Shopping for a new car isn't necessarily an entirely rational exercise.
A little time travel happening tonight, as I do the Heisenberg shuffle to keep the questions raised in this episode from affecting the answers. By the time you read this, we will have sipped our wine, gazed at the pictures, and perhaps shed a tear or two for reasons hard to define. We will have toasted the departed Roxy, and set a new course.
And now to the story…
My sweetie and I need to replace the eminently practical and utterly reliable Ford Escort that was declared by actuarial tables to be a total write-off this week. More on that anguishing process later, but in the end, it could have been a lot worse. We actually got a settlement that was a bit on the happy side of fair. It was not a gentle ride, however.
Now, suddenly, we’re car shopping. Buying a new car is out of the question, so we’re combing the used-auto sites, seeing what’s out there that we can afford. (One observation — surprisingly few Hondas. Unscientifically, I have to conclude that they hold their resale value extremely well.)
There are a lot of cars in our price range, but not all of them qualify as ‘practical’. This story is about one of those cars.
I was at work today, putting in some Saturday hours to catch up with my deadlines after dealing with all sorts of automotive distractions over the week. I got a call on the Sweetie Hot Line. When I asked her how she was, her answer was tentative. “Uh, oh,” I though. “Is 2014 throwing a farewell spitball at us?” 2014 has not been gentle.
That turned out not to be the case. What had happened was this: An online acquaintance of The Light of My Life had sent her a message about a car she was selling. She looked at the pictures and her heart went pitter-pat. The car is a 1960 Studebaker Lark V8. The Lark was one of the first North American entries into the car class that would come to be known as “compact”, and by 1960’s standards this car is tastefully understated. This one is apple red, has all new electrics (including an alternator instead of a generator), and based on the description is in very good shape.
A little trivia: The first couple of years it was out, the V8 Lark could do 0 to 60 in less than half the time of its competitors. That was mostly because the competitors were really friggin’ slow, but still. I learned that on Wikipedia today. I learned a lot about the Lark today. Strictly to help us make an informed decision, obviously.
My Sweetie was calling me to be a voice of reason. She needed someone to tell her how crazy it was to consider a car that’s already had its 50th birthday as a replacement for a modern, reliable ride.
My attempts to pour ice water on her dream were only half-hearted, however. There’s part of me which thinks driving a Studebaker around town is a pretty grand idea. Then my favorite redhead said, as an argument against buying it, “We’d have to go get it.”
“Where is it now?”
And just like that my head filled with images of a road trip with my sweetie, in a Studebaker, and writing each day about the road we had covered and the conversations we’d had and the comments we got at rest stops when we let Lady Byng out to pee. That would be awesome. After that, my attempts to dissuade her lost all muscle. “There will be a day you need to get somewhere and you turn the key and nothing happens,” I said. Which is certainly true.
Bench front seat. Remember those? This car seats six. Automatic transmission, but for a car like that we could put up with it.
Yet, from the very beginning there was something I could have mentioned, something that I will have to mention eventually, that will probably end the conversation. It’s about safety.
I’m sure we can get three-point seatbelts installed, and airbags are overrated. But there’s one other safety feature that modern cars have that almost no one talks about. Had our little Ford not had this feature, however, it’s quite possible I could have been badly hurt when the kid smacked into me. My head was snapped back quite forcefully, but the headrest on the driver’s seat caught me and protected me from potentially serious harm. As a result, our insurance claim was strictly about property damage.
Air bags are complex, expensive, and require extra complexity to keep them from doing more harm than good in certain situations. In contrast, the headrest is an example of safety legislation with a lot of bang for its buck. Simple and effective.
The Studebaker in question has no headrests. Pristine interior, red and white, but no headrests.
When I point that out to my sweetie, talk of classic cars will likely end, much as I’d love to glide along with my honey next to me on that bench front seat.
Or… not. Maybe this is the litmus test of our dedication to a classic automobile. Are we willing to be a little less safe to drive something cool? (Corollary: does that make us hipsters?) Are we prepared for weekends of cursing and scuffed knuckles to keep her running? Will I have dirty fingernails every Monday when I go to work? To be honest, I kind of miss having a high-maintenance car. It’s like exercise. Sucks when you’re doing it, feels great when you’re done.
Is it a sign from above that the car costs almost exactly what our insurance settlement is? Are we destined to be the curators (not owners — it will likely own us) of a classic automobile? It sure would be cool to do photo shoots with a ride like this.
We’ll have a little something to drink tonight, look at the pictures, and dream a bit. Then most likely we’ll move on, turning our attention to the sensible end of the spectrum, and wondering forevermore what might have been.