Monday, August 30, 2010

The Perversity of Dad's New Car And its Impact on the Porsche of Robin's Dreams

"PhotoShopping is too sophisticated for this dream. We will get to the Porsche in a minute ...

My father only ever purchased one new automobile. But I didn't know, until he grew very old and began to tell the unvarnished truth, why that Oldsmobile was so unusual.

It was a 1959 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight and he bought it the same year we bought our new house. The house I'm living in now.

Dad with his new car, in front of his new house.

It was a pretty car in its day. Long and lean, like my Dad, conservative, as he was, but with a dash of red around the whitewalls and a splash of red on the interior trim that gave it a certain panache.

Unfortunately, it was a beast to drive and a bear to ride in.

It had no radio, no heater, no automatic transmission and no power steering. With its size and tonnage, even Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney couldn't have turned it on a dime, even if she had thrown her entire body weight into it.

When we were children we just laughed about its eccentricities and shivered in the back seat on cold mornings. But, since he still owned the beast when we began learning to drive, we discovered, at nearly two tons and nineteen feet long, it was somewhat difficult to steer for a one-hundred pound girl with her mitts on the tiller.

When my father was almost ninety, he finally explained why he bought such a ridiculous car. He had seen an ad in the paper for a new Olds '88 with an advertised price of--I don't know, let's say, $2000. And when he went into the dealership he said that was what he wanted. The $2000 Olds '88 in gray and white with the red upholstery trim. He had the cash in his pocket (probably in his checkbook) and was ready to go.

Car salesmen being what they are, they showed him just what he wanted on the showroom floor. But the cost was--let's say $2799. "Why does it cost that?" asked my father. "The ad said $2000."

Well, it turns out the radio, the power steering, the heater and the automatic transmission were extras, hence the difference. The old "floor mat excuse" if you know what I mean.

My father did not brook fools lightly and said he would buy the $2000 model in gray and white with the red upholstery trim and nothing else would satisfy him. The discussion went on for some time with "neither mercy nor quarter," as Mr. Churchill said about the Battle of Britain.

Finally, the salesman ceded defeat. In order to fulfill my father's expectations, the dealership had to send to Detroit for a Special Order from the factory. The UAW guys on the production line are probably still laughing. I believe this is called Pyrrhic victory.

Later, on a trip home from Lake Tahoe, where we had driven for the day to "play in the snow," my toes didn't thaw out 'til Livermore. I was ten years old and can still feel the frostbite. When I was in television and did live reports in the snow my toes always froze first.

And then there was the time my older sister went to the store for our mother on the day after she had received her driver's license. About 1/2 mile from home, she remembered she had forgotten the list Mom had given her. She stopped the Olds and attempted to turn it around and head back for home.

When we next saw her, she was weeping. In attempting to turn the Olds, she had cranked the wheel and it had taken her about five passes to get the battleship going in the opposite direction. She had accidentally taken the neighbor's mailbox with her, post, flag, and all.

Dad was disgusted--any nick on a vehicle was grounds for a one-way trip to an orphanage--so, he and my sister apologized to the neighbor, dug him a new post hole, and erected a new mailbox for him. Neither my sister nor I ever drove the car again, preferring to use our Mother's little Chevy Impala which was slower and smaller but had less chance of causing us to be disinherited by our father and allowed one to listen to the Beach Boys as one drove. My sister, by the way, has never recovered from this trauma and cannot go near a mailbox, still, without breaking into a cold sweat.

Enter the dream car.

Eventually, my father rid himself of the Oldsmomonster and bought another dream car. This one was a genuine beauty. But, he bought it used and restored it, which kept any charges of conspicuous consumption at bay from his John Knoxian ethos. Once again, when he was very old and blabbing the truth all the time, he told me he really enjoyed driving the Jaguar XKE because it had so much power people looked at him when he pulled away from a stop sign. Vanity! I didn't know until he almost died that my father had any. Who would have known? He was so quiet most of his life. Unless you came home and told him you had just knocked over a mailbox with his Olds.

Friends who knew my parents late in their lives have mentioned to me several times that my father always wanted a new Cadillac but that Mom would not let him buy one. I have corrected them on this. Dad wanted a new Cadillac, but he would not allow himself to buy one. He just couldn't allow the car salesmen to "win."

What Mom often told him, especially if I were in the room was: "You might as well just buy yourself one, Ashley. When you die your daughter here [nod toward RC] is just going to buy herself a Porsche with your money!"

And Dad would look at me with an enigmatic smile.

I do hate proving my mother right: but don't you wonder what Dad would say if I did it?

I'm thinking of ordering one in Racing Green. You know. Special Order from the factory.

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