I have a 2004 Toyota Corolla. Silver. 4 Door. 5 Speed. If I don’t remember where I parked when I walk into a parking lot, it could literally be hours before my car is discovered. Because all these small sedans basically look alike. Car manufacturers would argue differently, but seriously they are practically all the same, whether Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Ford, Dodge or Chevrolet!
Of course, what’s under the hood, or how it rides could be radically different, but from a pure looks perspective, it’s a coin toss in my book. I once had a salesperson try to get me interested in a higher priced vehicle because of the stylish nature of the car and the ravishing body color. When I made it very clear that the looks of a car do not impact getting me from point A to point B, he smartly changed tactics. To no avail, I’m happy to say. I left pretty quickly at the obvious pandering to my sweet and feminine side.
In the last 30-ish years I’ve had 3 cars. First came the Mazda 323, it was a green, 4 door sedan with a 5 speed transmission. Then came the “beige” (there was a fancy name for the color but I don’t recall it) Corolla 4 door sedan with a 5 speed transmission, and now the silver Corolla 4 door sedan with a 5 speed transmission. Do you see a pattern emerging?
The reason that it’s a sedan is easy. I’ve always either had kids or older people in my life and a 4 door sedan is just the easiest car to deal with the agility/flexibility of varying age groups. But why a 5 speed manual transmission? That’s a better story.
Before the age of hybrids and SUVs and oil shortages, there used to be some seriously powerful cars. Though mine wasn’t the hottest car on the road, it could move. It was a 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix. It had a 400 cubic inch engine, and was rated at 180 horsepower. It was a 2-door coupe, burgundy, with velour bucket seats and an automatic transmission. Betsy (the only car I’ve ever named) had power windows and driver seat and when you stepped on the gas she shot forward! Driving felt like flying. In that car, I felt sleek and powerful and kind of sexy. It was a time in my life when those things mattered.
Fast forward ten years, post divorce and into single-mom hood. My beloved Betsy has seen better days, cradled my baby safely from infancy to school age, and driven me from SC to CT then onto MA. It is the summer of 1986 and my beloved car has many, many miles and has developed “issues”. It was a hot summer and for the past 6 months, the heater has been stuck in the on position. The cost for the fix is high enough that it seems like doing it will be throwing good money after bad. It’s time to make the decision.
Small, efficient cars are the order of the day. But how do I move from my flying Betsy to some dinky little car that basically feels like it runs on a rubber band? This is where the 5 speed manual transmission comes in.
Horsepower in the first little cars is pretty blah, especially the automatic ones. I’m so used to taking off when I put my foot on the gas, that when I try these little cars I’m scared to pull out into traffic. Especially Boston traffic. When I put my foot on the gas, a little surge happens, then it blips out, it’s kind of horrifying to me. But after trying many cars, I finally try one with a manual transmission. And I rejoice a little.
Because I can control when transmission shifts, it makes the less horsepower not SO noticeable. And so a tradition begins. Each car seems to last me about 10 years, no matter the milage. I’m hooked on a 5 speed even though it wears you down in stop and go traffic. The advantages outweigh the negatives. Now my current car is starting to show it’s age.
It looks a little rough around the edges, doesn’t quite have the get up and go that it used to, and there is a noise. A grinding noise. But I don’t think it is a dying noise. This will be the first major repair on the car that returned me to the south. And it’s not quite 10 years yet, about another 6 months to go. But the best thing is that after all these years, it has less than 56,000 miles on it. Really. All the time I’ve had it, I’ve had a commute of less than 3 miles to work! I’ve been lucky in more ways than one. I’m definitely not old enough for this to be my last car, but if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll get another 10 years out of it!
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