Wandering, Lost and in Search of a Ride

Road Scenes, Central New York

That time has come, again … Buster, my first (and quite possibly last) BMW pulled out of the driveway in someone else’s hands a week ago. My “Ultimate Driving Machine” was, in the end, more of an ultimate driving disappointment.

Sure, I bought an 18-year-old car that had some issues, but even after a year and a half of work it never really excited me in the way an automobile should. (Hear that nervous laughter in the background? That’s my family. They understand Pokemon, Animal Crossing and bargains on household items, but not the bond that develops between a car guy and his ride. It’s okay though, we have a good therapist.)

A great ride does certain things for you. It brings a little smile when you slide the key into the ignition. A short twist, a little burble and it comes to life. Slot it into gear, slip the clutch and you’re driving. You’re not going somewhere, you’re getting there.

As fall comes we reminisce about summer travels. But everyone talks about where they went, few talk about how they got there. The journey wasn’t the highlight, the destination was. They leave out half the story (or potential story). A car guy cares as much, maybe more, about that journey.

Good journeys make good stories. “We went to the beach, it was hot, we swam a lot.” Who cares?

“We left early Saturday but hit a lot of traffic. Looking at the map, we saw a little squiggle that we thought would get us around the construction, but what we found in this little village …”

Ahh, the journey … the journey makes the story.

For a car guy, the car matters. My first purchase (though not my first car) was a 1966 Ford Mustang. Got a few hours? Let me tell you a few stories … about driving it to the Texas-Mexico border a week after I bought it because a buddy of mine and I had never “seen” Mexico. That’s all we did – looked across the border, got back in the car and drove back to Central New York. No hotels, no restaurants, slept in the car while the other was driving, ate at gas stations, 4,000 miles in 75 hours. You know what Mexico looked like? Dirt, dust and heat shimmers.

The Blue Ghost

How about my first new car, a 1997 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. Rallied it a little for the first 18 months I owned it, right up until the conclusion of Gary Webb’s 1998 River Valley Rally in Maine. By the end of that nightmare road condition event, we’d done $1400 worth of body and wheel damage to the car, all to win a moose-shaped plaque for first place. On the ride home, I had a name for my rallying exploits – the Pyrrhic Rally Team, where the cost of the victory vastly exceeds the value of the prize.

Somewhere in Maine, where my navigator went hoarse screaming, "HOLE!! ROCK!! HOLE!! ROCK!!" for 12 hours.

Which lead to my first dedicated rally car, a 1986 Audi 4000 CS quattro that I bought for $650 with 180,000 miles on it. We ran that beast for 30 months, bringing the odo up to 240,000 miles, only using it on weekends. Sold it for $500 and miss it terribly. Somewhere in Pennsylvania we perfected the art of ditch hooking on the outside and it may have set a top 10 stage time at Black River Stages in 2000 as the safety sweep car … it is true we always looked up the Greyhound fare from the event start to home and took that amount in cash with us, a “disposable” rally car, if you will.

The "quattro from hell," which we rallied until the cows came home.

In 2006, newly employed and with an aging, unexciting, worrisome ride, I scored a brand new 2004 Subaru Impreza RS on a dealer lot. Just 100 miles on the odo as I headed home in my refrigerator-white stripper of a Subaru. A week later, I may have run course opening at a performance rally in South Carolina … maybe.

No, that's not a one-week-old new car sandblasting the paint ... no.

But that car was lost when we bought a truck to tow the soon-to-be-acquired camper and I was okay with that. I picked up Buster to commute and play with, and all was good. But Buster and I drifted apart, it was a match made on paper, not the heart. So now I search. Another Subaru? Spotted two online this week, both gone before I could get to them.

Maybe a Volkswagen? I loved my three Audis but don’t really want the complexity of another now. I drove a few Jettas yesterday and they didn’t move me in that special way. Tried a 10-year-old GTI with a great motor buy a body that was moving seven ways from Sunday, though the owner claimed it had never been in an accident. How he ignored the dented, non-original fender, the crease in the quarter panel, the mismatched front and rear bumpers and the fact that neither of the doors closed right, I’m not sure. Found a Golf that would work perfectly, but the woman selling it was a basket case and we couldn’t work out a delivery schedule. We had a willing buyer, a willing seller, a reasonable price … just no way to actually complete the sale. There’s still hope on that one, and it now has a story associated with it.

This morning I’ve been emailing with a guy in South Carolina who has a Subaru I could live with. Very high mileage, but he’s owned it for 10 years and has all the service records on it. Looks very good in pictures, but it’s a 2.5 hour ride to get there … is it worth it? If I can find someone to do the drive, maybe …

Being a car guy is hard, but so worth it. More stories to come.