Posted by: joha5 | May 4, 2010

Ode to Audacity: An Absurd Family Car History

One day I plan on having a nice car.  I’m not even talking about a luxury car or a car that catches people’s eyes.  I just want a car that is mildly shiny, has a good stereo system inside, gets good gas mileage, and needs very little maintenance.  I don’t think that this is too much to ask.  However, after living in London for 5+ years and having absolutely no need for a car along with having no permanent job here in Washington, D.C., saving up to purchase a new car has fallen to the very bottom of my personal priority list.  

I have had the good fortune to always have a car in the family since it is almost required that you have one as long as you live in the United States.  However, the list of cars that we have had since I was born in 1982 is quite a shocking one which perhaps reflects my minimum amount of requirements for any car I may get in the future.  The first couple of cars that I can recall my family owning was a Cutlass Cruiser and a Ford Pinto.  For those of you that are not car fans – for the sake of full disclosure, I am not – here are two pictures that I have found on the internet of these beautiful machines. 

The Cutlass Cruiser

...and the Ford Pinto.

The Cutlass was not so much of a car as it was a ‘road boat’.  I feel like it could have come with an optional mast complete with a lookout point on top.  The only thing that I remember about this vehicle was that the seats were leather-ish and it was impossible to sit in after it had been parked in the sun or else you would suffer second degree burns to the back of your legs.  Even our dog couldn’t stand it.  Also, it had a bumper sticker on the back that had a panda on it that said ‘FONZ’ (Friends of the National Zoo).  The previous hippie who had owned this car had put the sticker on – not us – but we kept it on there so it would make our car more readily identifiable.  Why we needed a sticker to do this is still beyond me.  

The Ford Pinto’s reputation precedes itself.  I think it is rated something like the worst car ever made in the history of mankind.  I wouldn’t disagree with this claim.  However, we didn’t have it for very long because my mother hit a telephone pole while she was taking my then 5-year-old sister to ballet class and it collapsed like a house of cards.  

The next car we had we actually got for free from a friend of my mother who wanted the car ‘to go to a good home’.  The car that she was speaking of was a 1978 Nissan Datsun.  If the Pinto is ranked the worst car of all time then the Datsun cannot be far behind.  Here she is in all her glory (just imagine it in a dull grey color with half of the back right side above the wheel totally rusted off). 

Check out this dream machine!

Check out this dream machine!

 To make matters even worse, the only radio station that my mother ever wanted to listen to was Oldies 100.  Just imagine how cool we looked driving around town blasting ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ out of the tinny radio speakers.  I just remember sitting in the back seat behind my mother trying to sink down into my seat as much as I possibly could to avoid being seen by anybody.  Eventually my sister and I convinced her that Mix 107.3 was something that she should try as well and this became the next available option if the music on Oldies 100 wasn’t good enough (because driving around blasting Sinead O’Connor or UB40 is equally as cool).  

Then, right before I learned to drive, we somehow procured the car to end all cars: The 1986 Nissan Stanza.  Never heard of it?  I don’t blame you.  But you’ve seen it and you have laughed at it.  You may have seen it on the road but, more likely, you have seen it in a comic entitled ‘Calvin & Hobbes’.  It was the blue car that was shaped like a box that Calvin’s family owned.  Don’t know what I am talking about?  Here she is in action.  

This was the car that I learned to drive on and this was the car that I drove to school everyday and because of this, it is the first car that I fell in love with.  Much like the rest of the cars we had growing up, this car is simply disgusting.  There was almost nothing redeemable about this vehicle other than the fact that it was what I first got to drive around town in.  I remember going to McDonalds when I was 16 and stealing one of those enormous window vinyls and actually sticking it to the side of the car.  The sign advertised McDonald’s Christmas special on Chicken McNuggets – 6 for 99 cents.  I don’t know if I did them a favor with the free advertising or if it was a detriment to their local establishments but I can guarantee you that my car was the only car this window vinyl would have fit on out of all of my friends in high school.  I beat that car to death too.  I hit a car in a Safeway parking lot.  I ran it off the road and hit a mud bank after hitting an oil slick on the way to school.  I drove it through a huge mud pit on a rainy day on our high school campus.  But the car lasted.  It would go to the shop, get all nice and fixed up, and before you know it the car was as good as new again.  The previous owner had actually gone to the extent of fixing it up with a pretty decent stereo system of which we were the eventual benefactor and it was the crown jewel of the car.  It was a very sad day when we had to put her out to pasture and I will never forget her (or probably ever see one on the road again).  

I now drive a pretty standard 1991 Honda Accord and my mother drives a 2004 Honda Civic so we at least look like normal people now.  Even though it wasn’t always easy – and sometimes even embarrassing – to be seen in these beasts shown above, there was something really fun and eccentric about all of them.  What they lacked in style, comfort, design, and general safety, they definitely made up in character and personality.  What’s more is that they were ours and in spite of the laughing and pointing they were a part of our family and always will be.  

RIP Cutlass, Pinto, Datsun, and Stanza.  You are sorely missed.



  1. I briefly owned a bright orange Ford Pinto that had belonged to my grandmother (thus my out when people laughed at my clown car). One day someone hit it in the back end at a stop sign–not hard enough to do damage, but more than a tap, which can make you pretty damn nervous when you’re behind the wheel of a Pinto. I closed my eyes, counted to three, and realized I hadn’t died in a blaze of glory. I was so relieved to be aliveI think I actually hugged the guy who bumped me.

    • Hahaha! I believe it! I was only 7 when I was in our bright red Pinto and we got into the accident on the way to my sister’s ballet class. We couldn’t have been going more than 25 miles per hour and the car was literally totaled. Why did people even buy those things in the first place?! I bet we could start a ‘Pinto Survivors Club’ and have a HUGE membership. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment, W.K.!!

    • I had a pinto once. Grey, manual. It actually belonged to a friend of mine and he taught me how to drive it…my first lessons in driving a manual vehicle were in that darn pinto. He got a new car, gave me the pinto. I really thought…awww what a sweet thing to do (we weren’t dating or even close to dating).

      I sometimes now wonder if he secretly hated me thus the “gift” of the pinto. I would end up ditching the car after it left me stranded during a trip from Mississippi to Va. Beach and the mechanic informed me that not only were they easily crushed they had a habit of bursting into flames when hit. I can no longer even look at a picture of a pinto without shuddering. Thank goodness not many pics pop up … thanks though for the wonderfully nightmarish memories of cross country traveling in the darn sardine can of death. 🙂

      • We had a red Pinto. It is great to hear the relationships that people have with cars. I am so sorry that your Pinto left you stranded after such a long road trip. We only used our’s for trips to and from home in the DC area. However, I would NEVER disagree with you that it is indeed a ‘darn sardine can of death’. I am just so thankful that you survived and are able to comment on my post about it. Thanks again and come back as often as you like! Deal?!

  2. I remember we owned a red and white Metropolitan for years!!

    • A red and white Metropolitan?! What a classic car. It’s so odd looking that I might not even have been embarrassed to drive it around! Thanks for reading and commenting, Ramona! I’m jealous of your old ride!!

      • Wow My head is spinning, what a great compliment. There is no better comment than someone who tells me that they enjoyed reading what I wrote!! Thank you for making my day friend!!

        Also, I will visit your blog as often as I can and I am already looking forward to more of your great posts!!

  3. I remember the Nissan Stanza so fondly thanks to the Haworth clan! Mishaps in the Sport and Racquet parking lot after swim practice, driving up and down the “roller coaster hill” as fast as Sus could get it to go – literally, some of my best high school memories are due to that car. 🙂

    • Haha! I remember when the car stalled out that we had to get it to the top of the roller coaster hill and then pop the clutch on the way down in order to get the car to start again. We couldn’t come to a full stop on the way home in case it stalled out again. What an amazing vehicle!!

  4. I like the classic cars…Great blog, thanks for sharing 😉

    • Hey Breland! Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my blog! They are definitely ‘classic’ cars now but they sure seemed like a huge pain in the butt when I was growing up. At least they make for VERY funny stories now. Thanks again for reading. Stop by anytime!

  5. was the photo at the top of your blog taken in Malta?!

    • I didn’t take it myself. I found it on the internet and decided to use it because it elicted images of The Odyssey to me. I can find out where it was taken if you want me to! Let me know and thanks so much for reading!

  6. The Cutlass… Dude, that is SUCH the Love Machine! I am hearing “Low rider” as I write this. In high school I dated a girl who drove a Pinto… nuthin. I dated another girl who had a Cutlass like that but it was green. OMG… Dude, she rocked my world.

    • Hahaha! The Cutlass was literally like a bedroom on wheels. It felt like it was 10 feet wide and it was definitely like 20 feet long so I’m not surprised that she rocked your world better than the girl in the stupid Pinto did. Only problem is that you can see into the Cutlass but you can’t see into the Pinto…very easily that is! Thanks for reading and posting!

  7. You sadly omitted the nude colored Ford we had when born and the maroon Honda Civic we were so proud of because it was the only car we had ever bought that was under 10 years old.

    Bless these vehicles…especially that Accord which is in better condition at 19 years old than I ever was!

    • I think I must have blocked those out of my memory because it was all too painful to write about. We seriously have the most absurd history of family cars in the history of automobiles. How we turned out to be normal contributing members of society is beyond me!

  8. Great car stories. My first car was a Pinto. I loved that thing beyond all reason, beyond all hope.

  9. my buddy had one of these. great cars. thanks for taking my down memory lane.

    • I’m so pleased to get all of these responses from people who have gone through the same experience as me with one or more of these cars. Who knew that there were so many of us out there?! Haha! Thanks so much for reading and posting and definitely feel free to come back any time you like! Thanks again my friend!

  10. Please let me guest post about my mom’s schooner like station wagon, complete with tattered and falling off wood paneling; my father’s pontiac grand prix, on the roof of which he painted a confederate flag and drove me around in in our heavily African-American populated neighborhood — only to be outdone by his 2nd grand prix, on which he stencil painted “Ghost Rider” on each of the car’s two doors, along with racing stripes to mimic the planes on “Top Gun;” my mom’s ’75 Chevy Malibu (which was driven in the mid 90s), that not only sounded like the space shuttle, Challenger, but seemed destined for the same fate… Please, I beg you.

  11. Love this post so much Joha, pretty much the best thing ever.

    I miss our wood panel wagon to this day.

    • I was going to send this post specifically to you because you write such a fantastic blog on cars. As you can imagine, I actually know next to nothing about cars. Maybe it is because I have been so scarred by these vehicles in my lifetime or maybe it is because they are all so wonderful that I can’t even stand to look at another car. Either way, I am honestly thrilled that you got a chance to read it and that you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it! Thanks again, my friend, for being so supportive! You are a star!

  12. This is the one thing that is freaking me out about moving back to the US next year. I haven’t had a car in almost 5 years, and I LOVE it. I recall all the bills fixing broken shit, the gas, the speeding tickets! (My foot thinks it’s on Jupiter). I really really dread buying some hunk of rubbish that breaks down 1 day after the lemon law is up.

    • It sounds like you and I are in the same boat, eh?! Where do you live at the moment and when are you going to be moving back to the US?! I miss living abroad terribly and am always looking to go back. I would have to give up the car but I think it is more of a pain than a luxury! Stay in touch and let me know about your adventures overseas! I can’t wait to hear about them and make sure to check back on my blog again soon. I will most certainly be writing more! Thanks again my friend!

      • I am in Sweden at the moment, but will go back in 9 months. You can read all about my adventures on my website 🙂

      • That is awesome! I’m sure you will be happy to get back but I it sounds like you are really enjoying your time over there! I will Definitely be checking up on your adventure’s and feel free to come back to my site anytime you can! Talk to you soon!!

  13. Ford red pinto!!! I always wished we had that car when I was growing up!! All we had was a small Fiat…lol!

    • You ‘wish’ you had a red Pinto?! Hahaha! Where were you 20+ years ago! I would have given you mine! Although, a small fiat is kind of similar to a Pinto in a lot of ways! Thanks so much for reading and posting! Please come back soon and stay in touch!

  14. I love your car stories,it’s funny and inspiring please write more to keep your fans awake.I love the cutlass cruiser can you send it to my blog.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. It really means a lot to me. I just really enjoy writing and I am so glad that you have enjoyed what I have to offer. Honestly, I write a new post once a day so please come back and comment often. Thanks again and I look forward to speaking to you again soon!

  15. You get that ‘second degree burns to the legs’ experience with real leather upholstery as well. And people choose to pay extra for it! What’s that all about?

    • It’s awful, don’t you think?! Plus, I remember that there was this certain smell the leather would emit in the sweltering heat which only added to the pain of the seats searing into my legs! Thanks for reading and posting! Come back again soon!

  16. Fantastic post.

    I learned to drive in a 1980 Ford Zephyr Station Wagon, brown, with fake wood panelling. It was two years older than I am and the plastic inside it was biodegrading. But it was solid steel and I had no fear on the road.

