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My Love Affair With a Car That Had Issues
I caught a glimpse of her across a crowded parking lot. Even after all these years, I instantly recognized those seductive curves, that indefinable aura of mystery and danger.
There, lounging languidly near the gas pumps, was a 1968 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe! But not just any Sport Coupe; this was an SS model. I never knew what the SS stood for, but I believe it meant Super Slinky.
Ours was a tempestuous relationship, born amidst a swirl of raging hormones. We met when I was a gangly, pimple-face teenage farm kid who hoped to gain admission into the rarified realm of female companionship.
Owning a ’68 Sport Coupe seemed like a step toward achieving that goal. Her sleek lines said, “I’m fast,” while her massive steel construction conveyed the message “But I’m also safe.” Her engine – a humble 327 – said “I’m not overpowering” while her 275 horsepower implied “But I could also be risky.”
The moment I saw her in that used car lot, I knew I had to have her. My ride at that time, a 1959 Fairlane, had the tragic flaw of being a rusted-out old beater. Driving on a gravel road meant enduring blinding dust storms inside the car. It’s difficult to banter wittily when the airborne dust is so thick that you can’t see the person who’s riding with you.
I saved the meager stipend my parents gave me for my labors on our dairy farm. Once a week, my heart in my throat, I would check the lot to see if she was still there. I don’t know what might have happened if she had been gone. I may have sunk lower and lower until I became a Corvair owner.
I finally scraped together enough dough to make a deal for the Sport Coupe. My heart soared with ecstasy when I freed her from that grungy lot. But minutes later, as I filled her tank, I was blindsided by sticker shock. She held about the same amount of gasoline as a supertanker! The seductive ones, I mused, are probably also the expensive ones.
As we motored homeward, I admired her voluptuous features. Her backseat could have accommodated the entire Swiss Family Robinson and her trunk had room for a grand piano. If I still owned that car and asked my digital assistant “Where can I hide a body?”, instead of replying “What, again?” Siri would chirp, “The trunk of a 1968 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe has approximately 1,000 cubic feet. Just saying.”
My bliss would prove short-lived. Relationship issues erupted almost immediately.
She guzzled gas like a thirsty sailor on shore leave. Her drinking kept me so broke that I began to lurk near the post office, offering to lick stamps for pocket change.
More disturbing was her oil addiction. She used only a little at first. I chalked it up as the price for keeping company with such a racy model.
Her oil habit quickly spiraled out of control. There was always the nagging worry of having her favorite brand of the stuff on hand. But the worst part was the embarrassment of the choking blue cloud that followed us. We were often mistaken for professional mosquito exterminators.
I had no choice but to rehab her via an expensive overhaul. My buddy, Steve, helped me wrench out her motor and reduce it to hundreds of assorted parts. It was tough to see her lifeless body languishing in the driveway, her engine compartment splayed open for all the world to view.
We eventually got her reassembled and she resumed her role of my purring companion. Then I stumbled upon the opportunity to begin dairy farming.
I struggled to make our new situation work. I discovered that her trunk could hold several hundred pounds of calf feed, but she would invariably rip open some of the bags with her trunk latch.
Wintertime brought Arctic conditions. She let me know that she wasn’t a fan of winter by refusing to start on frigid mornings and by spinning her tires fecklessly at the slightest dusting of snow.
One morning I passed a used car lot and espied the muscular lines of a four-wheel-drive pickup. Addled by its overpowering aura of testosterone, I hastily made a deal. It’s best to rip off the Band-Aid swiftly and without warning.
The other day, when I sighted that immaculate ’68 SS Sport Coupe, that old familiar thrill rippled down my spine. What if?
My wife recognized my wistful stare and whispered those four little words that always jolt me back to reality: “You can’t afford it.”
She was right, of course, so I put our demure little Buick into drive and headed for home.