Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Jeep Is Dead. Long Live My Jeep.

After 115,000 miles and ten years I knew the end was near. I take damn good care of my rides. To me the most economical way to own a car is to pay for it, keep it ten years and let it go. I am not a wrench and the need for a car that goes when I need it to is vital. My life is too busy to screw around fixing old cars.

I have owned a 4WD vehicle since 1980 and they sure are fun, especially on a snowy day when I can out-accelerate any Corvette. Those days are officially over.

It became obvious last spring when the Wrangler lost it’s (rear axle) bearings. No longer would it be a dependable and trustworthy ride ready to go whenever I was. This weekend the old Wrangler would not start. The battery would not take a charge so I bought a new one. Instant start. Done. Well, not really.

Sunday night I pulled it into the garage. Fine. Monday morning it was dead when I needed it to head for Chicago. Electrical problems are where I get the schpilkies. In my experience electrical problems can either be fixed quickly or it can be a trip to the wrench every week or so. The Jeep is now dead to me. Dead I tell you, dead. Whimper. Sniff.

Yesterday afternoon it was towed to my local mechanic. She'll live for a long time but not in my garage. So long, sweetie. It was a blast!

Since I reached double nickels (55) last May the midlife thingy is in full swing. What if I bought a sporty two-seater? I never owned one. What about an internal combustion sporty metal shot of Viagra to get me around? Sounds good. Where to go from here?

Hell I have the 4WD Ford Exploder to drag the boat and pack up my favorite setter for a hunting trip. The Exploder can haul a deer or two, dozens of decoys or even help relocate one of my kids if they need it. After a lot of thought my desire for another 4X4 has waned.

Being a frugal sort the price range I want to spend on a vehicle is rather narrow. Why spend a shitload of cash on the most depreciating object I can invest in?

The plan last spring was to replace the Wrangler with…another Wrangler. This Jeep was the best value in an auto I ever had. It never gave me any problems. A 2008 Rubicon model goes for about $29. The Sahara is at $27. I have no interest in the X model. So IF I wanted a slick two-seat roadster $30 would be the max.

After doing a lot of research on the intertnets it was surprising to find a nice selection of new roadsters to choose from in that price range. The hormones I still have were on full tilt.

A Corvette was out. It is over $50 and way too much. What about the insurance and fuel price? Not worth it. The Porsche Boxter was out too. Same reasons. Audi TT? Nope. Nissan Z? Not my style. The BMW Z4? Out of range too. I decided to draw the line at $30. Here is what I narrowed my choices to:

The Pontiac Solstice.

This thing is pure sex on wheels. The lines are out of this world. The turbocharged GXP model is within reach too. 260 HP? Galloping gonads! This thing gives the boxter a run for the money? TT? Buh-bye!

The Saturn Sky Redline.

This is basically a Pontiac / GM Solstice frame and drive train with body lines similar to a Dodge Viper. Nice.

The Mini Cooper.

My brother’s brother-in-law has one. I like the MPG rating and it fits like a glove. Front wheel drive is the difference and it’s not a true roadster. But four seats (the back two are absolutely worthless) bring down insurance costs and can hold a Kroger sack or two, maybe a cooler.

The Mazda MX5.

Initially this was called the Miata. I was never a fan as it looked like a “chick” car. Too soft in the lines. Underpowered. Sweet in the twisties. Never considered trying one. Oh well.

After test driving a few here is my personal review of each.

The Solstice.

I wanted to hump this little bitch. Damn. I went to the local Pontiac dealer to go for a test spin. I was only interested in the GXP turbo model. Once inside it was downhill. Almost.

My size limits me. Being 6’3” and 245lbs not a lot of roadster cockpits will hold this old body. The window frame lines were thick and obtrusive. And they have to be in order to save my bacon in a rollover (good luck). The sides were quite high, too high for even my ape arm to hang out the window comfortably. The legroom was very narrow and the ignition key with the remote door lock was rubbing my thigh (ooo). Not good.

The cockpit length was short for my long wheels to stretch out. The sight lines were obstructed by a windshield frame that was right at my eye-level and as thick as Hillary Clinton’s calves. Once the top was up I had to duck to see out the tiny side windows. Visibility was nil.

Once on the road that turbo kicked in and it was warp speed ten, Scotty, all the way. This thing had real shit-n-git! Wow! Every gear was a pleasure. I took it on some nearby twisties. What this car lacked is what I had read about in reviews. Sloppy. Not a lot of feel. Easy to over steer. Besides, after a 20 minute test drive my legs hurt.

A Solstice may be nice for short folk but not for me. Still, I just loved that turbo boost. Nothing like it. Whap!

The Sky Redline.

Like I said, this is a Solstice dressed in a Viper-like skin. After calling the nearest Saturn dealer he told me they were out of stock and would not be getting any until ’09 I figured this would save me a 30 mile one-way drive.

The Mini Cooper.

I have sat in a mini that belongs to Harold, my brother’s brother-in-law. He has a convertible in the S class. This is a really sweet little car. Quick, nimble and front-wheel drive.

The mini problem is that there are no dealers within a hundred miles of my country bunker. Sorry. Done.

The Mazda MX5.

Originally called the Miata, the original Mazda concept was to build a classic early 60's British roadster in the style of MG and Triumph. The original design style was quite feminine to me. It looked like it could be Barbie’s toy car. I never paid it much attention.

In researching the best under $30 roadsters it showed up, on top at Edmonds, Motor Trend and US News.


I had to take it for a spin, just to make a comparison. After looking at the images on the internets it looked nice. It was similar to the BMW Z4 and kind of like the Boxter and similar to the Audi TT. It is in the 3rd generation of engineering and styling. They say over 800,000 have been sold.

A Mazda dealer was less than three miles away. Why not?

Once inside the demo car I noticed a lot of room in both width and length. It was similar to the Solstice without the cramped feeling and obstructed view. When it was fired up the exhaust had a nice hummm.

The clutch was easy, the shift throws (6-speed manual) were effortless and the giddyup was quick. It was nothing like the Solstice turbo but so much better to be a part of. It just fit. It had some nuts too. It also had trunk space after the top went down. And best of all, this little thing was absolutely glued to the road.

The results?

I signed the papers today, I am now the proud owner of a Mazda MX5. They will be delivering one in black on Thursday and it will be in the garage on Saturday morning. At 28mpg highway I will be driving it all day on Saturday, just to break it in.

The 0% 36 mo. financing is nice too.

Anyone want to buy a 1998 Jeep Wrangler Sahara? $5000. A young kid with a wrench and another $3 to spend on rehab will be getting a fun, well cared for 4X4.


Carl from Chicago said...

I liked the looks of the Solstice, too, but I couldn't fit in comfortably and I am 5 10". Don't know how that damn car fits anyone.

Your list is awfully close to mine. I was thinking a used TT but will check out the Mazda when my Altima finally breathes its last.


Annie said...

From a purely get-a-chick-glance point,(in my opinion only) the Solstice would get you a definite once over with a lingering look to determine driver hawtness... the Mazda coming in at a close (but not toooo close) second.
The Saturn would get a "who does he think he's kidding" pity smile.
The Mini Cooper? Not even in the running.

johnnyj said...

A song just for you Gerry...

(probably won't work here)...

NICE new ride! I was going to give you sh1t but you have a backup vehicle for 'outdoor' stuff. Cool.

I have my old Jimmy (the 'Cricket') as my fishing vehicle and there's no way that I would get rid of it. Wrench be damned, I'll pay the price...