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So who needs a third car?

October 15, 2010


Nissan 240SX rear view

Image via Wikipedia


I do.

Well, not really.

I WANT a third car. Weirdly, so does the wife. This is a rare instance where she and I agree on a totally unnecessary item. (The only prior occasion was when we convinced ourselves that a timeshare was a good idea, even though we rarely vacation. I’m convinced that’s the only error in judgement we’ve ever made together. One of us usually brings the other back to reality first.)

Fortunately in this instance, the financial downturn is helping us figure out the car dilemma. Who’s got money for a third car, the added insurance and the up-keep? Not I!

And yet… I want a third car. I can’t help it. This is also why I tend to want ice cream, and I’ll stop eating the milky decadence as soon as it costs $30,000 a bowl.

Anyway, here’s why I want a third car. The wife has a 2008 Toyota Highlander. It’s a good, solid car. All wheel drive, comfortable, good sound, good sight lines, plenty of room – no complaints. I’ve got a 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT 4×4 short bed. It’s strong, never lets me down, carries everything (firewood, mulch, lumber, building materials, appliances, large power tools) and it’s a really comfy ride, almost sedan like.

And that’s why I want a third car. Both of our current automobiles are practical… and blah.

I think for Americans, a car still embodies a sense of freedom. The opportunity to go anywhere four wheels can take you. But more than that, it also gives you the chance show off a little to neighbors and strangers alike.

I can’t show off in a Highlander or Ram 1500. I guess I could if I pimped them out with audacious colors and big, useless accessories. I could also put a tiara on a pig, but no one’s going to confuse piggy with a princess.

No, for a car to be impressive it has to be native. It has to be a combination of art and engineering. The original 1964-1973 Ford Mustangs were exactly that, pure American muscle housed in gorgeous styling; powerful and compact. Which is why they’re still the cherished generation 40 years later. I’m going to skip over years 1974-2004. No one needs to see that. But in 2005, Ford remembered that styling matters, and rebuilt the Mustang as a real beauty, evocative of the early years. Sadly, until this year they forgot quality was important too, but I digress.

There are a lot of great cars all along the price scale that are real works of art: Aston Martin DB9, Audi A8, Mitsubishi Evo X, BMW Z3, the original and new Chevy Camaro, Mini Cooper S, and just about any Alfa Romero.

So then what makes a good third car if you don’t have Google, Inc. money burning a hole in your pocket?

It’s pretty simple, a two-door, four-seater (since we’ve got a kid), manual transmission, rear wheel drive, and ideally a convertible – though a sunroof will do in a pinch. Everything else is just window dressing. A good stereo? Sure. A nice paint job? Fine. No rust? Please. Good gas mileage? Meh, I can live without that.

You really just want something that’s fun to drive. And that’s the key, the drive. You want to get out on the highway and just rip it up a little. Maybe take a turn a little quick or blow past a slow Pennsylvania jerk driver moseying along in the left lane or drive a little too fast down a country road with the roof open.

I’ve tried doing it in the Highlander and the Ram. It left a little to be desired.

I think there’s two reasons why both the wife and I have the same yearning for a third car: the 1996 Nissan Maxima and 1985 BMW 325i. The former was her car and the latter was mine leading into our marriage 11 years ago. Her Maxima was a blast to drive. Great engine and gear box. The BMW wasn’t nearly as fast, but it was nimble and quick. I never gave it the love it deserved.

I think both of us miss that adrenaline rush while we’re driving the kid chariot and four-wheeled barge.

I almost had the wife convinced to buy a 1993 Nissan 240SX (pictured) earlier this year for $5,000. It was similar to the car she drove in college and her real first love. Thankfully, she put the kibosh on the idea. She reminded me I still had another year on my Master’s degree.

But the dream still lives. Whether it’s two months, two years or twenty; whether we get a beater in need of a rebuild or a cherry sportster we’ll need to hide from the kid, I think we’re always going to pine for that third car… and the wind in our hair (what’s left of mine by then)…  and some clueless Pennsylvania driver to race past.

I guess if all else fails, we’ll just swipe my grandfather’s red 2009 Corvette ZR-1 for a late-night romp down Route 55.

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