My first car was a 1967 MGB roadster, which means that the car I drove most often was my parents’ white 1977 Ford LTD station wagon. The previous sentence makes perfect sense to any owner of a classic British sports car. One learns quickly never to drive an MG farther than one can afford to tow it.
The little bastard sure was beautiful, though, and when it ran it was a blast to drive. Neither held true for the station wagon. Piddling around in my little two seater was like driving a go cart; driving the LTD was more akin to piloting a studio apartment.
It was horribly ugly, too. My parents’ station wagon looked like a hearse, and not a cool hearse like something that The Cramps would drive but the sort of utilitarian death car favored by TV’s most famous coroner, Quincy, M.E. Thus the ugly beast was christened “The Quincymobile,” and thus it was forever known. Amen.
The Quincymobile’s only redeeming quality was its reliability, but by 1987 that was becoming a question. The seventies were perhaps the darkest decade for American automobile reliability, a fact that became abundantly clear as the eighties clanked along to a soundtrack of self-destructing Pacers and exploding Pintos. For a time there The Big Three put too much emphasis on fine Corinthian leather and not enough on bolt tolerances.
So in an intellectual sense I can’t say that I was surprised on that Savannah afternoon when I locked the door to my mildewed apartment, made my way to the parking lot, and fired up the Quincymbobile, but when “fired up” becomes a literal description one can’t help but be a little startled.
The engine idled and flames peeked through the cracks between hood and fender. I turned off the ignition, but the fire didn’t care. Smoke rolled through the vents and I sat frozen in the driver seat. Eventually my brain clunked into gear like the cruddy transmission in a Ford Maverick and I ran for help. I beat on the door of the nearest mildewed apartment.
“Who is it?”
“My car’s on fire!”
“I can’t open the door.”
“Look out your window! Flames are shooting out of the hood!”
“How do I know this isn’t a trick?”
“Look out your window!”
“My husband says I can’t open the door when he’s not here.”
“I don’t want you to open the door, I want you to call 9-1-1!”
“I don’t know.”
“Look out your goddamned window! Call the fucking fire department before your apartment catches fire!” I ran back to the Quincymobile and paced. It was the best plan I could come up with.
Ten minutes passed before I heard the distant wail of the hook and ladder. It grew closer quickly, the noise reaching its peak just as the lights and chrome and shiny red paint shot into view. Then the siren doppler shifted as the big engine flew past. All that was missing was “Yakety Sax,” the Benny Hill chase music.
A few more minutes passed and the fire truck pulled into the parking lot, but by then the Quincymobile had burned itself out.
“That your car?” a fireman asked.
“You gave us the wrong address or we would’ve been here sooner.”
“Didn’t think the parking lot with the flaming car might be the place, huh?”
“We go where we’re dispatched,” he said, and the crew loaded up and yakety saxed over to the next emergency call.
The inevitable death of the Quincymobile marked the end of an era, but that wasn’t so bad. I moved back to a motorcycle for the first time since getting my driver’s license: A 1978 Yamaha XS1100. It was the perfect vehicle for a new batch of stories.