Confessions of a Car Junkie



    Many men (well, maybe most) have some sort of weakness which, should a temptation approach them that appeals to their innate psychological Achilles tendon, causes them to turn into weak-kneed bowls of jelly totally unable to offer any resistance.  To some it may be the evil vices of booze, or smoking, or gambling…maybe even the irresistible attraction of the opposite gender.  But for me and a generation of kids who grew up in my era of youth, namely the fifties and sixties, it was the magnetic attraction of the American automobile.  It’s possible that I inherited my addiction from my dad who loved cars and was a “Mercury man” for nearly thirty years, but whatever the source, by the time I turned twelve I knew the engine size, horsepower, weight, length, width, height, and color choices for every automobile manufactured for the current year by the Big Three (Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler Corporation.)  Back in those days, most new model cars were introduced to the public around the first of every October.  Shiny new models were well kept secrets, delivered to dealers while under heavy canvas hidden from prying eyes until the Holy Day of Revelation.  On the Blessed Day there would be hundreds of people at the showrooms to see the latest offerings from the manufacturers.   I have seen police at local dealerships directing traffic because of the demand to see the new models of various cars.  Most dads took their sons to football games; my dad took me to every new car showing in Baytown.  I was there the day the first 1958 Edsel was uncovered at the dealership on Commerce Street and heard a couple hundred people gasp at its radical styling.  On the day the 1964 Ford Mustang debuted, I had to park blocks away from the dealership and had to wait several minutes before I could even get inside the dealership due to the crowd of gawkers.  I had stacks of brochures and studied them thoroughly.  I knew more about the cars than the salespeople did.
    The 1950s were the golden age of the American automobile.  Unrestricted by oil limitations, gas prices, EPA mileage requirements, or federal guidelines, and blessed with highly imaginative stylists with carte blanche to design the dream car for the masses, the American automotive industry created some of the most distinctive, outlandish, and memorable automobiles in the history of transportation.  Each major brand of automobile boasted a distinctive profile (’59 Cadillac fins!) that made each model recognizable from any reasonable distance and generated an owner loyalty to the marques which is distinctly absent in today’s market.  Automobile manufacturers of today, encumbered by EPA mileage requirements, high energy prices, safety regulations, international competition, and globalization of the markets are forced to create generic cars, predictable in design, uninspiring in appeal, and indistinguishable from competitive brands.  Ninety percent of automobiles on the road today would be unidentifiable if viewed from a shadow profile.
    Please note that up until this point I haven’t mentioned quality of product.  Whereas the fifties set of wheels glittered with miles of shiny chrome, glass, and rainbows of colors, the standard warranty was 90 days or 3,000 miles, and extended warranties were unheard of.  When an automobile hit 70,000-80,000 miles, it was usually time for a major engine overhaul, and brakes and tires were worn out in well under 40,000 miles.  The American auto industry had not yet discovered the value of building a quality product; their specialty was building a car which would blind you with its styling and make you not even care about the expensive upkeep.  Today’s cars, however bland and styling-deficient they may be, far outshine their ancestors in durability and safety.  Unfortunately for today’s manufacturers, the first reaction to practically anything comes from a visual impression, and the cars of today just don’t get the blood churning like their predecessors.  Even the so-called SUVs so prevalent today have degenerated into an indistinguishable pile of mediocrity with each manufacturer unashamedly copying their perceived competitors’ products.  The creative, bar-raising, boundary-busting automotive model is nowhere in sight.  I had high hopes for the Tesla, the all-electric luxury vehicle created by an individual (wealthy) genius unrestricted by the closed culture of the automotive giants, but the Tesla’s styling is, at best, mundane and unexciting.
     However I may moan and groan about the state of the modern automobile, it hasn’t stopped me from buying them.  Since I drove my first 1954 Mercury off the lot in 1959, I have been privileged to own 140 different vehicles…a total of 33 different brands, foreign and domestic.  Granted, I have slowed down recently to about a car or two per year, but back in the earlier days, I apparently was seeking the Holy Grail of automobiledom and therefore had a tendency to look longingly at a different models on a somewhat regular basis.
  I have always liked two-seater sports cars, preferably with convertible tops.  I’ve never been much of a truck person.  I recently read that of all the trucks sold in the United States today, over 60% of them are never used as trucks for hauling. Truck manufacturers have done a masterful job of relating truck ownership to manhood, so “drivin’ mah one-ton dooley” satisfies the macho male ego more than anything else.  I realize that some trucks are used for work, but otherwise, why someone would drive a bulbous, wallowing, thirsty, bouncy, non-stylish vehicle around is beyond me.  I was hooked on sports cars after I bought my first one…a 1961 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce.  It was a red, high-revving Italian job with double overhead cams and Weber carbs back when most American iron was just discovering overhead valves.  It could turn on a dime and give you a nickel change.  I taped a microphone back near the rear wheel, turned on the recorder, and went screaming around corners while going up through the gears and listening to the tires screech.  Afterward, I played that tape over and over at home.  Cheap thrills.  In later times came eight MGs, a couple of Triumphs, and even a Fiat X/19 (the only car I would not drive anywhere without my toolbox.)  I traded the Fiat for a Lincoln Town Car…sort of one extreme to another.

