There are two types of Detroit people. Those who buy cars. And those who fix them.
Now, I’m all for the type who buy cars, it’s what makes our world go round. I wish there were more of this class of people these days.
I grew up on Joy Road, named after Henry Joy – the first president of Packard Motors, developer of the first transcontinental highway and born in Detroit. My family never had a new car. That’s the way it is with a single mom and five kids. You learn to save and you learn to fix things.
It’s like that old blues tune:
The next car I’m gonna buy is a Ford.
That’s right, I’m gonna get me a car I can afford.
I carried the attitude into my adult life. I never owned a new car. I fixed and saved. Saved and fixed.
And now with the Dream Cruise upon us -- the largest on-purpose traffic jam in the world -- I took a look in my garage and realized I’ve got five mostly ratty motors from the last five decades, each of them a time capsule of the American and Detroit way of life.
1965 Mustang – I bought this in West Covina, an eastern suburb of Los Angeles while I was living in Hollywood. The car was actually first owned by a little old lady from Pasadena, Mrs. F.E. Mirtz. She purchased it in March 1965, the first full production year of the Mustang. The 60s were the go-go years for America and American cars. Sleek with a powerful 289 V8 engine, this thing is a blue-collar piece of art. When I first got it, I punched it, lost control and T-boned my neighbor’s truck. Insurance took care of the front end, and now I’m looking to back into something. Purchase price -- $4,000.
1973 Checker Marathon -- This is basically your old New York taxi cab and is commonly mistaken for a ‘57 Chevy by people who don’t know anything about cars. Checker Motors Corp. was based in Kalamazoo, and for decades had a corner on the market. Featuring a Chevy V8 350, this baby is 18 feet long. I’ve made a half-dozen transcontinental trips and lived in it when I first moved to California in the early 90’s. But the Checker was built for obsolescence, one reason for the slide in American manufacturing might. Checker Motors quit building taxis in the early 80s. Mine has rust in the quarter panels and holes in the manifolds and is spray painted black. But hey, it only cost me $700.
1981 Harley-Davidson Sportster – In 1981 Checker went bust and Harley was owned by AMF, a bowling equipment maker. This was the dark period. The bike leaks oil, it bucks, it grinds. But it is the last All-American machine I will ever own. All the parts were manufactured here. I bought it in Detroit for $1,200 two decades ago from a mechanic with a cocaine problem. I never wash it. Not since I saw two Hells Angels in Frisco with the filthiest bikes I’ve ever seen, the chains practically dragging on the pavement. I remember thinking -- now those are bikers.
1996 Jetta – It’s the only foreign car I ever owned. I bought it for $600 two years ago because the Detroit roads and weather were beating up my other cars. But this baby won’t die. It’s no wonder the 90s was the decade the Asian and European carmakers overtook us. The Jetta has 150,000 miles and is only now reaching its middle age. It gets 33 miles to the gallon.
2011 – Ford Flex. We were blessed with a baby a few years back. My wife refused to let her ride in my rust.
“Get rid of the Checker,” she told me.
“Shoot, I’ve had that car longer than I’ve had you,” I told her.
So we bought the Flex.
And let me just say: We’re back baby!
This car is great. Roomy. Seats seven. More than 20 to the gallon. Good pickup. Front-wheel drive. Two-tone and stylish. Problem is, I have no idea how to work on the motor. Modern life has stripped a man of much of his pride.
So my wife and daughter cruise in that. I ride my rust, and park my daughter’s bike with the training wheels next to my motorcycle, hoping a little Detroit rubs off on her.
So the grand total for all my cars -- $6,500
My wife’s car -- $28,000
Mama taught me well.
What Should Charlie Do with the Daewoo?
Tell Charlie LeDuff what he should do with his sister-in-law's Daewoo. Email your suggestion to him at Charlie.LeDuff@foxtv.com.