My father bought me my first car when I was in a college. I felt I didn’t really need a car because I had something much better—which was boys. But my parents, uncomfortable that I skewed toward a cohort of Datsun Z or TR6 owners, clearly had something safer in mind.
Dad was a professional bus driver and his chief automotive concerns were that any vehicle seat 37 comfortably and had not been made by anyone he had fought in World War II. He had a friend who sold used cars—who over the years had supplied us with Nash Ramblers, Ford Fairlanes and Chevy Citations, who dusted off an Opel Kadett he had hanging around the lot. True, the Opel was not big enough to suit Dad until he remembered the effect my complete lack of depth perception had been having on family insurance policy costs. The salesperson disguised the Opel’s German origins with a tale of it being made in a Lincoln Mercury factory in North Dakota by god–fearing Norwegians, and we were off to the races…or would have been if the Opel had actually ever started.
As cute, but not as zippy as your average golf cart, the Opel had two speeds: 5mph and 55mph. Above 55 the Adventure Option kicked in, where the entire car would be vibrating so badly that pieces of the engine started to break free and had to be tightened down about once a month and a new muffler installed. It didn’t turn over if it was cold (in Opel terms: below 60 degrees) or if it was foggy. Inasmuch as we lived on an island, surrounded on four sides by water, this was not terrifically convenient.
Believing as a good New Englander does, that one builds character through pain, I doggedly went on spending about $100 (which in 1980 dollars was the equivalent of the GNP of a small, oil–producing nation) every 300 miles or so instead of doing what a lesser person would and putting a bullet through the engine block. The Opel dramatically gave up the ghost in traffic one day when clouds of black smoke started pouring out of the dashboard. About a week later I got a recall notice from the Lincoln Mercury company which basically said “Soon you will realize the car you own really sucks.”
I didn’t see an Opel for years and figured the AAA had probably bombed all their factories until I was in Istanbul and an Opel dealership was right next to my hotel. Turkey has drivers so bad that a few years ago (I am not making this up) the Government required citizens to carry body bags in their cars. All those loose engine parts would fit conveniently into one.