   One of the coolest cars I ever owned was a 1981 Gazelle, a 1929 Mercedes SSK fiberglass kit car built on a Ford chassis.  I didn’t build it…it was professionally built and beautiful.  Used to have girls follow me in their cars wanting to go for a ride.  Since I wasn’t in the mood for any marital stress, I eventually sold the Gazelle.  One of the quickest cars I ever owned was a 1968 American Motors AMX, a two-seat sports car built by AMC for a few years.  Small, light, with a 390 V8 and four-speed, it would scream through the gears.  It wasn’t much on stopping though…this was before disc brakes came along.  One of the prettiest cars I ever bought was a new 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo…one of the first models with glass T-tops.  It was a beautiful car, but in summer the glass roof let in way too much heat, and you baked even with the AC on full blast.  Looked good with the glass roof off, though. 

    I got interested in Saabs for a few years and owned four.  Saabs were built by weird Swedish engineers and were a little quirky. The ignition key was in the middle of the console between the front seats.  But a Saab drove and handled like a sports car, and it was one of the first manufacturers to offer turbocharged engines.  They were very quick for the time.  However, they were a little problem prone.  Son Bobby drove one from Wyoming to the University of Houston and had car trouble driving south, while he was in Houston going to school, and on his way back north to Wyoming.  It was so expensive to fix, I once flew down to Houston, fixed the car myself, and flew back to Wyoming…all cheaper than it would have cost us at a Saab dealer in Houston.  When he got back home, I bought him a new Honda…end of car troubles.

   I’ve owned some cars that I thought were ahead of their times…a 1968 Renault 10 and a 1980 Nissan 310GX.  Small but comfortable, both cars consistently obtained 40-45 mpg…but nobody cared because gas was $0.30 per gallon.  Then I’ve also owned vehicles that were at the end of their lifetimes, namely six Jeep Wagoneers.  Not the baby ones you see today, but the large, Suburban-style, full-time four-wheel drive behemoths that were the workhorses of Wyoming.  It was impossible to stick one in the snow.  They went everywhere.  
    When the Chrysler PT Cruiser was introduced, it was such a throwback design and innovative, I had to have one, and it was a very enjoyable and economical driver for a couple of years…but it wasn’t a
convertible, so in time I was driving a ’97 Ford Mustang GT convertible.  Nice, comfortable car. One car, however, I had never owned had always interested me.  Therefore, having entered my declining years of senility and common sense, I had an opportunity to trade my 97 Mustang GT convertible for a car I had always admired from a distance.  It wasn’t new by any stretch…a 1996 Chevrolet Corvette.  In auto sales parlance it would have been described as “honest.”  Very clean, very original, no body work, good leather, 89,000 miles, removable roof panel, and ran like nothing I’d had since the AMX.  I looked for reasons to take it for a drive.

    At about this same time, Shirley and I were driving as our family car a 2011 Kia Sorento, our second foray into the SUV market, having traded in a 2003 Buick Rendezvous.  Both cars were roomy, comfortable, and very utilitarian…and as exciting as a shovel. Unfortunately, after owning the 'Vette for a couple of years, I had to let it go because of a hip replacement.  'Vettes are not that easy to enter, anyway, and with a bum hip it became untenable to own.  I traded it for a new Kia Soul. You know you have reached old age when you trade a Corvette for a Kia Soul, but the Soul was an
amazing little car.... roomy, comfortable, efficient, and dependable as a Maytag appliance.  It was the perfect suburban car, although about as exciting as that Maytag appliance I mentioned.  I drove it for a couple of years and sold it.  Tired of car payments.      
marvel of German design, it had the same 200 hp turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that was in the VW Golf GTI, and as a result, it was very quick.  For an old guy like me, I had the security of a sedan with the top up, but when I felt adventurous on those mild spring and fall days we have in Houston, in 50 seconds I could have a fun wind-in-your-face sports car to drive and enjoy.  It was the best of both worlds.
      But it wasn't a Corvette.  Just something about 'Vettes.  I traded the EOS for a 1993 C4 Corvette.  87,000 miles and very clean.  My good friend and neighbor summed up the purchase succinctly, "Well, Bob, you just proved you're never too old to do something foolish!"  He
may have been right, because I drove 
the Vette for a year and traded it for a 2015 VW CC, which is a VW Passat which has been upgraded on the exterior, in the interior, and with the roof shaved down about two inches for a more streamline look.  It has the same 200 hp turbocharged 2.0 engine as the EOS, so it runs very well. Being twenty-two years newer than the Vette, it is much more contemporary in its furnishing with GPS, power assists, MP3 music, Sirius radio, etc.  
    Recently, Shirley and I said goodby to our faithful 2011 Kia Sorento and traded for a 2021 Buick Encore GX Select, a smaller SUV packed with enough electronics to pilot a spaceship.   It will warn you, advise you, guide you, listen to you...all the while keeping you in comfort. 

