Driving a 20 Year Old Car – And How I Feel About It
My daughter is working at an out-of-state internship for the summer. Because I wanted her to have a newer car for her time away, we swapped wheels. I am therefore spending the summer driving my daughter’s car – a twenty year old Honda Civic. And I am trying to decide how it makes me feel.
I should explain that it is not your typical twenty-year-old Honda. For one thing, it only has about 75,000 miles on it. It had belonged to an elderly relative, then a younger relative and now my daughter. It is in tip-top shape and is perfectly functional for driving anywhere I need to go. But I cannot decide how I feel when I drive it.
I have an active imagination and have also been a lifelong car nut. Whenever I drive a different car I get a mental picture of myself – a picture of someone different from the “normal me”. Those with a more neutral outlook would describe these mental images as something more in the way of delusions, but I digress.
Early in my life I drove a twenty year old car too. It was a 1959 Plymouth Fury that I bought in 1979. The car was cool because it was delivered to its original owner on the day I was born, at least according to a sticker in the glovebox. When I drove that car I felt like Peter Gunn, the television private eye from the late ’50s who drove a Plymouth just like mine. Well, almost like mine. The fact that my car was a boring sedan instead of his glamorous convertible mattered not one bit. Except that this was probably why I did not have the TV private eye’s luck with girls.
My first car was a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. When driving that car I pictured myself as a little stylish. I know, I was never particularly stylish, but when conjuring mental self-portraits, shouldn’t we allow some leeway? I kind of felt like a younger version of my father – he was a Ford man and part of my youth had been spent in the back of his ’66 Ford station wagon which featured the same assortment of sounds and smells.
I once had a 1968 Mustang. In that car I pictured myself as Martin Milner. Most people associate Martin Milner with the Corvette he drove on Route 66, but I remember him as Officer Pete Malloy in Adam-12. A Mustang of that vintage was his off-duty car. Mine was only a 6 cylinder version though, which was probably good since I lacked the ability to fix my own speeding tickets.
More recently I had a 1989 Cadillac sedan. My picture of myself was as a successful upper-middle-age adult. Sort of like Leslie Nielsen from the years before he switched to playing comedy roles. Yup, in my big Cadillac I was a titan of industry and someone not to be trifled with. But my hair was not white and my car was thirteen years old when I bought it from its elderly original owner. But that regal Cadillac crest way out at the end of the hood could make me forget all of that.
I have always been able to find a perfectly satisfactory alter-ego no matter what I drove. Except for the single time I drove the car of a friend from law school. She had a 1976 AMC Pacer. It was bright blue with a white vinyl roof and the indian-style interior fabric. It was also not in the best shape. Behind the wheel of that one I felt like an alcoholic out-of-work clown and slunk down into the seat hoping nobody would recognize me. “Hey buddy, could you spare a couple of swigs from that bottle you have in the paper bag?”
I have always liked big cars. I have owned a couple of big Chryslers, which made me feel like a rugged individualist like John Wayne. Where I grew up big Chryslers were driven by rock-ribbed Republicans like him. Perhaps if I had grown up elsewhere I might have felt more like a union pipefitter who resembled John Goodman.
I am quite comfortable with the characters that come to mind in my normal cars. In my white Honda Fit I feel like a young, pleasant, intelligent guy with a practical streak, like maybe Jim from The Office.
I also have a Kia Sedona minivan – When I drive that one I imagine myself like Mike Brady, the dad in The Brady Bunch. OK, I do not have a second wife, six kids, a housekeeper or a dog, but work with me here. The alternative is Chevy Chase in The Family Truckster, so I think I am good sticking with Mr. Brady.
But back to this silver Honda Civic. I really can’t decide how I feel when I am in it. It makes me a complete blank slate and somehow it doesn’t scratch anywhere I itch. It is not really sporty- so Joe Mannix the tough ’70s private eye is out. The car is thrifty and durable, so my practical side gets some love. I wonder if this is what Mister Rogers drove? Perhaps it would help to try driving in a cardigan sweater.
So as you can see, my summer of driving is a bit of a muddle because I am having trouble getting the right picture of myself when I drive the daughter’s Honda. Perhaps I will have to work harder on just being me.
Lead photo: 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible from Peter Gunn television series. Source: Internet Movie Cars Database
Peter Gunn – undated publicity photo circa 1958 of Craig Stevens and Susan Cummings, in the public domain per Wiki Commons due to the original’s lack of a copyright notice.
1968 Mustang convertible from Adam-12: Internet Movie Cars Database
The Brady Bunch photo source: Curbsideclassic.com
Perhaps the Honda taps into your inner PCAJ – Prudent College Age Jim. It’s that time of your life when you do what must be done in order to pass into the next bigger and better chapter of your life.
Although you are able to view that chapter sitting nearby – the petite one with a differential in the rear axle.
The problem here is that PCAJ was Peter Gunn. Perhaps this is a delayed-reaction way to do PCAJ correctly.
And yes, in my Miata on sunny days with the top down I get to be the person everyone else wants to be, at least for the moment.
Peter Gunn, undercover in the Civic, maybe with Edie Hart waiting for you to get back to her when you’re done.
(Love the nine beat ending of this brassy theme)
I know, right? Who wouldn’t want to be Peter Gunn? What I need is another 59 Plymouth.
I love the Peter Gunn theme, my mom had the album of Peter Gunn music which I used to play on our RCA record player. Still not sure what my favorite version is but the Blues Brothers is actually very good. I like the stronger percussion here:
Actually, Mr. Rogers had a Chevrolet Impala sedan of mid-late ’70s vintage for quite a while. According to sources I’ve read, it was once stolen off the street in New York, but quickly returned with an apology once the thieves realized whose car they had taken.
“Won’t you be my – car thief?”
The Impala fits Mister Rogers. But I’ll bet he would have been right at home in a silver Civic.
I’d say you’re doing pretty well. First of all that Civic is in excellent shape, and does not have typical Honda rust behind the rear wheel. It is a bit anonymous for a man of your imaginitive talents. Maybe you can consider yourself as an agent working on a temporary undercover assignment, thus the need to not attract attention.
On a slightly different note I must congratulate you on you choice of vehicles over the years. I have always had a policy of keeping my interesting cars interesting (but not necessarily functional) and my transportation cars a bit boring but reliable. This has resulted in me spending a lot of time in boring cars, which at the age of 51 doesn’t sound like quite as good an idea. Looking around I see that a 2007 Mustang convertible that’s never been winter driven costs a lot less than a 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan, which is what I’m supposed to be looking for….
A 1959 Plymouth isn’t really a good option for me. There’s only one for sale locally and it looks like a hopeless bodge.
Wow, that looks more like a 1959 Plymouth kit. A grossly overpriced one, at that.
I am liking the various suggestions that I take on an undercover persona for the rest of the summer. Now to figure out undercover for what. Cop? Private eye? Saboteur? The possibilities are endless.
If it is really rust free and you are ok with the restomod concept, that probably isn’t an unreasonable price. Forward look cars are still going for stupid money these days.
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My brother had the coupe version of this car. I drove it a time or two. It was a transportation appliance that inspired no feelings whatsoever. Well, there was one: it had the vaguest shifter (manual) I’ve ever driven, and I didn’t like it.
He replaced it with a 2008 Civic, which is a bucket of fun to drive.
The automatic doesn’t make it more fun. But this is to remain between us because I am now undercover.
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My daughter just got her learners permit. She’s not going anywhere near my car (standard transmission) 😁
A stick shift is as close as you can get to a foolproof antitheft device these days.
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Great story. You could pretend that you’re Vin Diesel in the original The Fast and the Furious. You are waiting to drop a hopped-up Acura Integra drive train into the Civic to create the ultimate stealth mobile. Just make sure that your wife approves before you shave your head.
I like it. I could at least imagine the shaved head, I’m sure an imaginary shaved head would look better than the real thing on me. Might as well imagine a bunch of tattoos while I am at it. 🙂
Somewhere out there James Bond is tooling around in his Aston acting as a decoy for the bad guys, while invisible agent Cavanaugh does the real work. 🙂
There has been a nice green ’59 Plymouth showing up at the local cruises this summer. 4 door sedan with a 3 on the tree, but has both a clock and a radio, so not really a stripper.
And yes, I’m another one who thinks of the Blues Brothers first with the Peter Gunn theme.
I have met you and seen your car. Did anyone ever tell you that you bear a striking resemblance to John Wayne? 🙂
No, no they haven’t. 😉
Having driven a 1996 Honda Accord through high school, college, and grad school, I have a bit of a soft spot for Hondas from the mid-to-late 90s. Though I probably shouldn’t have felt this way, I always felt really cool driving it. It wasn’t as fancy as what some of my high-school friends drove, but that’s what I liked about it. It was more down to earth. Plus, the size was such that I always felt very comfortable maneuvering it, even on tiny Indianapolis side streets swerving around parked cars and chuck holes. I’m not sure how much the Honda Civic compares to the Honda Accord in that regard, but I imagine it’s somewhat similar.
One bit of advice: if you are suddenly overcome with an urge to head out to the grand canyon, I recommend taking a different car. Mid 90s Hondas are good for many things, but long trips out West are not one of them. I learned that the hard way 😉
I think a first car almost can’t help but make for positive feelings.
As for your bad Honda experience, I can’t help but think that the insanely high number of miles on your car had something to do with it.
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JPC: I thought you might like to see this:
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Wow! I loved this. Take that car and paint it white outside and that WAS my car. OK, mine also had the pushbutton automatic, but there are so few of these that I almost never see 1) the Fury trim level in a sedan, 2) that interior color, 3) with that steering wheel that was either restricted to high-trim models or was optional. I have seen a few of his videos, but never this one – so thanks for making my morning!
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HA re the comment re fixing your own tickets and the cardigan! I know, the Honda is a blah and non-descript kind of car, but maybe you could be an undercover spy -,the kind no one notices…
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Haha, all true!