Friday, June 20, 2014

Paradise Lost: the 1972 Buick Estate Wagon

When I was a Sophomore in College, I ran out of money. After a couple of quarters bumming rides from the dorm roomies to work and hitching back and such, it became obvious and painfully clear that what I needed was a car, if I was going to make enough money to stay in the dorms and in school.

In college, this mode of transportation is often referred to by it's formal technical latin name as, "All you need Bruce, is to just get yourself a cheap piece of shit to get you around town."

This is circa 1982. AD. Back then not only did we not have the internet, we did not even have the paper version of auto-trader. We used to go to the local newspaper, which is sort of like Google. Or the News section of Google, except printed on paper. And then you would get it delivered to your home every day. Well your driveway, anyway. So when you finished reading today's news, you had to go to sleep, and wait until tomorrow to read tomorrow's news. I know, it sounds insane.

In the back of each newspaper was a section called "the classifieds", where real honest to god actual people not looking for dates or escorting, would advertise what they wanted to sell. Just like eBay! In those days you would "Win the Bid" by calling faster than anyone else.

I saw an ad for a 1972 Buick estate Wagon for $400 and called. The price being perfect regardless of whatever the "Piece of Shit" I was going to buy next, I asked Todd to give me what I promised would quite likely be the last ride he would ever have to give me, to the address in the ad. Here's what I saw.
The 1972 Buick Estate wagon is one of the dying or possibly now completely dead breed of American automobile that hearkens the very last gasps of the free to dirt cheap price of gas, so affordable it was cheaper than water.
An interior so spaciously comfortable and large it had 13 full sized seats. No, like FULL SIZE. Believe me I filled each seat each weekend with everyone in the dorm I could fit, in order to pay them back for the rides they had given me. I think I paid back everyone I ever owed with just two rides. I believe a few dormies, still owe me a ride. 

What I loved most and miss the most today is the single bench front seat. I think we have given up a lot of intimacy and personal touch by putting the armrest in, and I don't think we've gotten all that much utility out of it. although I am sure teenagers still tingle when they accidentally touch each other's hands as they go to connect their iPhones to the Aux line-in.

Another feature I loved was the clamshell drop hatch, and window roll up. You could either roll up the back window and drop whatever you wanted in the back, or if you needed to could drop the hatch completely into the floor and roll up the window, all at the touch of a faded chrome rocker switch, located next to the big pull out light switch, up front on the dash. Where light switches are supposed to be.

As I stated, I bought the car as is for $400 in 1982. I am not willing to talk about the gas mileage because for this car that is socio-culturally irrelevant. Suffice it to say I put approximately $1600 worth of gas in it over the next 2 years as I drove it back and forth to work, and paid back roomies, and before I graduated, sold it for exactly $400 to a fellow college student.

I often wonder what the heyday of the car must have been like, with 15 cent a gallon gas and National Park family road trips filled with Wonder Bread Miracle Whip Bologna sandwiches and the newest sensation, liter bottles of Pepsi!
Chevrolet version of the Buick Estate Wagon.

1980 Fiat Brava: The Tony that never needed fixing up

After I graduated college I moved out to San Jose California, leaving Logan Utah and Utah State University, that I still find completely strange to say I am proud of, as Alma maters go. As an Alma mater, Utah State University rolls of the tongue innocently enough, but is quite hard to swallow, given the non-name and no-cache that Utah State University carries professionally.

San Jose wasn't all that great at the time either, but it was starting to go by another name that would soon be infamous. Silicon Valley. To this day I tell people I mistakenly thought I was coming out to Silicone Valley, but few buy that anymore. Everyone knows that Silicone Valley is in LA.

But I landed in San Jose in mid-1984, and within 3 days found a job as a Semiconductor Wafer Fab Supervisor. To this day, I really have no idea what that means (I thought fab was shot for fabulous), or what we were making, but it was some sort of shiny round rainbow mirrored glass like disks the size of your hand, that apparently were chopped up into small tiny squares that do something to virtually every device or phone or computer or thing that needs a chip in order to breathe life.

But it sure paid well. As soon as I could afford one, I went to buy a car. In those days the strip to buy a used car was at the tail end of El Camino or the tailer end of Stevens Creek Boulevard, you know, when it becomes West San Carlos, which is not a boulevard in the traditional manicured green garden in the median, boulevard. More like 3 lanes on either side, separated by the yellow dashed turn lane.

So I started looking. within a few minutes out in front was what looked great to me. The 1989 Fiat Brava. Throwing all caution and all the better advice that had always accompanied buying a Fiat in the USA, present time excluded, to the wind, I went into the trailer/sales office and asked how much. $3400 later, out I drove with what I now recall fondly as one of the most fun cars I have ever owned.
It started right up purred like a 6 cylinder, and shifted with a nice solid rubber knuckled 5 speed, that moved as one whenever you gunned the always on the prowl engine.

