Having versus Wanting

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One of the ultimate failings of human nature is that we seem to desire that which is bad for us. What we eat, what we drink, or what we do or fail to do can have an adverse effect on our lives. This is a debacle that the car-guy faces on many occasions, and in many different ways.

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a limited budget and looking for that “play toy” you’ve dreamed about since youth, or if you’re the deep pockets type who simply can’t stop collecting, racing, or building the next project. In the final analysis, we each are forced to make decisions on what that next car or project might be. Any choice in the car world is always a compromise, be it a trade-off between speed and fuel efficiency or possibly the choice of handling over ride quality. Whatever the choices are on either side of the scale, a car-guy has the ability to drive himself to near madness trying to settle on which choice to make.

Granted, those of us with greater resources have slightly less trouble in that area since they can afford to have one car that delivers uncompromising performance, while another can provide comfort and style. The greater majority of us have to live with our choices as a daily driver, or even if it happens to be a secondary car, sometimes it still must do more than one thing well.

Men have often made analogies between cars and women. We tend to give our cars female names, talk to them in sultry tones, and rub them with affection. Searching for that perfect car can be like the ultimate search for the perfect woman, and many will say such a creature doesn’t exist.

Men will look at a sleek sports car and find that it stirs all manner of excitement inside them. The shape is curvaceous and sexy, its sound is powerful and compelling, and the way you feel when you drive it is sensual and stimulating. All of these sensations work to overpower the fact that the car is expensive, thirsty, and woefully impractical, yet these aspects of better judgment are beaten down by the emotional allure.

This experience is the rough equivalent of having a torrid one-night affair with a woman who is perilously sexy, drop-dead gorgeous, makes all your fantasies seem like child’s play, and has absolutely nothing in common with you outside of physical attraction. While this might have been insanely stimulating, the reality is that you have no intentions of taking this woman to meet your family.

Owning an uncompromising or exotic sports car can shortly be summed up in the immortal words of Mr.Spock.

“In time you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

While this morsel of Star Trek wisdom strikes a resounding chord, the truth is that we rarely take heed. Like any other experience in human nature, we have crystal clear, 20/20 hindsight, right up until we face a similar temptation in the form of a another car, and then we assure ourselves this time will be different.

If the car-guys life is filled with such pitfalls, and we so often compare our cars to women, then Heaven only knows what women compare us to. After giving that concept a bit of thought, I suppose we might be stacked up against the home vacuum cleaner. Like a car, the vacuum sees frequent use, and can be looked upon with varying degrees of love or hate. Women might make such comparisons as, “it doesn’t do anything until you plug it in, push its buttons, and give it a swift kick, and after all that, it still just sucks.”

While women will lament that even the best vacuum still has to be pushed around to get anything done, but like a man, when it works right it’s the greatest thing to yet grace the Earth. The sheer number of vacuum cleaners on the market today shows the decision over which one is the best is nearly as complex as the search for the perfect car.

I can’t remember when I wasn’t on a budget, so when it comes time to sign my name for the next bank loan, my thoughts tend to lean toward practicality. Things like trunk space and roomy interior comfort carry a lot of sway for me, but I still like it to be wrapped up in an attractive package, and it needs to have enough power to make it fun to drive. It has only been in the past few years that I finally reached the point where I felt comfortable owning a second car, so my selection process became slightly more flexible.

Any convertible is a trade-off in itself, with a price to be paid for open air motoring. The lack of a roof panel will always affect body rigidity, and therefore handling as well as the rattle/squeak quotient as the car ages. The folding top must also find a home, and this is where most soft top models fell off my list, because they had no trunk space whatsoever. If I can’t throw two soft-sided overnight bags somewhere for a quick trip to the beach, then what good is such a car to me?

While my Sebring may not break any records in the power or handling department, it more than makes up for those shortcomings by getting great fuel mileage, packing plenty of baggage space, comfortable seats and ride, and a one touch top that requires no boot cover. The sound of her exhaust is melodic, and the 200hp V6 has just enough scoot to keep things fun.

In another recent blog post entitled “Torn Passions,” I expressed thoughts about parting with my long-time daily driver, my 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GT. I still rock the see-saw over this decision to keep the car and do a massive makeover, or sell it and move on to my next set of wheels. As any car-guy will freely admit, we forever have a mental list of cars we would want to own someday. These range from the fantasy exotic all the way down to the reachable and more probable choices.

