Last Saturday on NPR, Scott Simon reported a great and famous racehorse had been sold to a Japanese interest, then slaughtered and resold as pet food. That inglorious end, he went on to say, has been the fate of millions of horses worldwide—from champion, to family pet, to wild mustang poached off public lands. Simon was making some sort of point, or maybe just wanted to buzzkill the Run for the Roses scheduled for later that day. But sad as it is, what do you do? If the animal wasn’t important enough to his masters—for whom he had made a prettier penny than I’m ever likely to see—to memorialize, why should I give it another thought? Frankly, I was surprised to hear he had hung on for so long.

You know what other creature is still around? That freaky Oliver creature, who habitually walked upright, smoked cigars, made passes at human ladies, and was rumored to be the unholy offspring of human and chimp. Oliver is very elderly these days. He’s blind and crippled and living in a preserve run by a soft voiced guy who wears short shorts and flowing t-shirts, and who feeds the ape chunks of fruit mouth to mouth. Not the worst way to go, I suppose. Heck, I should be so lucky if I happen to become as infirmed. But if I’d heard Oliver died and was ground into dog chow I’d probably manage to carry on.

But when my mechanic began a conversation about my car with the words, “Just how attached to it are you, anyway?” I began to reckon on some serious loss.

Car problems played a significant part of The Cobra’s Nose in the early days. Many an edition was begun whilst waiting for a repair estimate or for a tow. Over time, the problems kept cropping up, but whatever small appeal they had dwindled. The last big operation on it was a brake job, notable for the creepiness of the guys who looked at it first and the costliness of the establishment that got the job. Oh, and the colossal dickitude of the flunky who ferried me to and from the shop to work. I’ve a fairly high tolerance for disrespect, but when the guy started mocking my hand gestures and vocabulary I shut down. And due to his patronizing behavior I will never again patronize his employers.

That’s why a different shop had custody of my car for what I thought would be a major tune-up to get me through emissions testing. I’d failed once, and let the clock run out on the repair extension. Alas, I got a patch and part one of the car’s eulogy instead. Did I know the head was about to crack?! With a copy of Auto Trader (Foreign) and Saturday’s Arizona Republic, I began my search for another car.

And soon became discouraged because I simply do not have the cash on hand to pick up a sporty little something made within the current century. So I went to my perpetual Plan B—start making calls to Mom and Lauren and other reliable advisors and ask them questions relative to my situation that would lead them to offer to solve the problem themselves (preferably by buying me something). This almost never works. Still, they did give me some valuable guidelines in car shopping, which commenced as soon as Partick—another font of wisdom and locked checkbook—and Sophia—a font of remarkable patience—returned from some business at the Tae Kwon Do studio.

Our first stop was in Mesa to see a ’96 Toyota Tercel. It was a stick shift with four speeds, which I noticed on the freeway when I couldn’t persuade it to go into overdrive and came perilously close to choosing reverse as a default. So, no.

We then went to a small auto lot on Van Buren, a street in Phoenix with a notorious reputation for matters only tangentially related to cars, to see a fetching Passeo. There was also a nice looking Nissan, reminiscent of the one my Mom used to drive. “We’d also like to look at that one,” we said to the proprietor. “Nah, not that one—too many problems.” Hm—hopeful sign.

We took the Passeo for a spin around the neighborhood, and noted a disturbing rattling. When we questioned the proprietor about the noise, he said, “motor mounts” and said that just for us he would have his mechanic do the repairwith no addition to the sticker price. I told him I had a worthless Tercel I was looking to unload, and he said bring it on by maybe we could make a deal.

At this point, Partick and Sophia bailed due to a previously arranged social engagement, and I returned on my own (making leading phone calls all the way that resulted in tons of advice). The proprietor drove my car for a few blocks and declared that the mechanics from earlier in the day might well be fools or crooks because the Tercel did not seem to be in a desperate condition. Maybe his mechanic could fix it up and I wouldn’t have to mess with the Passeo at all.

Now this puzzled me. I wasn’t going to buy the Passeo without independent verification of it’s roadworthiness (all of my advisors were firm on this), but I had resigned myself to buying something from someone. But heck, if I could slide with a major tune-up (the proprietor’s suggestion) I could always buy something later. We arranged for me to bring the Tercel in on Monday for his mechanic to inspect, and the Passeo would go to an independent mechanic for the same. In the end, Peggy very kindly assisted in the latter half of the operation with a mechanic with whom she had a fruitful history.

Sunday, I spent wandering around the house wringing my hands.

Monday went as outlined above, with two significant rulings from mechanics. The first was from the proprietor, who added more problems to my car’s rather impressive list of fatal and just mightily irritating flaws. He seemed a little hurt that I would take advantage and try to palm such a hunk of junk (did I know it had a tendency to overheat?!) off on him, but he was an honorable person and would give me a few hundred in trade. The second was from Peggy, whose mechanic had found a mysterious leakage of motor oil in the Passeo.

I don’t pretend to know much about cars, but “mysterious leakage of motor oil” is a deal killer. As far as I was concerned, the search for a different car was about to start afresh, but Peggy’s mechanic said bring the Tercel because maybe I could slide by with a major tune-up.
I wasn’t optimistic about this plan, but the mechanic, Tim Smart by the way, said he would include the evaluation of the Tercel in with that of the Passeo. What the heck? I took the Tercel in the next day and awaited the diagnosis.

Tim when he called seemed a little dismayed that I would demand he perform a miracle on such a hopeless wreck. Did I know one of the cylinders was wet?! Well, no, but since virtually everything else was defective it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Long story…well, short is no longer an option, but to conclude, Tim also sells cars and after some fierce negotiations on my part (“What would you advise Peggy in this situation?”) and hard-nosed parries on his (“Aw, geez…”), I bought a ’91 Chevy Cavalier that has four whole buttons for the radio, cold a/c, and a name that doesn’t irritate my spell check. It’s an automatic, so I had to find another spot for the cobra’s head gearshift Amy gave me for my 25th (prove otherwise) birthday, and to accommodate a few other cobra themed gifts she, Partick and Peggy were nice enough to bestow.

Now, what more could I want in a Cobra Car?

Written by Sharon C. McGovern
From Volume 41
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