Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas
Since November of 1985, I have been driving a car that is The World's Most Perfect
Automobile, a 1986 Dodge Colt Vista station wagon. I love this car; it has never refused to carry
anything that I wanted to put into it. Seven large adults and a picnic? Sure, no problem. A six-
foot-tall, multi-level kitty condominium and scratching post? Okay, just move the driver's seat
forward. All the gear I need to do my jewelry booth at art fairs? Piece of cake, with room to
spare. I'm firmly convinced that my car came equipped with some sort of fourth-dimensional
overpocket, a warp in the fabric of space itself, which allows me to insert impossibly large
objects while still giving me room to close the hatch. This is a good thing, because I have a
tendency to stop and grab discarded furniture that I find by the side of the road, and I really love
going to garage sales and bringing home loads of stuff.
I haven't owned as many cars as most people my age; I have a tendency to get very
attatched to them, and drive them 'til they drop. My first car was a 1963 Buick Special with a V-
6 engine; it was ten years old when I bought it in 1973, and came with a single-speaker FM radio.
This was long before the days of car stereo as we know it now; when that speaker blew, there
was only one place in all of Toledo that could replace it. In 1974, I loaded my worldly
possessions into "Eugene" and drove to Massachusetts; a motor mount broke somewhere halfway
across New York State, but he kept running and we limped on to our destination. A couple years
later, poor old Eugene threw a rod, and had to be shot. I still miss him.
New England was such that I could survive without a car, getting by with riding the bus
or my bicycle. When I moved back to Ohio, however, I soon realized that I had to have a vehicle.
The flatlands are just too spread out to get around on a bike! A 1969 Ford Falcon with a 129
straight six fit the bill; it had virtually no power, but it practically made gasoline, the mileage was
so good. I drove it for years, despite the fact that it had no heat and no radio. Chilly winter road
trips to Columbus, anyone? We can sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" to entertain ourselves
along the way!
The rust on the Ford eventually got so bad that I had to hang on to the steering wheel to
keep the front seat from rocking when I braked or accelerated; rust flakes showered the ground
whenever I shut the door. I replaced it with a 1974 AMC Hornet hatchback, a 3-speed, and my
first stick shift. Ever since the traumatic experience, at the age of five, of watching my stepfather
try to teach my mother to drive a VW Beetle, I'd had a horror and fear of learning to drive a stick.
But I had to be at work an hour after a friend and I picked up the car, so, thanks to the press of
time and a very forgiving first gear (never mind the six months worth of traffic jams on the I-280
bridge I had to negotiate every day) I got to where I like it so much, I'll probably never go back to
The Hornet hauled home enough bricks to build a 12x36-foot patio, creeping along at 25
mph with the springs an inch off the ground, but it dripped so much oil that my tidy aunt would
run out of the house with newspapers to protect her driveway whenever I'd go to visit. My aunt
dropped dead, suddenly, from doing laundry in the basement and running upstairs to the attic to
hang the clothes up to dry; my uncle, in some weird tribute to her memory, decided to buy me a
new car so mine wouldn't get oil on the driveway! (This is a true story.) He left the choice of
vehicle up to me, stipulating only that it had to be an American car and it had to cost under
This would probably be the only showroom-new car I ever owned in my life, and I had
my heart set on a Japanese car, one that would run forever. Considering the price limit, I knew I
could get a lot more car for the money if I went with an import. But my uncle had been a union
man all his life, making glass for cars at Libbey Owens Ford, and a World War II veteran to boot;
a riceburner was out of the question. Or was it? I admit it, I scammed my old uncle; the Vista
was a captive import, built for Dodge in Japan by Mitsubishi, brought to you by the people who
brought you the Zero. My uncle never found out, and he's dead now, too, but my Japanese
Dodge is still running.
Despite fifteen years of owning The World's Most Perfect Automobile, last week I did a
strange thing: I bought another car! Thanks to getting a great deal on it from a friend, I now own
a 1986 Toyota MR2, a little red zippy car with only two seats and minimal trunk space, but with
tons of pep! I'll never get rid of the Vista, but now, for the first time in my life, I have a car with
enough power to get out of its own way. Driving it is going to be strange; I'll need to keep in
mind that I can't drag home the odd armchair or kitchen table I spot whenever I please, but only
when I happen to be driving the wagon. Little red zippy cars don't haul furniture.
They do, however, pass things. Yesterday, I surprised myself by passing cars, twice! I
haven't passed anything but farm machinery and slow-lane trucks in years, and getting on an
expressway has always been an exercise in hoping that the tractor-trailer rig which is about to
squash me will get past before I run out of on-ramp. It was a new experience for me to step on
the gas and get on the highway ahead of a truck for a change. Even stranger, I still had enough
power to speed up some more and pass a truck in front of me, all without being crushed by yet
another truck that was barrelling along in the fast lane. Wheeeee!
Yes, I know, I'm sitting on top of the gas tank; I can hear it sloshing around under me.
Yes, I know, a semi truck could squash me like a bug; they are a lot bigger than little red zippy
cars. Yes, I know, I don't have an airbag; they didn't have to put them in cars when this one was
built. But I've been avoiding driving on the highway in my Vista wagon, because the tremendous
amount of truck traffic out there scares me. I thought I was just getting old, but it turns out that
that is not the case; it's the Vista that's getting old, and it never had all that much acceleration
power to begin with. I still love it, and, come city-wide yard sale days, you can bet that I'll be
driving it around town and filling it with stuff. For highway driving, though, I feel much safer in
the Toyota. Call it a midlife crisis if you want; I'm just happy to find out that I'm not too old to
go out and play in the traffic. I have a little red zippy car, and it goes zip, zip!
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copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved