Thursday, July 01, 2010

Thoughts on a Favorite Car

There has been much discussion about a new small Saab which will pay homage to the 92. I owned a very small car once myself, and that car has been re-conceived by Honda. I just read a review of forthcoming Honda CR-Z, a sports-hybrid two-seater which takes its styling cues from the iconic CRX of the 1980’s. The CR-Z takes that styling and general concept, and wraps it around a more powerful engine and regenerative hybrid electric powerplant, with a unique (for a hybrid) six-speed manual transmission.

In the 1980’s, I was not a huge fan of Japanese cars. I liked them; I even owned them, including my first car. I just preferred European cars. My wife and I were both working in the car business in the mid 1985, and she was selling Hondas. She loved small cars, much like her mom, who was driving an MGB-GT when I first met her, and who would later be tooling around in a BMW Z3. Susan wanted to buy a CRX, which was no mean feat in those days, when one had to wait months in line for any Honda, and pay well over sticker price. Even Susan had to pay the “overage,” on a CRX, though it was reduced from $1500 to $1000. I wasn’t convinced. Still, Susan ordered it, and we waited.

During the wait, the New England Auto Show took place, and we both had to work the show. In those days it was at the old Hynes Convention Center on Boylston Street in Boston. At the end of the show, all the cars on display were taken away to local dealerships. Susan and I were each charged with bringing home a Honda. I don’t remember what she drove out of the Hynes, but I remember that I was annoyed that my ride was a 1985 Honda CRX automatic. Could there be a stupider car? My expectation was that I was going to be miserable driving home the 15 miles to Nahant that night. I crawled into the car, adjusted the seat and was resigned to the fact I could not be comfortable, and after a ride in a freight elevator, drove off.

Yes, the lack of a third pedal made the car stupid. Yet, I found myself completely intoxicated by the car. It was just plain silly FUN. No power anything. Awful seats and awful driving position. But it was FUN. The engine had no torque and only 75 horsepower. But it was FUN. There was a sense of glee I simply hadn’t experienced before. Certainly, the simplicity of the car was a factor. It only weighed 1800 lbs, was tiny, you sat on the floor, the steering was not assisted, and the car just begged to be tossed around.

Finally, ours arrived. It was blue with gray cladding, and had a proper transmission. It was Susan’s car, but became my daily driver when first son came along. I drove the car to 100,000 miles. Every one was uncomfortable, but utterly entertaining. The single most trouble free car I’ve owned, I sold it to my sister, who drove it a bunch more, and liked it so much she bought a newer one.

I’m not sure, at 2800 pounds, that the CR-Z can really capture the real essence of the CRX. But I applaud Honda for trying. Likewise, I hope that the Saab 92 project really does connect the past with present technology. Here’s to fun cars!

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