I got my first car in 1963. It was a Chevrolet Corvair. I thought it was swell, but I didn't know much about cars or driving them, and I flipped it onto its roof a few weeks after I got it (unlike most American youngsters I was more into riding and driving horses than cars at the time; I never learned how to fix a car, but I've built a buggy and a wagon from scratch, that is from the wheels and axles up). I lived in Orange County, CA, at the time and worked in downtown LA. That crash cost me my job, but it made me give up a career of commerce and got me to go to college instead (which kept me busy for the next ten years). That car had some interesting quirks. The fan belt had a ninety degree kink in it, which created extra strain and caused it to break in odd places. I carried not only one but three spare fan belts, and I usually used them up within the month. This car died when the oil pan cracked at the ripe old age of eight.
My wife-to-be drove a newer model Chevrolet Corvair. It ran well until she drove it home from college one day. Fortunately, the right wheel did not fall off until she pulled into her parent's driveway. Her dad gave her his old Ford Ranchero as a replacement. Since I had given up on driving cars for a while, it became the family car when we got married. That car ran fairly well until I crashed it through a tollgate on the Martinez-Benicia Bridge when the brakes failed. It was killed when it was hit by a big Buick which ignored a yield sign. I punched a hole in the windshield with my face, but survived.
My next vehicle was a 1963 Chevrolet short-bed truck which I loved despite its shortcomings. Its previous owner had taken it to Alaska and back and I paid the price: a wobbly front end, shot clutch, and various other ailments. One time, a fan blade flew off and the shock killed the water pump. We had to spend a night in a car repair shop lot, because no one was in who could fix the pump until the next morning. But that alleviated another problem: the radiator no longer shot out jets of hot steam whenever we took the truck up a steep hill. We got rid of the truck after we moved up north and, through pure ignorance, bought the worst car we ever owned: a Chevrolet Vega.
It had a bad engine and guzzled oil the way other cars drank fuel. We put in a new engine, which lasted only a few thousand miles and replaced all of the other moving parts at regular intervals. Whenever I had to take it on a road trip, I counted off the miles and breathed a sight of relief when I got within long walking distance of home. I paid about $3,000 for it, but during the few years I owned it, it cost me another $10,000 to keep it on life support.
We traded it in for a Japanese-made car, a trade that came with a funny codicil. The dealer selling us our new car set only one condition: if the car made it to the dealership under its own power, we had a deal. It made it, though I did not dare step on the brakes as I drove the thirty miles to the dealership for fear they would lock up.
I have driven Japanese cars (some of which were made in the U.S. or Canada) ever since and I have been uncommonly happy. Working as a travel writer, I put in as many as a hundred and fifty thousand miles on them in one year and never had a problem.
I'm now semi-retired and don't have to buy another car but if I do, I won't by one from incompetents in Detroit (or, for that matter, from the Europeans --- but thereby hangs another tale).
Causes John Doerper Supports
Defenders of Wildlife
Doctors Without Borders
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation