedan

3267

4238

Olds 98 Regency   ·  V8, 350cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop sedan

4122

5349

Olds Toronado   ·  V8, 350cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr coupe

4116

5341

Plymouth Duster   ·  6cyl, 198cid, 1bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr sport coupe

1969

2301

Plymouth Road Runner  ·  V8, 318cid, 170hp, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr hardtop

2417

2987

Plymouth 'Cuda   ·  V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2dr hardtop

2578

3033

Plymouth Fury Gran Sedan   ·  V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

3063

3987

Pontiac Grand Am  ·  V8, 400cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr hardtop

3387

4179

Pontiac Firebird TransAm   ·  V8, 455cid, 4bbl, 4-spd man, 2dr hardtop

3490

4103

Pontiac Bonneville   ·  V8, 400cid, 2bbl, 3-spd auto, 4dr hardtop

3253

4220

Pontiac Grand Prix   ·  V8, 400cid, 4bbl, 3-spd auto, 2dr hardtop

3452

4479

Trucks

Base Cost

MSRP

Chevy Suburban K-20   ·  V8, 307cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD end gate

3627

4706

Chevy Blazer K   ·  V8, 307cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD

2651

3270

Chevy K-20 Pickup  ·  V8, 307cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD 

2896

3756

Dodge D100 Pickup · 6cyl, 225cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2WD, 115"WB, 6½' Sweptline

2123

2732

Dodge W200 Pickup  · V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD, 149"WB, 6½' Sweptline

3634

4679

Dodge B100 Wagon · 6cyl, 225cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 109"WB, Custom Sportsman

2870

3542

Dodge B200 MaxiWagon · V8, 318cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 127"WB, CustomSprtsmn

3289

4056

Ford F-100 Pickup  ·  6cyl, 240cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 2WD, 115"WB Custom Chassis Cab 

1966

2550

Ford F-250 Pickup  ·  6cyl, 300cid, 2bbl, 4-spd man, 4WD, 131"WB Custom Chassis Cab 

2894

3755

Ford E-300 Econoline Van  ·  6cyl, 240cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, Super Window Van 

2554

3151

Ford Bronco ·  6cyl, 232cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD 

2516

3064

Jeep CJ-6  ·  6cyl, 307cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD Universal Series 

2896

3756

Jeep Commando Pickup ·  6cyl, 232cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD 

2699

3284

Jeep Wagoneer Custom ·  6cyl, 258cid, 2bbl, 3-spd man, 4WD 

3682

4640


"Metric??  We don't use no stinkin' metric... this here's A-mur-ica."  Well, so the thinking was back in 1973.  To get an idea of the size of the engines, here's a few conversions to the universally accepted metric engine measurements of today.  (Canada, of course, caught on to metric years before the States grudgingly relented.)

  97.6cid = 1.6-litres

  140cid = 2.3-litres

  250cid = 4.1-litres

  307cid = 5.0-litres

  350cid =  5.7-litres

  400cid = 6.6-litres

  455cid = 7.5-litres

  500cid = 8.2-litres

As a point of reference, the largest engine available in a full-sized 2001 Cadillac DeVille is a 4.6-litre V8 which produces 300 hp   The 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, with an engine slightly less than twice the size (8.2-litres), produced 235 hp.   Engineering efficiency.

"Yes, but wages were lower in 1973 than today ..."

Yes... they were.  But the percentage of the total earnings needed to buy these hulks was lower as well.  Arbitrarily, if auto / transportation costs eat up 30% of the disposable income today, in 1973 that percentage would have been lower.   It's the the same old story; the costs of consumables has risen faster than the wage increase.

The 1973 product lines offered 'special tires' called Steel-Belted Radials as an option.  Fuel-injection, much more precise and efficient than clunky one-, two- or four-barrel carburetors, was several years away.   Ditto for disc-brakes (anti-lock brakes and air bags were unheard of).  Air conditioning, power steering / brakes / windows / locks were standard equipment only on the higher-end models.  Today's models have many of these features as standard equipment; you get more in terms of amenities and safety than in 1973 and you'll pay for it as well.  

 I believe the Olds Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado were the only U.S.-made front-wheel driven production autos available.   Today, most autos are FWD; for those of us in the northern climates, a good set of tires and FWD makes the icy and snowy roads a little less intimidating.

(Ever notice how Camaro and Corvette commercials are never shot in blinding snow storms?  These cars become ditch-divers in winter weather; the Function-Follows-Form crowd finds this out soon enough.)


Planned Obsolescence.  That curiously engineered  factor which keeps the U.S. auto industry fat and happy with buyers nudged into buying another car instead of replacing worn systems.  I never had to replace any part of the exhaust system in the Sable wagon and it wheezed into the donations lot with 262,000 miles (419,200 km) and ten years to its credit.  The exhaust system was stainless steel.

If the local muffler shop can give a lifetime guarantee on the muffler, what's the problem with the manufacturers?  Shocks and struts are in the same category.

Four-cylinder engines rarely last 200,000 miles (320,000 km) without some major overhauling.  For this driving fanatic, a small six-cylinder is required not so much for being the first away from a traffic light, but for longevity.  I'm more interested in the condition of the vehicle after the first 200,000 miles and not some irrelevant tenth of a second in a quarter mile run.

The absurdity of bells and whistles in the form of umpteen cup holders, fold down VCP screens and storable picnic tables does nothing to enhance longevity in an auto.   Moisture-sensing automatic windshield wipers do nothing to ensure flimsy CV boots (easily torn) won't disintegrate leading to a host of major repairs if left unchecked. 

Dual-controlled temperature settings can be easily foregone in lieu of some permutation of a real bumper which doesn't require a trip to the body shop to repair scratched rear fascia panels from the inevitable shopping cart attack.

Keep the oscillating filtered air vents and give us corrosion-free radiators and turbo-chargers which don't wimp out after a piddling 50,000 miles (80,000 km).

Put the engineering money where it benefits the vehicle owners and not just the shareholders.

Imagine a car which has a usable life-expectancy of 300,000 miles (480,000 km).  The initial additional cost would be greatly offset by not buying six cars as the requisite trade-in cutoff of 50,000 miles is urged by the dealers.  What would that do to the auto industry?


Where does the magical number of 10,000 miles per year (16,000 km) come from?  The 5 year / 50,000 mile warranty (whichever comes first) must be some sort of tease... or a convenient way to weasel out of supporting a product.  That works out to be less than 36 miles (58 km) per day.. maximum.  A few road trips and the five-year cutoff will never be met.  ( See the link on the 1987 Sable Wagon below for a great story of forcing a company to stand by a six-year, unlimited mileage, bumper-to-bumper warranty. )

Some people prefer to simply look at their cars instead of using them.   Sort of like buying a refrigerator but never plugging it in for fear of wearing it out.  The 50,000 mile milestone hovers ominously over the minds of these people who feel compelled to 'save money' by buying another car.   When the dealer is hungry for a sale and starts playing the shell game with figures, the hard Blue Book numbers begin to vary.   Depreciation marches on inexorably  whether the vehicle sits in the driveway or is out on the road.  Might as well get some use out of it.  

A car rarely driven will eventually need things like shocks and/or struts simply because they're 'working' even while parked in a driveway.  Seals and gaskets dry out, batteries grow weaker,  fluids lose their punch and corrosion takes place whether visible or not.

Obviously, there are shades of gray between the driving fanatics and those who only use the car as a curio to be displayed but used as little as possible.


From years of car talk, it appears the 'best' car for one may be the absolute bane of another.  It all depends on what the vehicle is to be used for and the type of driving involved.  Some people heavily ascribe to the belief  ' you are what you drive '  and image is the paramount concern.

Others see their cars as nothing more than a tool to be used much like a lawnmower.   It gets the job done and fulfills its purpose.... nothing more, nothing less.

Still others see it as a necessary evil... something unavoidable and just another damn thing to have to worry about.

Some people drive primarily close to home and others are at home on the interstate for the quick jaunt 150 miles down the road (< raises hand on the latter >).   The 'fun' little pocket rocket which whizzes around town may prove to be a cramped lunch-box-on-wheels after the first five hours into the road trip.  Tandem tractor trailers whipping by at 75 mph on a windy, rainy day might tend to reduce the importance of image as one stares eye-level with tires half the size of the car and a mere 24 inches away.

The hulking monstrosities of full-sized SUV's might not be so appealing while squeezing through narrow city streets half blocked by snow and parked cars.

It all depends on the primary style of driving.


Below are a variety of links to both remarkable and absurd vehicles.  There's also some critiques and  impressions on the cars I've owned.

It may not be pretty; after being stung by the lassitude of the early 80's American auto industry, I suspect  most people have a few horror stories of betrayal to tell.  The rise of Honda may have been helped along by none other than the American auto makers themselves.  Complacency  doesn't go unanswered for very long...  even with duties and tariffs.

(   This page is under construction ; check back for updates.  )

Classics

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Oldsmobile Toronado

1973 Subaru GL

Lincoln Mark III

1977 Capri II Ghia

1973 Plymouth Valiant

1973 Plymouth Valiant

1982 Chevy Cavalier

1987 Mercury Sable LS Wagon

Dream Machines

1986 Oldsmobile  Delta 88 Royale

Audi A6 Avant

Mercedes

What Were They Thinking?

Saab

Buick Riviera

Volvo

Chevrolet Vega

AMC Gremlin

The Yugo

Station Wagon World

Buick RoadMaster

Volvo

Cadillac Cimmaron

Saab

Chevy Chevette - Pontiac T1000 / Acadian

Mercury Sable LS

Designing Disasters

Subaru

A World of Wagons

Wretched Excess

Car Compendium

SUV's

The Yellow Car Page

The Trucks

Firebirds and Camaros