The Twin Cities Auto Show for 2016 will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center from March 12-20. The place will be stuffed to the gills with over 500 different cars of just about every make and model of car you could think of, so you can dream of adventures on the open road or something to make the daily commute a little more comfortable. Morrie’s Imports is offering free tickets to this year’s auto show (in exchange for some marketing information so they can persuade you to sign on the dotted line sometime soon).
I am not a “car guy”, but I regularly enjoy watching “Top Gear”, “Fast and Loud”, “Counting Cars” and “Street Outlaws”, so I love going to the auto show. These days, I miss my 1981 Pontiac Firebird like you wouldn’t believe. I bought it new in 1981 when I was just starting to earn a little money and felt like indulging myself after years of slogging through life with sensible little used cars. Every day in high school I had to walk by Hansord Pontiac in downtown Minneapolis, past the latest Firebird gloriously displayed on an elevated outdoor turntable and always thought, “Someday…” So I custom ordered one that fulfilled that promise to myself. With the great lines, T-top, and rear spoiler, it was a beauty. It was the last model year for the full-size Firebirds, and I loved it. Now I go to the show to see the latest sports cars for fun, and the mid-sized grocery-getters when I come back to reality. And you can find some great deals there, too! It’s a great one-day staycation for you and your significant other.
My Firebird took me all the way to San Francisco when I moved there in 1983. It was great for tooling up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, but impractical for daily driving. You’d have to say that the 1981 Firebird gas mileage was mediocre at best, especially for short drives. Since gas prices were high and money was tight, I normally drove my wife’s car – a dowdy, beat-up 1979 Plymouth Horizon. I hated that little tin can with a passion, but it was what we had. That all changed in 1986 when my wife inherited a little money.
She’d wanted to buy a brand new car all of her life and this was her opportunity. She was very active in the local schools and one of the kids she’d known had grown up to be a car salesman at a nearby VW dealership. She made an appointment with him late one evening, and before I knew it she had signed the papers for a factory fresh 1986 Mazda 323 hatchback. She got the hatchback because we had a collectibles business that frequently meant we would have to pack a ton of goods in the back of the car to display our wares at collectibles shows in the Bay Area and down south in Los Angeles.
We loved the new Mazda. It had scads of room for a compact, with comfortable seats and a working air conditioner, something we sorely needed driving through the Central Valley to Los Angeles two or three times each year, and one of two features the Horizon lacked – reliable brakes. It was just 2 years later on a return trip from Los Angeles when disaster struck. We were driving on the same road that they shot the famous car chase scene in the movie “Bullet” with Steve McQueen when the car in front of us pulled off onto the right-hand shoulder of this two-lane section of the road, slowing down without stopping and then suddenly turned left back on the road in an attempt to make a U-turn. We didn’t have a chance to turn and ran right into her, hitting her broadsided. Our front end was crumpled, but to the naked eye everything from the firewall back appeared to be in pretty good shape so I was very surprised when our insurance company quickly declared it a total loss and never even mentioned the possibility of repairing it.
We were lucky to have a longtime friend whose corporate legal practice often entailed dealing with insurance companies. He advised us to be very skeptical of the insurance company’s settlement offers, and he was right. The Good Neighbor company started at about a third of the car’s value. Fortunately, my wife the consummate Virgo had kept copious records of the car’s maintenance history (Maggie was amazingly responsible about keeping the car in oil changes and tune-ups) so we could document its spectacular condition and because we were working out of the house it had very low mileage. After three or four exchanges over several weeks, punctuated with veiled threats of going through the arbitration process, we finally settled for a reasonable sum. We were finally able to start shopping for a replacement for our trusty 323.
Having had such a good experience with the Mazda, we naturally went back to the same dealership. Our friend no longer worked there, but the salesman we dealt with found us a diamond in the rough, even though he didn’t know it. It was a 1988 Mazda 626LX hatchback, barely a year old. The previous owner had to have been a salesman or something because it had nearly 90,000 miles on it. On top of that and much to my surprise, Maggie had the Service Manager pull the car’s service record and found they had replaced the engine at 50,000 miles and replaced the transmission at 75,000. In other words, this car had been pre-disastered. The car was essentially Mazda’s top of the line sedan and it had all of the bells and whistles right down to a power sun roof, and a graphic equalizer for the stereo. After weeks of being stranded, we were tired of not having a car, it would hold even more of our goods than our now-deceased 323, and the price was right, so we bought it.
The Mazda is nearly 30 years old now and I still love it. Other than having to replace the starter three times over the years at about 8-year intervals (I must be hard on starters, but I have no idea why or how), the car never lets me down. It even manages to go through snow pretty well, despite being so low to the ground. I’ve been neglecting the maintenance lately, but I plan to remedy that this summer. In case you were wondering, I had to abandon my beloved Firebird in California because it wouldn’t hold enough of my stuff for the move back to Minneapolis. I still get withdrawl pains every summer.