In 1999, Chrysler introduced the 300M sedan, and it promptly won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award. The “M” was the finest example of the hugely successful LH series of cars with its unique longitudinal mounted, front wheel drive set-up. The “M” was the second generation of the LH and I fell hard for the car the moment I first saw one. The car had very little in the way of optional equipment since the list of standard features shamed all but its most upscale competitors. Granted, at the time I saw the 300M I was still in the throes of my Dodge Intrepid, but the new Chrysler taunted me with everything my Intrepid lacked. All the power options, a more potent engine, slick good looks and a fold down back seat.

In 2002, Chrysler upped the ante when they added the 300M “Special” to the lineup. Racy-looking ground effects, bold dual exhausts, bigger wheels and a more sporting suspension transformed an already impressive sedan into a Maserati wanna-be. The interior was graced with carbon fiber trim in place of the luxury woodgrain, and the contrast against the taupe leather was a thing of beauty. These cars still immediately turn my head to this day and my desire to own one hasn’t waned.

I still bemoan the passing of Pontiac, but the many examples of the cars they built that exude their brash attitude still roam the streets, and can still be found in wonderful used condition. As a legacy to my present car, one of Pontiac’s swan songs was the Grand Prix GXP. Here was a car that was the last of a breed, and a worthy one to be sure. The GXP boasts some impressive hardware such as Bilstein struts, drilled brake rotors, lightweight Alcoa wheels, and stiffer springs and sway bars. But its knock-out punch is under the hood, which is stuffed full of all aluminum 5.3liter LS4 V8. This 303hp brute is borrowed from the family of engines that power the Camaro, Corvette, and the legendary Firebird. The aluminum block and subframe make this muscular engine lighter than the 3.8liter V6 it replaced, and the performance as well as the exhaust note it delivers is intoxicating.

All of this hardware is wrapped in a shapely sedan body style that offers generous room and equally generous amenities. Heated leather seats with power lumbar support coddle your flesh while the dual-zone climate control makes all that power seem civilized. The heads-up display is fighter-jet cool, and the Monsoon sound system can pound out your favorite driving soundtrack with verve. The 2008 year model saw the last of the GXPs roll off the assembly line, but it was a potent send-off for the 46 years of Grand Prixs that came before it.

The last car I will mention for now truly fits the dilemma of wanting versus having. In 2000, Pontiac gave its full sized Bonneville sedan a major re-styling, and I was smitten when I saw this car in person. Pontiac marketed the car as “luxury with attitude” but the first thought that shot through my head was, “This is what a Firebird looks like when it’s all grown up.” In keeping with its namesake, Pontiac sponsored a specially prepared car named, “The Spirit of Bonneville” that stormed the Salt Flats in Utah to set a land speed record for stock bodied, front wheel drive cars. The modified, supercharged 3.8 liter V6 pushed the car to 202mph, and that record stood until 2006.

I still feel to this day that the last generation Bonneville is one of the sexiest sedan designs of all time. Over the years I have paid close attention to this car, and I have done a great deal of interacting with owners by way of message boards, and I have found the car to be a bit of a problem child. I have read more than one lament that waxed rhapsodic about their love of the car but they could no longer stand the nagging repairs. It seems the Bonne is definitely a high maintenance kind of girl. Yet despite all of the information I have been given to the contrary, every time I lay eyes on a fine used example, my passion for the car pitches reason out the window by the seat of its pants. This kind of mental conflict is easy to overcome with the likes of a Corvette or a Hemi Challenger, since economy and practicality aren’t abundant in either of those cars, but this sedan is easily in my price range and beckons me with all those things I want and need in a daily driver kind of car.

Its almost as though the car whispers to me, as if it knows you are of the gearhead breed, “So what if I break down once in while? You know how to fix me don’t you big boy? You know you like what you see, so why don’t you come on in and sit down, and I’ll rub you the right way.”

Some relationships start under strange circumstances and turn out wonderfully, while others begin with caution and go rapidly downhill from there in a torrent of pleasure and pain. This analogy can be applied to many different cars, but just like people, sometimes you will never know until you try. I was counseled in my youth to never buy a car on first-time impulsive visit, and I have found that to be sound advice.

Just like the girl who seems oh-so attractive in the dimly lit nightclub, might not strike you quite the same in the early morning sun, so can be the car that glistens under lights, taunts your passions, and then proceeds to slap you with every little thing not covered under warranty in the next six months.

I have been quite fortunate not to have fallen into this snare very often in my automotive choices, but the task of trying to decipher if having will be as good as wanting after your purchase is a tough scale to balance. But if we had all the answers, life wouldn’t be much fun would it?

Some dream cars are better left in our fantasies, because reality rarely lives up to such lofty standards, but car-guys will never rest until we at least sit behind the wheel.

-T. August Green

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