Cars I've Owned
#12 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Coupe
Brother Gene gave me a great deal on his car. Worked ok for a few years as I was starting out in Vernon Hills. Then the mid 1980s Chrysler build quality catches up with paint flaking off in sheets and electronics failing at inopportune moments. Can’t recall how much I sold it for, but was happy to move on.
#11 1989 Volvo 740
Marcia’s parents hand us down their Volvo. Amanda took her first car ride home from the hospital in the tank, safely cosseted in an infant seat. The rolling box of Swedish safety, able to survive direct moose or meteorite strikes, gets traded in for the similarly sturdy but easier to load and substantially more fun V70.
#10 2010 Ford Edge
Marcia’s car. Serviceable, multi-purpose family hauler. Not a minivan. The only* automatic transmission I’ve ever purchased. Not a bad vehicle, and the glass roof is excellent while driving through big cities at night. Favorite memory is barnstorming through the Midwest, laying waste to any 13 year olds who dared challenge the Davenport East Pony juggernaut on their run to the World Series. Dual sunroofs come in handy for venting teen boy sweat.
#9 1993 Jeep Cherokee
A black two door XJ, that served our years in Wisconsin admirably. Reliable, able to haul loads, and shockingly competent at (solo) high speed runs commuting home to Marcia and the kids on weekends before the clan moved to Superior. A basic, honest vehicle, beloved in the Jeep tribe for its simplicity and durability. How reliable is it? It was the only vehicle to make it over the snowstorm closed Blatnik bridge one night, taking Colin to the emergency room at the (far better) hospital in Duluth.
#8 2013 Jeep Wrangler
I tracked down a 2013 Challenger SRT with exactly what I wanted in Ottumwa but as I arrived to buy it, the two door Jeep was sitting there, looking like a hopeful black lab puppy at the pound. I took a peek inside and found a manual transmission, and none of the frippery that doesn’t belong in a Jeep. There’s a huge civility leap from the TJ to the JK, but the same go anywhere anytime character remains. Bouncing around GTNP with Colin was fun and, if I’m honest, I was somewhat proud to be pulled over for speeding on a Wyoming highway. That takes some effort. Wears retro Levis fender stickers as an inside joke / homage to my first Jeep.
#7 1978 Pinto Cruising Wagon
The one I should be embarrassed by. But if panel vans are H.A.M.B. cool and station wagons are Jalopnik cool, how bad could a panel van / station wagon be for a high school junior? Funktastic stripes, porthole windows, eight track, four speed and a backseat that folded down for ... you know. Well, that was the theory. The practice was hockey duffle bags, the lingering odor of which clung to the vehicle like a cumulus cloud of virginity.
#6 1992 Volvo V70
A family hauler that’s, again, not a minivan. Handles surprisingly well, gets good gas mileage and the stick shift adds fun. Volvo safety and intergenerational reliability come standard. Amanda’s current college car.
Weld up a couple sprockets, hang an air-cooled lawn mower engine off the back just like Ferdinand Porsche and turn an outgrown pedal car into Colin’s first powered vehicle. Don’t tell mom how fast it goes and hope the neighbors don’t call the cops. Wear a helmet !
#4 1984 Toyota Corolla
Marcia’s car when we met. The second most flingable car I’ve ever driven. The first was a Lotus Elise, so that’s saying something. AE86s have since developed a cult following, and of all the cars I’ve sold, this is the one I kick myself for getting rid of. At the time, I just had no idea Toyotas were going to become less exciting than toasters.
#3 2001 Jeep Wrangler
TJers swear they have the best Jeep ever, and there’s ample support for the claim. The straight six is indestructible and thumps out torque. It has a real, stamped steel grill, flat windshield and rides like a proper Jeep; memorably. Colin’s current car, perfect for a high school senior (or so I remember).
#2 Dune Buggy
A metallic purple Meyers Manx dune buggy for a first car? If you’re not open to possibilities at age fifteen, your life is heading in the wrong direction. No heater and marginal windshield wipers not the best idea for a Midwest winter vehicle, but its awesome vibe, the bark of an unmuffled flat four and ability to wheelie off the line made it the car in the high school lot everyone wanted a ride in. Pay no attention to the lack of a starter. Just park it on the top of a hill. If no hills are handy, watch the girls swoon (and their parents do the opposite) when you push start it, singlehandedly. Sold for a semester’s tuition at college.
#1 1976 Jeep CJ-5
A Levis edition Renegade, with a 304 V8 spitting fire through headers and side exiting Cherrybombs. If you are working full time while in high school, you might as well have a bitching ride. Not sure if my tinnitus is from the loud exhaust or the ridiculously amped stereo powering over the glasspacks and wind noise. My trusty mount from senior year in high school through grad school. HAVE I MENTIONED IT WAS LOUD? I did not sell it so much as bequeath what parts weren’t yet lost to rust to a kid who wanted his own adolescently awesome high school memory maker. I’m guessing he also became hooked on Jeeps for life.
* Honorable Mention
1976 Plymouth Volare
In a life of fun cars, perhaps the most fun, per owned minute. Hard to believe, until the backstory of buying it for $150 and entering it in a demolition derby is factored in. The mid-sized malaise era two door faired well against the behemoth wagons and land yachts of the time, finishing first in the qualifying heat and third overall.