On to the Open Road: A Eulogy

The end of an era has arrived for me. This past Wednesday, the car that I learned to drive on and that I drove for six years, finally died. It’s been a lot for me to take in. Over the years I got very fond of that car; and although I’d been bracing myself for its demise, there are some inevitabilities that one can’t really prepare for. This was one.

I realise that the theme of this post may be alien to some– after all, isn’t a car just a collection of metal parts?– but to me, certain cars are special. Working at a car dealership, I know that all cars feel different; some are nimble and energetic like toddlers, some are stately and dependable, and some are simply crotchety and don’t want to drive at all. And for me at least, certain cars are so unique that they seem to have a personality all their own, and I know them as I know my friends. As Jeremy Clarkson said, “It’s what non-car people don’t get. They see all cars as just ton-and-a-half, two-tons of wires, glass, metal, and rubber. That’s all they see. People like you or I know, we have an unshakable belief that cars are living entities. You can develop a relationship with a car. And that’s just what non-car people don’t get.” He’s exactly right. It would be easier to be a non-car person, no doubt– but it wouldn’t be much fun either.

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The Marquis in 2013; her fenders were hardly even rusted back then

My family’s old gold Mercury Grand Marquis was a special car. Dubbed “H.R.H”, “the shiny beauty”, “the old girl”, or “Titanic” depending on who you ask, the Marquis was old and weary by the end but she held on longer than anyone expected. We owned her for eight years, and although we didn’t mistreat her, she was run hard. She towed a camping trailer for several summers, and her V8 engine was always enjoyed in the hands of me or my brother. And she did have many issues, I will admit. A differential issue, transmission trouble, a shattered pulley bearing, power steering leak, and (most recently) spark plugs which worked themselves out of the aluminum head. It was the spark plug issue which finally ended the Marquis. Although it’s fixable and we’d already dealt with two escaping spark plugs in the past year, it seems that the third time is unlucky. This time, a hole was actually blown through the head which is obviously not what one wants in an engine. The consensus among the techs at work was that this is the end for my poor car.

But I don’t want to remember her sitting sadly behind the shop at work like she has been since Wednesday. There are so many great things to remember. This is the vehicle that made me comfortable with driving and parking, and what a journey that was! I didn’t learn quickly, and for awhile I hated and dreaded driving. But eventually I learned to handle and appreciate the Marquis’s powerful engine and large frame, and over time driving became a true hobby. As for parking, it was nerve-wracking to learn to manoeuvre a land yacht like the Marquis into small spaces. Many times, I was convinced I couldn’t do it. But in 2014, with my final driving test looming, I made up my mind and mastered it. Being able to consistently, adeptly park seventeen feet of car is something I’m proud of, especially since I used to have such trouble even with my driving instructor’s small and agile Toyota!

The Grand Marquis always helped me through my problems. If I was bored or stressed at home, going for a drive and feeling that dependable V8 power always cleared my head. And through emotional turmoil at work, I could always go sit in my car and feel some degree of comfort. That car also helped me to conquer the most difficult period of my life. In the lead-up to my final driving test, I experienced terrible anxiety and hopelessness due to a previous failure. I knew I could drive well, but all I could think was what if I fail? The only things that helped keep the worry far enough away that I could function were my mum’s reassurance, reading the Bible… and driving. My beautiful car made me happy and confident, and remembering how I felt when I was driving it kept me calm enough that I passed my test.

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I brought my car into the shop one day, and was telling all the techs how wonderful she was. Although they laughed at the disintegrating fenders, they had to admit that the underbody actually looked very good!

In the last year, I’ve driven assorted Mitsubishis more than I’ve driven the Grand Marquis. I drive other cars too, but out of everything I’ve driven (from full-size pickups to Mitsubishi Evos to Jeeps), nothing is as wonderful as that 15-year-old Marquis. Not many people understand my love for that car– of course, the fad nowadays is for little hatchbacks with irritating exhaust kits and purple lights underneath, etc. etc… and those little cars are probably fun, but so was my car. Although she weighs over two tons, the V8 engine is undeniable. Dressed up Civics may get going faster, but I doubt many people of that scene know what it’s like to drive a big, imposing car with power. When I’m driving around or talking to my friends and coworkers, I don’t feel superior; I just feel like I know something that they don’t. And I keep trying to convert them! It’s a fact that cars like the Grand Marquis are favoured by the elderly, but it’s not well-known that they’re not slow either. There’s a reason that North American police forces have used the Marquis’s cousin, the Ford Crown Victoria, for decades…

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The heart of the beast, a 4.6 litre V8 engine with an output of 235 horsepower

Aside from that, these big cars are just my kind of vehicle. They’re very old school; there are few large, comfortable, rear-wheel drive cars anymore. And although they’re affordable and accessible, they’re built along the same lines as my ultimate dream: a Bentley or a Rolls Royce. I know and love everything about the Grand Marquis/Crown Victoria, and that’s thanks to my lovely car. Although not ideal in adverse conditions due to her weight and handling characteristics, the Marquis was great to drive, and I came to enjoy the feeling of driving a boat. And my car was classy and dignified, but she could roar when she got going! I always knew how she would handle and react, and in that respect she never let me down. Whether accelerating onto the highway, cruising on a summer day, or off-roading through a pile of gravel on a country road (I actually had to do that once…), my car would do it. She made me proud. Of course, my coworkers laughed at me the time I gave her a full detail on my day off when her fenders were falling off, but I had so much pride in that vehicle. She still makes me proud.

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The shining result after a morning of detailing– this coined the moniker “shiny beauty”

I’m not sure what we’re going to do with the Marquis now. She will probably go to charity for scrap value, which is good but will make me very sad. I have a lot of trouble when things come to an end. But I’m grateful for these six years, because that car helped me to gain confidence and have a lot of fun. I’ll always remember how the passenger door lock stopped working and had to be operated manually from inside– a bit of a pain if it was raining! I’ll remember how much my dog Crumpet loved taking up the entire expanse of the back seat by himself. I’ll remember often taking the long way home from work just so I could cruise and enjoy the car. I didn’t want her life to end so abruptly, but the Marquis and I had a good time together. She was a faithful companion and she served her purpose well.

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I always enjoyed working on this car. I helped fix the blower motor when it broke, and I always helped change the tyres and oil as well.

It’s not been easy this past week, but at least I’ve got the memories plus hope for the future. I plan to buy a Crown Victoria of my own within the next few weeks, which is a helpful distraction. And everyone at work has been brilliant to me; I’ve had three people offer to lend me their cars, and in the meantime I’m driving Mitsubishi’s work truck. My work buddy (our craziest mechanic) texted me on Wednesday evening to ask how I was doing and to offer me encouragement… he told me to keep smiling. I’ve really been struck by how kind everyone has been; I felt silly to be so bothered by the death of my car, but they’ve been wonderful. My bosses have also been compassionate. They even let me go home early on Wednesday when I was upset about the Marquis. So although I feel that this is the loss of one friend, I know I have others.

Well, I’m not really a fan of singer-songwriter Neil Young, but to say goodbye to the old girl I’m afraid I have to quote him:

Long may you run, long may you run

Although these changes have come

With your chrome heart shining in the sun

Long may you run.

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