Saturday, August 22, 2015

Car-Man Love

My first Honda found its way to me on the advice of a co-worker; a man with a well-earned reputation for being hard to please. When I overheard him expressing vehicular contentment one afternoon, I paid attention.

This because my previous car had been totaled in an accident. An accident which occurred the very same weekend I lost a job on Friday and attended the most miserly, god-awful wedding of my life on Saturday. 

(And no, dear readers, it wasn't mine.)

I forget what's never supposed to happen on Sunday, but it didn't include being cut-off by an inattentive motorist who impulsively attemptsd a left turn from the center lane of a multi-lane street.

The result of my valiant attempt to avoid the guilty party was that I skidded across the intersection (did I mention it hadn't rained for weeks and the pavement was unusually slick?) and came to rest on the opposite side against a high, carriage-era curb.

You might be amused to know that as a young man with an undeveloped sense of mortality, I was un-belted and thus struck my head against the windshield. In addition to answering questions you may have about the opinions and views expressed here at the Square Peg, this event also decided when I would commence the wearing of seat belts.

But I digress.

I was quickly tiring of the Chevrolet Cavalier supplied to me by the perpetrator's insurance company, and needed to know more about what had provoked my co-worker's highly irregular satisfaction.

In need of an affordable, reliable and durable car able to fit the constraints of my newly-reduced income and meet the demands of my primary job as a publisher's rep (which had me crisscrossing Chicago like a mayoral candidate on the eve of an election), he made it clear a Honda was required.

The red Civic hatchback I bought that January was a joy. Well-built, efficient and comfortable, it was small enough to maneuver into tiny urban parking spaces and big enough to haul a seven-foot bookcase. 

It was the first car I ever owned that did what the brochure said it would do. 

It was bulletproof. It's high-revving, four-cylinder engine was a wonder on the expressways, and was augmented by a nifty five-speed manual transmission. That drive train was the automotive equivalent of Cal Ripken—it never missed a game.

The four-wheel double wishbone suspension kept rubber pressed against asphalt, assuring maximum grip at all four corners no matter what the conditions. At speed, the lightweight Civic was a ball, hunkering down and carving up turns in a way no car with its price tag had any business doing.

That light curb weight also meant power steering wasn't necessary, and the unassisted steering imparted information even as it remained thankfully light in parking lots and parallel parking situations.

In a little over eight years I accumulated nearly 200,000 miles on it, proof not only of its durability but of its inviting driving character. I just loved being in the thing. With the addition of an aftermarket Alpine cassette deck which fed a pair of two-way Concord speakers, life could seem damn near care-free.

Alas, the Civic wasn't perfect. Low-end torque was in short supply. The brakes were so-so. The windshield glass was soft and prone to scratches and chips. And despite regular waxing, the finish on the body and wheel covers faded and peeled well before they should have. 

Yet in the face of such mechanical excellence, these were trifles. Mere trifles. 

The inevitable arrived in 1999. In need of a new car, and after having considered a modest restoration (nixed when I discovered insurance companies wouldn't recognize it), it was time to let go. Even with two-hundred thousand miles on the clock and a worn exterior I was shocked at what the dealer offered me. 

Honda's resale value is no myth.

The Japanese revere age because it reveals the essence of things. And insofar as my Civic is concerned, I couldn't disagree. My Civic remained a loyal and willing companion to the very end. Leaving it on the dealer's lot as I drove away in its shiny, new replacement felt like an unforgivable act of betrayal. 

Every now and then, it still does.


  1. I had a '75 Civic I bought off my brother. It was a hoopty, a beater...but I made out like a bandit on that car. I was driving to work in San Francisco and a huge van ran a red light; I hit it, tore up the front end...but the damage was cosmetic. The car was "totalled" by their insurance company (as it was their fault) and I got $1,000. But it drove, and I kept driving it. Then the City of Alameda Public Works Department backed a truck into it and backed it up over the curb so the axles bent. The left side was fine with the wheels like || but the other side was like //. THEIR insurance company "totalled" the car again, and I got another $1,000. It wouldn't drive with two wheels that were like //, so I junked it and got some MORE money from the junk yard.

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  3. You ain't kidding!

    That is a great story. Thanks for posting it here