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My First Car Was The “Days Of Thunder Car” (Ruminations on Chevy)

Posted by Amy in All About Amy | General | Non-NASCAR

I learned to drive in a Ford Limited (LTD). I don’t know the year but if I had to guess I would say it was an ’84 maybe at the newest. I know my parents traded in their red Pontiac Starfire (I think it was a ’75- I called her ladybug) for it because my brother and I were getting too big to fit in the back of the Starfire without our knees being under our chins- not to mention the close proximity to each other- enough to poke and otherwise torment each other the way siblings do and then call out with our tattletale refrains from the back seat:

“ARG!! He’s touching me!”

“No!! I’m not touching her! Mom she’s got her foot on me!”

Yeah we were that family.

I remember the Limited as a huge cream colored boat of a sedan with absolutely no power when you stepped on the gas and no real personality as far as cars go. A couple weeks before my actual DMV road test- my parents up and traded the Limited in for a brand spanking new 1990 Chevy Lumina (the sports sedan like the one in Days Of Thunder- not the minivan).  Yes you read that right- my parents bought the Days of Thunder car.

Our Chevy Lumina was a stark white car with tan microfiber seats and a red outline of the famous Chevy bowtie on the car’s black grill.  The lack of power the Limited had was made up for in aces in the Lumina and it took me a while to get use to the extra power behind the accelerator. Despite “practicing” in the Lumina every chance I got,  I was worried about my driving test.  I nervously sat in that car at the DMV waiting for my tester to take me on the road test. The first thing he did after he buckled his seat belt was look over at me “This is a new car?” He asked me, disbelief in his voice.  I just nodded my head and mumbled awkwardly “Yeah it’s my parent’s car- they just bought it.”  He just nodded back and chewed his gum and instructed me on where to go.  In case you are wondering- I passed on that first try- 96% (I got 2 points knocked off for weaving slightly when backing up, and 2 points knocked off for rolling through a stop sign instead of stopping completely- and I was worried about throwing him against his seat belt too hard accelerating).

The Lumina would eventually be gifted to me by my parents while I attended college because I need reliable wheels to get back and forth to school as a commuter student and having it under my own name would save them technically should any liability issues come up. She was a throaty  v-8 and if I am being honest was way more car than I needed.  She went through brakes every 30,000 miles on the dot or you risked destroying the brake calipers and had issues with that new technology of on-board computer and that sucker ended up having to be replaced like three separate times.  Still I drove her- a lot. And not just back and forth to school- although it came in quite handy to get not only to school but to off-site service projects we did as students.  Those wheels were mine and they were my new found independence and I drove all over with them.  Despite her quirky issues, she was a good car until the end for the most part considering she was rode hard and put away wet often by someone who was young and still kind of naive- yet she trucked along as always.

I finally graduated and got a full time job. My first big purchase was a new car. It was an impulse buy really. I had gone to a nearby city with my best friend and we were killing time before the shopping outlets opened so we drove through the dealerships nearby. I threw my car in part and got out to look at a Jetta- I was curious to see how much something like that would cost as my aunt had a much beloved one. As soon as I popped out of the car I was approached by a salesman and when I told him I was just looking- he immediately said “Well you go home and bring back your daddy when you’re ready little girl.“  Considering I was well into my 20s by the this point- he didn’t make a friend of me.  I ended up over at Toyota a bit later and at the end of the day drove away in an adorable, spunky black Toyota Rav4 with silver cladding.  We never even made it to the outlets that day. It was a rainy  Super Bowl Sunday when leased her- with most of the salesman at the dealership huddled around a television except for the salesman who worked with me. When I finally pulled her into the drive way at home I was so proud of my new little car.

Unfortunately for me, my dad wasn’t as pleased. I am sure he felt left out of the whole car buying process.  My parents also claim that one of the stipulations of the Lumina being mine was that when I was ready to trade it in- that I give them a chance to buy it back. I don’t remember that being the case.  Needless to say- there were a lot of hurt feelings all over the place but those gave way and eventually my car became the family joke- my dad claiming it looked like a little clown car and when I would go to pull out of the driveway and he was feeling playful he would run out and pretend to wind it up.  My Rav4 (named Doris after the bus in the movie Almost Famous) was the last year they made those cute little boxy ones. I loved that car and she was reliable- another reason I bought her after my lease was up. She was light- and could hydroplane easily- something I found out from experience and after I turned my lease into a purchase the first thing I did was put in a killer stereo system.  She taught me lots of lessons- like I drive WAY too much to have a lease, that mechanics don’t always know what they are doing, how driving in snow is scary, and what to do (and not to do) when someone runs a red light at Disneyland and hits your very full car hard.

Then one day- I went to leave to go somewhere and the Rav4 wouldn’t start. I knew it couldn’t be the battery- the electrical was coming on- plus I had just gotten a new one and knew what it was like when the battery was dead. I sat there and tried to start it and when it wouldn’t I gave up and I went back inside. Eventually came back out and tried again and it worked. This would be the beginnings of an issue that would be the reason that I would eventually look to get another vehicle.  It had this annoying problem where every once in a while (which soon became once every three or four times) it would just refuse to start- usually while still warm.  Four different trips (each for about $300 bucks to change this or replace that but nothing worked) to three different mechanics had me no closer to getting my reliability back in my beloved Rav4 and was crumbling my faith in mechanics- all of whom claimed to change something and that they weren’t able to reproduce the problem. You would think that mechanics from the dealership at least would have been able to figure out what was wrong with their own car but no luck.  I STILL think that the fuel filter was plugged up but no one listened to the girl.

During the summer of 2007- at the height of the Rav4 not starting, I went on a long planned road trip to Las Vegas to visit my friend Misty. Because I couldn’t trust my Rav to start with any regularity- I rented a car. Despite the fact that I had reserved a compact- the rental company didn’t have one.  I ended up with a Chevy HHR.  My little road trip really ended up being a 1000 mile test drive. I fell in LOVE with the Chevy HHR.  That December I walked into my local Chevy dealership and came out with my 2008 HHR LT2.

The HHR meets The Valley Of Fire in Overton, Nevada. (Photo Credit: Amy K. Marbach)

When my sister-in-law first saw it she called it a “soccer mom” car.  I was slightly offended – really? A soccer mom car? Ha! I am not a mom- and soccer is not really my thing.  But if you know me then you know that I have almost always had a love of cars. Misty can tell you that when she met me way back in the dark ages of junior high- my bedroom was covered in pictures of cars- classic American muscle cars and Italian speed peppered my walls instead of actors and singers (well for the most part anyway).  I bought the HHR because not only did I love the rental but also because it reminded me as much as a modern car could of one of my favorite classics- the Chevy Nomad.

I still love my Chevy HHR and drive her every day, but sadly she is getting up there in age.  Some of her technology is antiquated- mostly I would love a car with integrated bluetooth. She (I call her GL- short for Greased Lightning as in the car in Grease) too has some quirky issues as any car with age does- a strange and somewhat annoying noise from the vent when the a/c is on being paramount not to mention a drivers-side sun visor that will NOT stay up where it belongs. I know that she has a delicate catalytic converter (the flex joint that connects the converter to the exhaust cracks “easy” I have already gone through one), a couple of huge blind spots, and her leather is definitely starting to show her age.  But she still holds a special place in my heart.

I admit that when I am bored and in front of a computer that I have been visiting car manufacturer websites and checking out specs and “building” cars with all the options I desire. It doesn’t mean anything- mostly because I really haven’t found anything that pleases me.  And while my parents have a nice, brand spanking new Chevy Malibu LTZ that I am somewhat jealous of  because ofall the bells and whistles (love the back up camera) I  still complain that the steering wheel is too small (my dad says I like my steering set up like a tractor) and joke that I don’t want a “grandma” car. But the Malibu is fast yet so quiet in the cabin and the trunk is HUGE! If I look at the ECO- the gas mileage makes me happy. But I can’t get over the “grandma” factor. So I look at other manufacturers for now and wish that Chevy had something sporty, throaty yet with good gas mileage (at least 30 MPG if not better- I drive ALOT), something decidedly un-grandma-ish. I tell people that I am holding out to see what the new SS will look like this fall. I have a feeling the SS isn’t going to be high on the MPGS unfortunately. But it’s really just all talk. Is it even sensible to consider trading in a perfectly fine car with no major problems? My brain tells me no.

My heart (and quite possibly my very early mid-life crisis) tell me to be totally insensible and get that Camaro that I have been drooling over since they came out.  My purse tells me ARE YOU INSANE?  The sticker on the car would be on the upper end for the options I am looking for and gas mileage wise would be totally impractical as an every day driver…wouldn’t it? (Here is where you node your head and say “yeah…that sucks but you should really get something practical”). That isn’t even considering insurance and maintenance costs.

Then I see something like this and I lose absolutely ALL of my sensibilities completely for a couple minutes:

Luckily my sensibilities return and I begin to tell myself things like “You thought the Lumina was more car than you needed? That is WAY MORE car than you need- you may as well be buying a lambo or something totally crazy. Go buy that grandma car…or better yet- just keep the HHR til it starts becoming problematic” or “You think insuring and gassing a Camaro would be expensive…”

Stupid sensibilities, sigh.

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