Crunch. That’s the sound I heard before all of the witnesses started saying, “Ooooooooh SNAP!” I was waiting inside the SRX on a carwash line when the guy behind me decides to get out of his Civic and start cleaning out his garbage. Of course, he somehow let the parking brake go and the car rolled down the ramp and plowed into my rear bumper.
Jump ahead THREE MONTHS and I finally take the SRX in to get the bumper repaired. Since I wasn’t at fault, the other guy’s insurance covered the rental. Allstate paid for an upgrade from subcompact to intermediate…which somehow meant I got a black 2007 Toyota Corolla LE. At first blush, the car seems fine: decent interior, non-ugly exterior, supposedly good mpg and a roomy trunk. As an enthusiast, I was intrigued to finally get some quality time behind the wheel of a car I’ve never driven before.
After 6 hours on the highway with it, I was drained. It was impossible for me to find a comfortable driving position. It just couldn’t be done. Send me and the car to NASA for a month and have all their nerds run logarithms and computer simulations and they’d still be unable to do much more than I could alone. Beyond that, Toyota must get those high MPG ratings by sacrificing all comfort and safety in the name of low resistance tires. They were loud and gave up grip at points way earlier than one would like. A few off-ramps became white-knuckle screech-fests at just 29mph.
The engine was surprisingly up to the task of keeping the car moving with modern traffic on the interstate, but around town was another matter altogether. At a stoplight I floored it [note: this wasn’t rental car abuse, it was a stoplight on a 55mph road, and I had to get up to speed or risk getting run over], and not only did the Ford Mustang to my right have no trouble putting some pavement between us, but the Infiniti behind him also passed me with little effort.
On the way to home base, I met up with my sister and dad at a Mercedes-Benz event wherein they let you take a 2008 C-class around a track they set up. This particular event was held at a fully functioning airport on Long Island, so planes were landing and taking-off immediately behind us. Fun. The highlight of the event (besides the blue-cheese and onion squares) was when my sister got a $45,000 C350 Sport sideways in a turn and mowed down a long set of cones before the car righted itself. It’s times like that when I’m glad my girlfriend bought me a video camera for our 2 year mark, as I got it all on tape (hard-drive?). I only got her a soap dish, but that’s another matter altogether.
After that respite from reality, I had another hour in the Corolla. When that hour finally labored past, I needed to expunge the weird smell of wet bamboo from my nose and reset my visceral sensors.
The only thing powerful enough to rid me of the Corolla’s stank was my Belvedere.
Oh man, she started right up and purred like a horny, infuriated Saber Tooth. I punched the “D” push button and stormed out into the countryside.
I got so lost in the drive that I didn’t realize I managed to burn a full half a tank of gas in about two hours. I treated her to some Premium unleaded (harden valve seats make that possible) to the tune of $3.60/gallon (Hey, it’s the Hamptons). After that I was back on the road. It was so peaceful and fulfilling to be driving this car on a such a perfectly crafted day. The air smelled so clean, the sun was warm, the air was cool, the roads were open, and the sky was an incredible shade of blue. If heaven exists, then I'm pretty sure I cruised through it that day.
I think everyone else had the same idea as me. You couldn’t throw a dead hooker without hitting a vintage car out on a drive: ’62 Corvette, ‘56/7 ‘vette (I didn’t have time to count the teeth in the grille as it went past me), ’55 Chrysler convertible, ’59 Edsel, ’53 Mercury, 1st gen Chevelle, and a ’57 Pontiac Star Chief, among others. That last one was, apparently, right behind me as I was waiting for the LIRR to train on past. I finally noticed it right before the crossing gates when up, which brings me to this: People—if you have a car built when gasoline’s octane rating had triple digits, and you have an open road on a clear day, why waste your high compression V8 by doing 15 mph? That’s exactly what happened. I stepped on the gas and got back into that special rhythm that happens when man and machine are both sublimely in step, and that beaut of a Pontiac was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back, acting like a Prius driver watching his MFD screen trying to maximize electric-only time. Where’s the fun in that?
And then something amazing happened. I’ve had this car since 2003, and yesterday it finally happened. I floored it. All 8 barrels of carbureted excellence fully opened and sucking in as much gas and air as their CFM rating would allow. I know, I know. You’re asking why it took almost a half-decade for me to put the pedal to the metal. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to put too much strain on a 49 year old piece of rolling sculpture that I used to dream about when other little boys were busying themselves with The Legend of Zelda.
After about a half a day of wasting the dino fluid, the wet bamboo smell lodged in my olfactory was replaced by that hearty, difficult to describe, nostaligia-inducing smell of pre-pollution controls exhaust.
It was a great day.
Oh, and for everyone’s aural and visual stimulation, I’ve attached some multimedia. I didn’t have my camera with me when I parked her at the wharf in Sag Harbor, NY, so I used my Razr. And to re-create the joy of full-out motoring, I had my sister take video of me flooring it on the very farm road where I, earlier that day, lost my foot-to-the-floor virginity.
Thanks for reading.
The obligatory “Christine” shot: