Monday, January 13, 2020

My history of car ownership.

I've been watching some Jay Leno's Garage tv. Lots of old neat cars. Made me start remembering some of the cars I've owned over the years. Figured maybe I should write a blog post with those memories so my great grandchildren can read about those. When I was in 10th grade I started dating a girl that lived in South St. Paul. I lived at 645 Goodrich Ave. in St. Paul. Too far to ride my bke. Mom and Dad would only let us kids use the family car once a week for personal use. I was crazy in love and once a week was just NOT enough. I had been working in bike shops since I was 12 but I wasn't great about saving my money. I had a great teacher named Ben James. He ran the "Performing Arts Learning Center" for the St. Paul Schools. The school district had established learning centers to address racial integration. Anyhow, Ben had a 1968 Volkswagen Bus that he agreed to sell me for $500. Blue with a white roof. I gave him $250 and he kept the bus in a garage until I could come up with the other $250. I sure loved that bus. I fixed up the inside building a nice bed in the back. I learned a bit about mechanics. The bus actually had very little trouble. I had a great CB radio setup in it. 8' antenna in the middle of the roof. Illegal amplifier in the glove box. Mirrored all the side and back windows. The sliding door was rusted away so only the two front doors or the rear hatch worked. We used to go to the Corral Drive-In quite often. I'd face the bus backwards and open the hatch. When I started going to Inver Hills Community College I decided to sell the bus and got a 1972 VW Squareback (wagon). Light blue. Nice car but no heater. I bought a kerosene space heater and disabled the emergency shut off device and set it up in the back. Probably not the safest but it sure threw out the heat. That's the car I owned when I met Paula, the most wonderful woman I could possibly imagine. The car was getting pretty rusty and the lack of heat forced me to upgrade. I bought a real nice 1973 Ford Pinto wagon. Pea green. Had a great heater. Hardly had any mechanical problems (all 3 of these cars were very reliable). We put a nice bike rack on the roof and got into bicycle racing heavily. The car started rusting pretty bad, passenger seat started caving through the floor. Paula didn't like that too much. Upgraded to a 1982 or 1984 Ford Escort wagon, dark green. It was also a pretty good car. I decided I needed a van again though. Bought a nice 1978 Chevrolet van. This was a rare factory authorized Bostrom conversion. Nice captains chairs. Sofa in back. Great for taking to the bike races. Somewhere along this timeline Paula had owned (in order) a 1975 Saab 95. Transmission failed on that so we got it fixed for a huge cost and sold it. She got a nice 1969 Buick Skylark for $350. It was smashed up and rusty but trusty. I think we sold the Buick when I got the '78 van and she kept driving the Escort. We also upgraded from the '78 van to a brand new 1987 Chevrolet van with a Waldoch conversion. Very nice Flexsteel captains chairs and sofa/bed. Rear heat and a/c. 5.7l throttle body injected. We got that in September of 1987 because we were planning to drive to Calgary for the 1988 Olympics that Katie, Paula's sister, would be speedskating in. Almost no problems with that van. Lots of road trips. Paula wasn't fond of driving the big vans though. I bought a 1992 Chevrolet Astro conversion van off a lot in about 1998. It was real nice, easier to drive than the big one, and got better mileage. For the time being we kept them both. The Escort was replaced by a 1986 or '87 Chevrolet Sprint 4dr. We bought it brand new at Midway Chevrolet, $6800. It was a manual transmission with the 1.0 liter Suzuki engine. Got 55 mpg. Great car but not very safe. When the kids were little we decided to get something safer so we got a used 1987 Volvo 740 turbo wagon. That was the most expensive vehicle we'd gotten up to that point. Manual transmission 4 speed with the electronic pushbutton overdrive. Great car. But the sunroof started leaking and I never did get that to stop. The engine had a massive failure and we had to get it rebuilt. Very expensive. And it only had rear wheel drive. We bought a used 1997 Toyota Rav4 all wheel drive and sold the Volvo. The '87 van was getting a bit rusty by 2004 so we sold it to another cop and bought a brand new 2004 GMC Savanah conversion van. This is one of my favorites. I found it on a lot. It was built on a 3500 (1 ton) chassis with the 6.0 liter engine and 4L80E transmission. Super heavy duty. Very very rare. Nobody wants a conversion van on a 3500 because they ride like a rock and get terrible mileage. Apparently somebody had this one built to order and then the buyer backed out leaving it stuck with the dealer. They were very glad to get rid of it and gave me a great price. 16 years later I've still got that van. With only 65k miles on the clock. It's a great tow vehicle. And great on road trips. But it still rides like a rock and gets terrible gas mileage. About 10 years ago my dad quit driving due to his Parkinson's. Jeff had kind of taken over the Rav4 so we bought dad's 1998 Audi A4 quatro wagon. It has the 2.8v6 30 valve and tiptronic transmission. A real sports wagon. About 3 years ago Helen (Paula's mom) quit driving when she turned 90. They (Bob, her dad, was still alive but had quit driving several years prior) gave us the 2001 Buick LeSabre as long as we would keep it and drive them to their appts. and errands. So, we had the van, the Buick, and the Audi. A few months ago I decided I didn't like maintaining both the Audi and the Buick. We needed something with all wheel drive that we could also get Helen in and out of. The Audi wouldn't work, too hard to get her in/out of. The LeSabre was only front wheel drive and not a lot of cargo room. I traded them both off on a 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, awd, 2.4 liter with 87k miles on it. It rides real nice, gets about the same mpg as the Buick and Audi did, has much more space inside, and Helen (Bob passed away a couple years ago) can get in/out. I put in a nice Alpine touch screen stereo with Android Auto. I had a Viper alarm/remote start put in. I installed a new front wheel bearing, not a terribly difficult job for a crack mechanic like me. I like this car. We still have the van too, gotta have a big heavy duty van for pulling heavy stuff.

Oh wait, I've forgotten one of the most important cars! In 1999 the police department organized a running team and we went to Las Vegas to compete in the "Baker to Vegas" relay race. Just down the block from the hotel was an exotic car rental place. We rented a Dodge Viper and took a road trip out to the Hoover Dam. It was great fun. When we got home I started looking for a sports car. I found a 1986 Corvette Z51 coupe, (red of course) that needed a lot of work. I bought that and sold the Astro van. I had that Vette for 14 years and did TONS of modifications to it. Some highlights:  383 cubic inch forged assembly, Trick Flow heads, TPIS Miniram intake, 9 quart road race oil pan, aluminum radiator and oil cooler, TH400 manual valve body trans with Gear Vendors overdrive, D44 rear end, Grand Sport brakes, TPIS roll bar, 5 point harnesses, 315/35/17 rear tires, 275/40/17 front, Doug Rippie camber rod brackets and hd camber rods, Doug Rippie trailing arm brackets, all urethane bushings. That car ruled my life. I had pretty much given up bike racing and got into autocross as well as high speed track days at Brainerd International Raceway. I had lots of fun with that car. It was terribly fast. Not especially trouble free (I had to pull the engine 3 times, and the trans about 3 times). When I retired in 2014 at age 53 I decided I had had enough of that car. I sold it to a friend for fractions of pennies on what I had put into it. I had made lots of great friends in the Corvette world though. And I would love to buy a newer Corvette someday. I don't think I'll modify another one though. And I might not even buy another again. I've gotten back into cycling much more and prefer that.

So, that's my vehicle ownership story. Thanks for reading. It's been real fun remembering all these automobiles and the great times I've had in each one. 

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