Chippewa Herald * September 10, 2003

Doesn't everybody name their car?

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

I was driving along the other day, listening to "Car Talk" on Public Radio, when I heard one of the guys tell a caller, "Once you name your car, it's over." I wasn't sure what it was that was over, as I hadn't heard the beginning of the conversation. But I knew that I was in trouble -- I have named ALL my cars! (Doesn't everybody?)

This got me to thinking about my "auto-biography." It started with my very first vehicle, a '68 Pontiac. This ocean-liner-on-wheels had a monstrous 400 cubic inch engine. She was ten years old and quite run down, but for a 17-year-old boy, it was well worth the $100 that I had to part with.

This car had character. The steering wheel was falling apart, the muffler was missing, and there was a perpetual wet spot on the carpeting due to street water splashing through the hole in the metal of the floor. I fondly named my first car "Rusty" for its delightful body color that still showed some traces of the original green.

Despite its shortcomings, Rusty was quite popular with my classmates. Back in the 1970s, a high school student owning a car was not nearly as common as it is now. I had less than a one-mile drive to both school and work, but being a rare car-owner, I often ended up driving all over Roseville, shuttling a lot of other kids home after play practice.

I made each rider sign a guest book in the car, to show their loyalty to Rusty. I also took pride in demonstrating the calculator keyboard on the dashboard, wired up so that each button activated a different horn blast. (Cars from the '60s had plenty of room under the hood for all sorts of old horns found at junk yards.)

After the eventual death of my first car (you can only replace fuel pumps and timing chains so many times on a $100 car before you start questioning your investment), I went car-less for a while. Then I bought a 1974 Ford Torino for $400, four times the price of my first purchase.

"Terri Torino" was as big a boat as Rusty, but just didn't have the character and excitement. Nevertheless, it got me around while I finished up college. I was also excited by the 25% increase in fuel economy -- I went from six miles per gallon to eight.

Shortly before getting married, having landed my first job as a real live engineer, I splurged and once again quadrupled my investment, shelling out $1800 for a '76 Corolla. "Carol" was the first car I had that I trusted on long trips (although it let us down by frying the transmission near Duluth on the way to what would've been a great canoe trip in the Boundary Waters).

I grew to like the smaller size and efficiency, and when Carol was lost in an arson-induced garage fire in our South Minneapolis duplex, I replaced it with another Corolla. This time we really went all out, and spent an eye-popping $4800 on three-year-old "Carlos." (Fortunately, this geometric progression of each car costing three or four times the previous one ended here.)

When my wife and I moved to Colorado, we had to buy a second car since both of us worked. Thus was born "Lindy", a '78 liftback Corolla. When Lindy threw a rod and had to be retired, we found ourselves flush with two incomes, so we bought our first-ever (and probably last-ever) new auto, a 1985 Chevy Nova. (I had to turn my back on three years of high school Spanish when I bought that car: "no va" means "it does not go.") "Nevin" the Nova was really our fourth Corolla, due to the joint effort between General Motors and Toyota.

Once we started having kids, we went through "Vanna" the '87 minivan and "Carrie" the '91 Caravan. With our five children getting bigger, we decided last year to go all the way to a full-size '99 conversion van.

You might be surprised that a fancy three-year-old plush conversion van is actually cheaper than an equivalently old minivan! The low gas mileage depresses the marketability, but hauling around seven people still gives us a higher mpg-per-person than most families get. The name of our latest vehicle, which is also our license plate, is more a descriptive title than a proper name: "ARNEBUS."

Oh, and our current second car? We are still driving around our '85 Nova! The kids have changed its name over the years, though, from the staid "Nevin" to the more adventurous "Mighty Whitey." It's a little discouraging that our "new" $8000 car is now worth a measly $170, according to the Kelly Blue Book. The five salt-free years in Colorado and Oregon were kind to Nevin, but the twelve Wisconsin winters have taken their toll on its exterior.

We are thinking of changing its name to "Trusty Rusty."

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