Thursday, August 10, 2006

#289 - Ok, NOW I Miss the Eighties

Attention Scion owners: You're driving a box.

Sorry to break it to you, but it's true. That xB model you think is making a statement is in fact stating that you are driving in a box that appears to have all the aerodynamic properties of a brick. With windows.

That's why I miss the 80's. Not for the poofy hair, or even necessarily the music, but for the aerodynamics. Because suddenly, just in the past couple of years, the entire country seems to be buying cars that look like they were losers in last year's Technology Fair at the local high school.

Not that I should talk. I bought my first car in 1982 with Mom and Dad's help. Oh, it was aerodynamic enough. It was the legendary (notorious? infamous? nefarious?) Chevy Vega; a car capable of speeds of upwards of 26 miles an hour before the aluminum engine block warped and various fluids and smoke (not steam) began issuing from the hood. Perhaps it should have tipped me off that I courted my ex-wife in that car. No marriage could have survived that thing.

The Vega had a unique ignition system. To start the car, you simply put the key in the ignition, turned it to the "Acc" position, popped the hood, took the screwdriver that is always kept in the glove box out, shorted the solenoid to actually start the engine, ran back to pump the accelerator a time or two to let the car know you were serious about going somewhere, then closed the hood and drove off. Sometimes you made it, sometimes you were calling Triple-A. But it was a car and it was mine. And, as I say, it was aerodynamic. This was a good thing, because it needed all the help it could get.

I paid $900 for it and sold it to the junk dealer who towed it off the freeway for $35 cash two years later. I consider that a respectable return for a '74 Vega Hatchback.

With the exception of my '81 Chevy Blazer - Tahoe Edition, which was an even more gutless wonder than the Vega but failed to entirely sour my relationship with Chevrolet, each car I've bought in my adult life has had an aerodynamic look to it. Even my old Chevy station wagon had a sleeker hood and body than the old fake wood-panelled wagons of the 60's and 70's. (Ok, that one finally soured me on Chevy. I will probably never buy another one in this lifetime, if I can at all help it.)

But lately, I've noticed that more and more manufacturers, even the luxury makers, are going for the "box" look made so popular by Hummer. I don't know if you've noticed, but even Cadillac, which has always struggled with a boxy look, is more and more resembling a steam locomotive these days. Why pay upwards of thirty thousand dollars for the privilege of driving around in something that looks like you could convert it into a duplex? ("Cadillac: Still Built Like a Box so You'll Know It's a Cad!")

I guess it was my having lived through the Energy Crisis of the 70's. Detroit finally responded to hordes of American consumers snapping up every cretin import to come along (anyone remember Yugo?) by designing their lead-sleds with sleeker, more aerodynamic looks to them. Thus was born an entire generation of American automobile that looked great, but still had mileages comparable to Sherman tanks. But we didn't care; we were buying American Cars again, and proud of it, too.

I suppose it was only the fact that these cars started breaking down about two weeks after you drove them off the lot that once again pushed American consumers in the direction of Japanese imports that (at the time) looked funny but lasted for decades rather than days. At least, that was how I responded. I owned a '79 Toyota Corolla that was my pride and joy for several years. It was a little sluggish for a Toyota by the time I bought it, but it was a sporty car and worked fine for the entire time I owned it. Likewise, Mrs. Woody brought to our marriage the '84 Honda Accord that she bought in '83 brand new, and now has over 212,000 miles on it. This is the car we will trade in for a mini-van sometime in the next year or so, but only because it doesn't have air conditioning. In my advancing age I must have air conditioning, so the Saturn stays.

The Saturn, too, is a sleek looking little car. It's a '97 model year car, and qualifies as the only "brand new" car I've ever owned (although we bought it in Mrs. Woody's name for reasons that are, frankly, none of your business). It has lasted nearly 10 years now and just rolled 100,000 on the odometer a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it follows in the same tradition as its ancestors by being mostly a gutless wonder. But it has been our vacation vehicle nearly every vacation we've ever driven, and it has earned every one of those 100K miles.

As I say, we'll be in the market for a mini-van soon. My sister-in-law is trying to sell me on Dodge, but I'm still eyeing the imports. They're just built better, in my opinion, and you don't have to pay so much overhead to cover union negotiations.

Although, should Detroit ever return to their aerodynamic roots, I might just bite. Maybe build a van with fins. Yeah, and maybe a spoiler on the back end.

Whatever they do, just so they don't make it look like a brick.

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