August 11, 2004

Red Shift

My first car was a four-door Chevrolet Chevette, the four-door model. It was a sparkly red color. I was grateful to have it, and excited to have a car to drive, but honestly there wasn't much about the car to be excited about. It was ugly; it was underpowered; it had an AM radio. We called it the Grunt. And anyway, I wanted a blue car. I'm hazy on the details, but either it didn't come in blue or there weren't any available. My parents picked the Chevette because it was the kind of car the driving school used.

My second car was a snazzy Mazda 626 sports coupe. It had power windows and a nice stereo pre-installed; you controlled the balance and fade using this silly little joystick on the center console. Plus, it had oscillating vents--they went back and forth all by themselves if the ventilation fan was running. It had an all-digital dashboard (this was the in-thing in 1985), and I called it the Starship. It was a lot of fun to drive, and I spent a lot of time looking for fun places to drive it.

It was also a sparkly red, though somewhat darker than the Grunt was. I'd wanted a blue one, but I also wanted a manual transmission. Plus, I was buying it in the middle of the summer of 1985; the 1986s were coming soon, and there wasn't a large selection to choose from. If I recall correctly, the only blue they had was a very, very pale silvery blue, which wasn't what I was looking for anyway.

Well, somewhere around 1991 or 1992 the poor Starship was showing signs of age, and Jane and I decided it was time to replace it. We'd bought our first home a couple of years before, and money was tight, so I ended up with a Ford Escort. It was nicer than the Grunt but not nearly so nice as the Starship in its prime, but it was affordable--partially because it was, once again, mid-summer, and they were trying to clear out the old models to make room for the new ones. I don't know why, but I've always bought cars in mid-summer. So the selection was, naturally, limited, and the only Escort that met our other requirements was, naturally, a sparkly red color. I didn't call the Escort anything but "my car"; it was just transportation.

Our eldest son was born early in 1997. Later that year my mother got too sick to drive any more, and my dad offered to sell us her car, a 1995 Buick Le Sabre with low mileage and all the options. It was easily twice as big as my Escort, and the suspension was so soft it was rather like driving a sofa, which is what Jane called it--the Sofa. I enjoyed the Buick; it had a thermostatically controlled climate system, a huge trunk, big comfortable seats, and oodles of power. It wasn't the sort of car I'd have picked out for myself, but the price was right, and the Escort was beginning to give us trouble.

The Sofa wasn't sparkly red, for a wonder; it was sort of a sparkly golden beige. But then, it wasn't new, either, so it doesn't really count.

Anyway, it started needing repairs a little too often over the last six months or so, and we decided it was time to replace it. So last weekend, Jane and I went out car shopping. And after looking at all sorts of cars and taking a test drive, we decided on the PT Cruiser. I wanted a blue one, of course, and they had one--a beautiful sparkly midnight blue. It was gorgeous. Just walking up to it made me happy. It was just what I wanted.

And then I opened the driver's door, and sat down.

And hated the interior. Just absolutely hated it.

One of the neat things about the PT Cruiser's styling is the dashboard, which has metal inserts which match the color of the car. It's a classy look, and makes the instruments really stand out. But in the blue Cruiser the upholstery was a light gray, and except for the nifty dark-blue inserts the dash was light gray above and off-white beneath. It was a color scheme calculated to get scuffed and dirty in about two minutes, and so far from standing out, the nifty dark-blue metal inserts might as well have not been there--what drew the eye was the off-white glove box.

The Cruiser we test drove, on the other hand, had nearly identical features. And the interior was much nicer--those dash inserts positively glowed. And it was, of course, a bright sparkly red--"Inferno Red" is the name in the brochure.

I thought it about for while, and decided that I was going to be spending more time sitting in the car than standing around admiring it...and it was such a nice bright sparkly red.

There was a certain inevitability about it, I suppose.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 11, 2004 08:51 PM

Lars Walker said:

Funny. Sparkly red is my favorite color for a car, though I've only had one red car. It was an 85 Ford Escort wagon, a miserable choice of wheels for a single guy, and woefully underpowered. But I won it in a supermarket drawing in Florida, and didn't have much money for cars, so I drove it into the ground.

My last 2 cars have been white, which I consider the equivalent of a low-salt diet. They've been found for me by my boss, who has a contact in the business and gets them cheap at the auto auction. Right now I'm driving a 98 Chevy Tracker which I'm crazy about. But it's so white.

Will Duquette said:

I hasten to add that there's nothing wrong with red, as such. It's just that it isn't blue.

Craig Clarke said:


My ideal color for a car would be purple, but the closest I've come is a badly-faded indigo. I don't have the patience to special order, so I'm stuck with what's on the lot.

Which is never purple. This one's silver.

Deb said:

My husband always gets frustrated with me whenever we car shop because my three criteria are:

1. does it have a manual transmission--I only drive stick cars, preferably with front wheel drive

2. is it small enough that I can park it anywhere

3. does it run

That I dont care about make/model/color or degrees of "coolness" is a mystery to him.

Must be a guy thing. ;o)

Will Duquette said:

The PT Cruiser comes in purple.....they call it "plum", but it's purple, really.