.. Wheels

Replacing the Samurai -- a traumatic but necessary leap

Trading up to the Volvo -- learning to let go

Introducing Duckie to his new wheels
If you live in the New York area, next time you're out on the road take a look around. Count the Subarus. Pull into a suburban parking lot. What's next to you? Or across the row? They're everywhere. How had I not noticed before?

The last days of the Ronin
The Suzuki Samurai known as the Ronin joined us in the fall of 1986, replacing Landspeeder, the 1974 orange Fiat Spyder that was totaled on the San Diego freeway. Fourteen years and 220,000 miles took their toll on the little mini-jeep, body and soul. In 1987 he carried me, Argus, and Dick LeFevre across the country (well, Dick got out, sore and stiff, in Chicago). During his life in New York he was vandalized, stolen and recovered, towed for illegal parking (bad car!) and had a new (used) engine installed.

In the winter of 1998 it cost $3000 to bring him up to safety standards. He made one last drive to Nag's Head in July of 1999, but by the fall I was unwilling to take him as far as western Massachusettes. As the 2000 inspection approached I suspected more repair would be necessary, and they would not be worth making.

The ubiquitous Subaru Outback
and rear
I starting paying attention to cars. I surfed the net. I watched the traffic. Eventually I started visiting car lots. I wanted a used Volvo, but the prices were prohibitive. In my web comparison shopping I usually included a Subaru. I'd looked at them at the auto show a while back and thought they were a cost-effective choice.

On yet another freezing day in February I set out to visit the car dealers in Westchester county. I got into the Ronin and his battery was dead. Now if that isn't a sign, nothing is.

At the first dealership, a Ford/Subaru/Mazda lot, I came across the green Subaru Impreza Outback. I had a mental list of desired features, but only a souped up Miata with a magic trunk could meet all those requirements. The Impreza had the space combined with a relatively small size. It had luxuries like power steering and ABS brakes and power windows. And air bags. So it wasn't a convertable, nor did it have a sunroof, and it didn't have a full-size tire or a cd player.

The price was more than I'd wanted to spend, but reasonable for what I was getting (I later comparison shopped and was assured of this). The dealer would throw in a 12/12 warranty. And he'd give me $100 trade in on the poor old Ronin. Yes, they did actually get to see the Ronin before making this offer. [My brother had some thoughts on trade-in vs. sell yourself. -- Ed]

By the following weekend I was driving the Suburu, and noticing all the other people on the road doing the same thing.

Trading Up

The Volvo in the lot, pre-purchase
She's mine! First photo session.

Both the loan and the extended warranty for the Subaru were for two years. I paid off the loan early, and started thinking about my next generation of automobile. When I bought the Subaru I vowed not to keep it for years until it had no resale value. At six years old with 80,000 miles it still had some value. But I was just toying with the idea of moving on.

Then I saw the commercial that changed everything. There on the TV screen was a shiny new Volvo, my desire of two years past, and what's more, it was a convertible. "Volvo makes a convertible?" I shouted to the birds. They were equally surprised. The Internet quickly showed me that the automobile, which Volvo had only started making in 1998, was not very available. Various auto web sites indicated all of three used models available at dealerships within a 100 mile radius. The most notable was a blue on in Westport, becuase the price was a little lower than the others.

I told myself not to be impulsive. I told myself that the Subaru was still quite servicable. I reminded myself that I didn't want to drive it into the ground. I reminded myself of my decades-long desire for another convertible (still missing the Landspeeder).

Fish and Ducky settle into the Volvo's "suede and leather handbag" interior.
I picked a Saturday to go to Westport (about 40 miles east) to see it.

And I bought it.

Sure, when the salesman opened the door to reveal the suede interior, I thought "I can't buy such a car -- it has a suede interior, for God's sakes!"

When I played with the electric seat adjustments, seat heaters, and 3-cd player (not yet knowing of the 6-disc cartridge in the trunk), I thought "This car is over the top. Ten speaker surround sound -- can I possibly?"

When I parked and pressed the button to lower the top, it was all over. I simply had to have it. Fortunately, Volvo finance was agreeable, and I picked her up a week later.

And if you think there are a lot of Subarus on the road around here, start watching for Volvos!