    On some future day I’m sure that I will hang up my keys and
reserve the Senior Citizen bus for my travels.  But until then, I’ll still be collecting auto brochures and reading car magazines.  And who knows?  Maybe another Corvette.



Birthday Poems


               Birthday Poems


   The Fiftieth Rung on the Ladder of Life

Methinks it be not super nifty

When one turns the magic fifty!

  Forsooth, it seems both bod’ and mind

                            Hath nature ravaged, most unkind!


Unbeknownst, time took its toll,

And now, though willing in heart and soul,

I call to my feet, “I’m in a running mood!”

They answer back, “Forget it, Dude!

The only thing we want to feel

Is a cushioned footstool under the heel!”


Durst I not know?  I anguish and weep

That now I choose an afternoon’s sleep

Instead of football, baseball, or track.

And incentive to work?  I totally lack!


“To be or not to be!” The question rages.

The answer ballyhooed down through the ages.

But as for me, my response is thrifty,

“Don’t ask me, Bub, I just turned fifty!”


Bob Downing   May 5, 1993 


                             Nothing Rhymes with "Sixty!"

             Nothing rhymes with "sixty" as one turns the annual page.

Nothing rhymes with sixty; it’s an awkward, frustrating age!

Too young to be old; too old to be young

                         Concerned your life’s song has already been sung.


The memories of the past grow longer…yet fade,

While the future once dreamed seems fainter in life’s shade.

Helpless and hapless, trapped in time’s ceaseless tide,

Then saved from the gloom by, “Hey, Papaw! Come outside!”


The message becomes clear.  It’s not the future or past,

But the present is where our legacy is cast.

Children and grandchildren, the caress of a wife,

The closeness of a family…therein lies life.


With His hand to guide us as we travel along

Everything rhymes with sixty…if you play the right song! 

Bob Downing   May 5, 2003



Three score and ten” the Scriptures do say

Are the days of our years; we then “fly away.” *

An endless time…through the eyes of the young…

Becomes hauntingly brief when life’s song is near sung.


The horizons once faced are now memories long past.

The victories and triumphs so cherished did not last.

The failures, the heartaches, the losses, and schemes

Of a life poorly spent bring nights’ tortured dreams.


The curtains of our minds in the dark of the night

Draw open to reveal a troubling sight…

Unlimited youth with its promise and fun

Has vanished away like the dew in the sun.


The desires, the passions, the zest for the day

Are like snowflakes that fall and soon melt away.

The finish, once distant, looms alarmingly near

And the memories of life become ever so dear.


The goals, once assumed, are now elusively caught,

And the emotion of love becomes merely a thought. 

Deeds once accomplished with hardly a strain

Are now deeds but dreamed and seldom without pain.


But continue we must, and through effort and strength

The days of our lives may be increased in length.*

With happiness and love and good deeds to lend

Three score and ten” could be when we begin.

Bob Downing May 5, 2013

*Psalm 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; 

And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,

Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; 
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.


       The Eightieth Year


In the circle of life, there’s a beginning and end

And the completion of such is a loss or a win.

A life once viewed with challenge and dare

Becomes but a vapor which fades in the air.


Memories become longer while the future grows slim

Strength becomes fleeting and vision becomes dim.

Failures and losses bring an occasional tear

While victories and triumphs remain crystal clear.


With the eightieth year comes quiet resignation

What goals have been reached bring mild satisfaction.

An acceptance of completion of a marathon race

And a dream of transition to a better place.


The promises of Scripture become vibrant and clear

When the prospects of receiving those prizes draw near.

A life well lived, with His guiding hand,

Brings eternal reward in that heavenly land.


Bob Downing   May 5, 2023