(this is an updated version of a piece I originally wrote in 2004; it was updated again in September of 2016. Hopefully it will not need to be updated yet again for a while)
1. 1978 Dodge Warlock pickup
Period of use: December 1990- early 1991
Comments: customized for racing on the dirt tracks of rural Oklahoma; idled at 35 mph, requiring constant use of the brakes while driving. Famous throughout Blair, Nebraska for glasspack mufflers which allowed the truck to be heard over a mile away and for gas mileage below 10 mpg. Lacked rearview mirrors of any sort.
Eventual fate: sold due to constant mechanical problems of varying magnitude, shortly before a massive systemwide collapse left it looking like Sheriff Buford T. Justice’s car at the end of Smokey and the Bandit.
2. 1982 AMC Spirit
Period of Use: early 1991- March 1993
Comments: one of the curiously large “compacts” of the early 80s. Much-beloved and far more reliable than the truck, although hardly free of mechanical trouble (the driveshaft fell off during one drive to Omaha; the clutch burned out on a country road). At one point my father installed a dashboard 8-track, against which I railed vigorously.
Eventual fate: retired from service after chunk of transmission housing broke off and fell into clutch assembly.
3. 1982 Plymouth Reliant K Car
Period of Use: about two weeks in June of 1993
Comments: low-power, low-style banana-yellow piece of shit. The K car was officially owned by my grandmother, but I was the only one who ever drove it. Sucked in every way a car could possibly suck. Lack of stereo prompted me to keep large boom box in back seat (suddenly that 8-track player didn’t seem so bad), although this really didn’t accomplish much and only saw actual use during a very brief (2 days) phase of listening to The Cure.
Eventual fate: blew head gasket on freeway; that was pretty much it.
4. 1978 Dodge Magnum
Period of use: September 1993- some time in 1994
Comments: enormous 70s beast. Very similar to truck for gas mileage and noise (several times, I triggered nearby car alarms by starting the motor). On the positive side, the magnum could seat 7 comfortably. As an undergrad, I offered to help drive for a class trip from Morris to Fargo; upon seeing the magnum, the professor running the trip refused to let me drive because he did not want his students in danger. For the record, I feel I must protest that this car only looked dangerous.
Eventual fate: to be honest, I’m not sure. I just stopped having it.
5. 1984 Buick Regal
Period of use: Some moment fairly early in 1994- December 1996 (That long? Maaaaan…)
Comments: similar to but slightly better than the K Car. Notorious for achieving “the full christmas tree,” meaning that every available dashboard warning light was on (although the regal still ran). Had a tape deck, which was a plus; but the eject mechanism was faulty, requiring me to jimmy tapes out with edge of a key. From 1994 to the end of the analog era, all of my cassette tapes bore nasty key scars.
Eventual fate: slow, messy mechanical death, which included an attempt to replace the engine; afterwards, the car sounded like a bizarre flying contraption from a B movie. At one point, the regal would only move in reverse. My uncle, a brave man, took the regal off of my hands and tried to rehab it into usefulness; it repaid him by bursting into flames on the side of the road.
6. 1990 Ford Escort
Period of Use: December 1996- December 1997
Comments: first car to enter my possession with an ounce of life left in it. Was a fine car for 3 months or so during my senior year. During this honeymoon period, certain friends actually complained that, lacking problems, it “just wasn’t a Keith car.” Upon hearing this, the escort obliged by developing an oil leak which ruined a computer unit, causing the engine to kick out unexpectedly for up to five seconds and then roar back to life at frightening RPMs. Very unnerving, particularly on the freeway; this added a bit of spice to my introduction to Twin Cities commuting.
Eventual fate: growing certainty that engine-hiccups were going to lead to my death led me to use the escort as a trade-in (estimates for repairing the hiccup problem came to far more than the car’s actual value). On the final trip to the Saturn dealership, the escort hiccupped into a brief coma, but was eventually revived by spraying an entire can of starter fluid into the air filter. It performed one last act of loyalty by running like a champ when the woman at the Saturn dealership took it out for a spin to determine its trade-in value.
7. 1996 Saturn SL
Period of Use: December 1997- May 2006
Comments: chosen, in a sad commentary on my priorities, out of a peer group of 30 used saturns because of the 12-disc changer mounted in the trunk. The saturn’s stereo was truly pretty righteous, at least back in the CD era (and before the changer died). Car was solid and reliable for a long time – the plastic saturn body panels really were well-suited for Twin Cities winters – but eventually developed bearing problems that made it sound like a B-17 coming in on a wing and a prayer after flying through heavy flack.
Eventual fate: traded in at 130,000 miles. For years, I’d occasionally see the saturn – recognizable because of some distinct scratches left by a decorative trash can – around Minneapolis.
8. 2006 Kia Spectra5
Period of Use: May 2006- June 2016
Comments: Reliable workhorse hatchback; started to show some age after 7 years, but such a dependable, boring car that there’s not much funny about it. Back seat was a morass of fur and sand from my dog’s coat; the hatch more or less permanently had a light coating of wood chips on the floor from the car being loaded up with firewood on camping trips.
Eventual fate: Totaled when some jabroni ran a red light and t-boned me. The good news: the airbags worked! The bad news: it turns out airbags shoot out hot jets of air that burn streaks of hair off of your arms, creating an awful stink.
9. 2016 Honda CR-V
Period of Use: July 2016- present
Comments: My god, it feels weird not having the smallest, cheapest car possible. Just pulling out of my driveway makes me feel like Roast Beef in this old Achewood strip.
Eventual fate: Long may she reign.