    For those not familiar, this is kind of what my baby looked like:

    • WOW! That is one hell of a vehicle! One of my best friend’s had the station wagon with fake wood panelling in the side. Who ever thought that fake wood was a good idea?! Plus, it always inevitably fell (or slowly peeled) off. How awful. But you are absolutely right about the cars being solid steel. I felt like my car was a speed demon and it went from 0 to 60 in about 18 seconds or something like that! Haha! Thanks for sharing on my blog! See you soon!

  17. I like this

    • Thanks Roy! I like that you like!

  18. The first family car we had was a mini. Imagine mum and dad in the front and 3 kids in the back plus 2 friends. Due to the 998cc engine we had to get out to go up a steep hill once and walk up, while my dad and mum got to drive up…happy days (I think) 🙂

    • That is one of the funniest responses that I have ever had! Cars today don’t seem to have any of these problems but back in the day you just wouldn’t have looked twice to see something as crazy as what you described! What year Mini was it?! Thanks for your absolutely hilarious post and definitely stay in touch!

      • I think it was a 1978 or somewhere around there, no seatbelts, no air bags, no on board computer, but plenty of charisma and bags of charm!

  19. I remember the Pinto!
    My own car horror story: my father bought a “cutting edge” Audi (pre-remodel) in approx. 1982. what he thought, I am sure, was a “safe” family car.

    On a family vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we took the thing up a rather steep hill, and the car started backwashing itself with exhaust fumes. Apparently, I passed out before my parents decided to turn back.

    • I just looked up a picture of the 1982 Audi! What a car! Seems almost as safe as the Pinto or the Cutlass Cruiser! Thanks for sharing!!

  20. We had a red Pinto! What I remember most about it is the “Ski Bear” bumper sticker my parents had on it from their pre-kid days. I didn’t know there was a resort called Bear and actually thought they liked bears that ski, or wanted to be a bear that skis.

    • Hi Summer! As I was reading your awesome response to my blog I thought to myself ‘Why the hell would they have a bumper sticker that says ‘Ski Bear”?! Haha! I don’t blame you for being confused when you were younger. It confused me even now! Although, I must admit that I do like the idea of bears that ski. Thanks so much for reading and posting! Come back soon!

  21. greetings fellow 28 year old DC resident. this here’s a timely blog, considering just yesterday, yahoo! had their list of worst cars of all time. to no one’s surprise, the pinto rated. interestly, the pontiac aztek had since been declared the ugliest car, though that’s debatable. it was a like a giant prius, and i’d think the design is probably less hideous by today’s standards, given things like… the cube and all that have modeled it.

    thankfully, we owned no hideous cars in our family. though we did have a number of poorly made cars, including a dodge where the door just up and fell off!

    – dweebcentric.

    • Another 28 year old DC resident! I LOVE IT! I wrote my post yesterday and then not an hour later I read the article on Yahoo! and couldn’t believe my eye’s! Very fortuitous indeed! One of my friend’s had a Dodge that had a door fall off as well…not the best made cars in the world! Keep an eye out for me in DC and thanks for checking out my blog and commenting!

  22. I think we had a Pinto! I know we had the station wagon growing up, and I remember we had a Dodge Dart that my brother bought from my parents after they were done with it. My 3 brothers took the “GOLD” Dart on a cross-country trip, only after they installed an “ooga” horn. Now that is hideous and they thought it was the greatest thing!

    • I cannot believe they drove the Dart across country! Seems like an insane idea now. I am worried about taking my 1991 Honda Accord anywhere these days let alone a Dodge Dart with an ‘Ooga’ horn! What a sight that must have been! Haha! Thanks so much for sharing your funny car experience with me and everybody else who reads this blog!

  23. Nice Posting……..

  24. Please let me know if it was taken there – that is where they believe part of the story took place. I visited last summer and it was awesome. It would be so random & cool to have stumbled across ur blog and see a photo and recognize it as being someone i traveled. anyhow, lemme know!

    • Hey Matt! I looked it up again and it turns out that the picture is indeed from Malta! I can’t actually believe that you recognized it from somewhere you have been to before. However, it is a pretty striking picture so I am not really surprised either! Thanks for reading and make sure to come back again soon!

  25. This blog is very good. Thanks for this. I will bookmark this page…

    • Hi Unforgiven! Thanks so much for stopping by to read my posts and for bookmarking me! I really appreciate your support and I very much look forward to hearing from you again soon. Thanks again and take care!!

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