I wasn't completely deaf to the howls of derisive laughter I was about to endure when I told my friends what I had just bought, so after about a week, I looked up a Fiat repair shop in the Yellow Pages. Not the online Yellow Pages, and not after doing a Google search for "Yellow Pages", but an honest to god, 4 inch thick printed book dangling from the short desk of the nearest "Payphone". Which is what we used to use as a mobile device. Until Miami Vice showed us that along with drug dealers, everyone could own a portable phone if they were willing to plunk down $3,000 and were willing to carry the small briefcase that contained the battery along with the clip for the handset everywhere you go.

Original Fiat Brava ad
I took the Brava in and Tony (no seriously, his name was Tony!) did a head to toe full inspection, which means he opened up the hood and looked up and down a bit grunted a couple of times as he reached back with one hand holding up the hood, to pull on some hoses and assorted cables. Then dropped the hood with a finger, and said, "Nope, you're good."

Later I found out that this model had an unbreakable teflon timing belt, that was so reliable, it not only never broke, but never needed to be adjusted either.

Best car I ever owned. I sold it 3 years later to buy my first Saab 900 Turbo.

But that is another Drive Story...

Friday, June 6, 2014

(Opel) Rekord Keeping

My dad was a stud. I know, most kids think their dads are studs. But mine really was! At 53, I have met a lot of admirable men, but none have struck me as impressively as my father. He was simply one of a kind.
As I look back on my childhood and try to put him back into my mind's eye, and relate this to a drive story, the one thing that now pops up is my dad's love of cars, and an especial penchant and affinity for the Coupe. Or as he used to call it, the "Coupé!"

In college he had what would now be classic.
After college with marriage and a child, he did the responsible thing and bought the then Honda Accord of it's time the Mercedes 190.

But at the drop of a hat it seems and for no good sound reason except to be a stud, he bought the Miata of it's time the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

After that a made in Iran Rambler or as it was marqed the Arya. Metallic dark teal blue. A surprisingly resilient piece of shit. I can still smell the vinyl seats. I'm assuming my unexplainably negative feelings toward this car comes from my dad, who I am going to assume likely hated it.

Caption for Iran-made Rambler
The newspaper ad reads,
"Stronger than me (tiger),
Prettier than me (pretty woman),
Faster than me! (deer)"
I'm not sure of the process that led to the now infamous Opel Rekord Coupé, because I was simply too young, but knowing my dad, I am assuming he slowly formed the idea over a while, and then reached the decision point, and then snapped and pulled it off! The concern and surprise is that although my mom is equally formative in my mind and life, somehow she did not seem to mind it. Or that he pulled it off without telling her.

What I only faintly remember was during one of our many trips to Germany to visit our mother's side of the family, on one such visit, my mom telling me and my brother Kambiz, that we were "...going to be stopping off at a car factory to order your father's new car..."

I remember sitting in a car showroom on a rainy day in the summer, somewhere near Stuttgart, because "somewhere near Stuttgart" was always the starting point for our summer trips to Germany. Mom went in with our Uncle Christian and came out a few minutes later "All set, let's go".

The transaction that took place while me and Kambiz sat n the lobby, still amazes me to this day.

My father had taken an assignment from the Iranian Oil company to move to Algeria for a two year technical staff on loan assignment, you see back then, Iran was a relative expert in Oil exploration and the Algerians coming off their revolution against the French needed assistance developing their now liberated oil fields. Who knew that later in the 70's this good-will relationship would return the favor in helping the US and Iran negotiate the freedom of the hostages.
My mom had arranged, in a matter of minutes, for a brand new Opel Rekord Coupé to be first sent to a custom shop to have the then trademark of cool, black textured top added, and then she was to drive it to Hamburg, and arrange for it to be shipped to Algeria. My mom did this. Dad was off preparing for us to move to Algeria.

While we lived in Algeria we took the Opel to the Sahara desert. Mom crashed the Opel one day running off a rain slicked road. To repair it we had to send the car to Spain, the nearest Opel repair shop. While the car was being repaired we bought a temporary Peugeot 504, which I'm guessing did not go over well.

We literally travelled the world with that car, driving it back to Iran from via Spain after it had been repaired. Via Gibraltar. Via France. Via England. Via Belgium. Via Germany. Via Italy. Via Bulgaria. Via Turkey. Turkey took about as long as the rest of the trip. My dad driving, my mom, me and Kambiz on the mother of all road-trips. In an Opel Rekord Coupé.

Come to think of it, my mom is the real stud in the story.