Jewish World Review May 14, 2002 / 3 Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The speedometer on my car-I call odometer, speedometer-rolled past 60,000 this morning. That's when I start thinking about buying a new car. I don't do it right away; I just start thinking about it. I usually get close to 100,000 miles before I actually turn a car in.
Not many of us buys a new car because we need one. A new car is irresistible once you get thinking about it, even though there's nothing wrong with your old one. The tires do it for me. I don't like to spend the money for a new set on a car I know I'm not going to drive another 50,000 miles.
To pass the time on long drives, I've often tried-and failed-to remember and count all the cars I've owned. I'd list them, but no one under 50 would know the names. Is Borgward familiar to you?
We own four cars now. That sounds silly for two people but I leave two of them in the garage in the country from early October until mid-May. One is my 1987 Jeep Cherokee. It's a good car with about 90,000 miles on it, but the dealer would give me only $5,000 on a trade so I've kept it.
The other part-time car is my great 1966 Sunbeam Tiger with the Ford V8 engine shoehorned into its little body. I paid $3,600 for the car and wouldn't sell it for $100,000. It was rebuilt in 1988 and is in pristine condition. I drive it with the top down through the rolling hills around our country house in upstate New York. It makes me feel young again, but I think I can hear people by the side of the road whispering, "Look at that old fool."
My parents owned a memorable Packard when I was growing up. It was one of the best cars ever built in the United States-one of the best of anything ever built anywhere-and this fact makes me suspicious of the free enterprise system. A company manufacturing such a superior product should not be forced out of business for lack of business. When we used to make the 75-mile trip from home to our summer cottage in 1936, my mother drove the Packard at 70 mph, the same speed I would drive my 2000 model car today.
The first car I bought and paid for with my own money was a 1942 Chrysler New Yorker. I bought it secondhand in Albany, N.Y., right after being discharged from the Army in 1945. I had sold a book to MGM and was hired to write the screenplay. Margie and I bought the car for $2,500 and set out with all our possessions for California. The New Yorker, one of the last cars built before all carmakers suspended production during the war, had been owned by a funeral home and never driven more than 12 mph. The dark blue velvet upholstery was unruffled.
I am foolishly sentimental about a car. I don't treat it like an inanimate object. I feel disloyal and sad when I turn one in. It's as if I was leaving an old dog with the vet for the last time. I still feel a twinge of regret when I think of my 1980 Ford station wagon, which I pushed past 120,000 miles before abandoning it for the Jeep.
I was influenced to get rid of the station wagon by a remark made by a stranger when I was stopped for a light in New York. The car bore the evidence of its age in the scrapes and dents that pockmarked the body.
The pedestrian looked up, recognized me and said, "Aw, come on, Andy. You can do better than that." I traded the car within the month.
It'll be about a year before I actually buy a new car but that gives me time to anticipate the pleasure and think of ways to get a better price from the dealer.
03/27/02: A victim of theft