Growing up, our family of six always had two cars – one big enough to for the entire crew all at once, and the second, a smaller one (typically a hatchback) to supplement our transportation needs.
The first cars I remember were the wood-panelled station wagon with vinyl seats and optional seat belts, and one of several “second” cars, an orange and white Mercury Capri. Both cars were AWESOME. The Capri resembled the “General Lee” a bit, and you honked the horn by pressing the handle of the turn signal. What kind of engineering magic was that?! Forget getting my license, I just wanted to honk that horn.
Sadly, the Capri gave up the ghost before I was able to drive. But it was replaced by an even better hatchback: a Chrysler Turismo. And guys, it was gold. Gold. GOLD. It was painted gold with matching beige interior. That little gem was a demo car for the dealership our cousin worked at so we got this fully-loaded two door for a great deal.
When I say “fully-loaded” I mean it. This 1985 Turismo came with the following features:
– AM/FM radio with tapedeck
– Swivel light for map reading (or lipgloss application, whichever need arose)
– Air conditioning
– Hydraulic action hatch
This beauty even had a hidden perk that I did not discover until I drove it myself: in a small town, a gold hatchback really stands out. My parents did not need GPS to know where I’d been or what I’d been up to – I was my own one-car parade. I drove around and people waved even before they saw who was behind the wheel, because it was A GOLD TURISMO. I may as well have been driving the Pope-mobile for all the camouflage that car provided.
Although we treated old Goldie with respect and care, it did not take long for things to start going wonky. And my parents, being financially responsible and never having to drive that car, decided it was best to avoid most repairs and just live with it.
First to go was the driver’s seat tilt option. If you were foolish enough to adjust that from the leisurely position my too-tall brother had set it at, your loss. It took a lot of prayer and tears to get it to stay in the upright position again. I spent many hours sitting up perfectly straight and clutching the steering wheel for leverage.
Next we lost the eject function on the tape deck. But it turns out I was a bit of a MacGyver – all we had to do was press eject and yank the cassette out with a pair of tweezers that became a permanent fixture in the ash tray. (Do not attempt that manoeuvre in a moving vehicle).
The air conditioning went next. And since “you only drive it in hot weather for really a few weeks, we aren’t going to spend the money to fix it”, we learned to live without it. A decision I support now as a parent of four on a budget, but COME ON – it was so hot.
Apparently the Turismo didn’t like the AC decision either and started to really act out. The clutch had always been a bit finicky, but now it took things to a whole new level. If you adjusted it one way, it would stall at every intersection or slow-down. If adjusted the other, it would run on after you turned off the ignition (hard to roll into the driveway or school parking lot incognito when followed by ca-klunk, ca-klunk). We opted to go with the “stall” option and learned to pop it into neutral regularly, earning Goldie the title of “Automatic Car that wants to be a Standard”.
This temperamental car didn’t stop there, though. Next it went on to overheat – the vehicular equivalent of holding one’s breath. Any time it was in stop-and-go traffic the engine temp would rise at an alarming rate. This was both scary and embarrassing. BUT WAIT – we figured out how to deal with that, too. All you had to do was crank the heat at maximum power to offset the heat from the engine. And good news, it only overheated in the summer so you were already dressed for the temps and had the windows down anyways (remember, no AC).
The hatchback feature was perhaps the most amazing part of this car. If you folded down the back seat you could move the contents of your entire university bedroom in one trip. The demon that possessed the Turismo decided to thwart that, too and within a few years, the hydraulic doo-dad that held the hatch open stopped working. BUT WAIT. We dealt with that, too – it was nothing a hockey stick couldn’t fix.
The university years were hard on our relationship, but we wouldn’t give up on old Goldie. The passenger side door no longer opened from the outside, so the driver would get in, then lean across to open it for the others. That was fine except for my sister with whom I shared the Turismo insisted on locking that door anyways. So that meant one lunge across to open, realize it was locked, lunge across to unlock, and a third to open the door. We did not agree on this method. Also, no one would want to steal that car.
Once winter hit, the fun really began – all the quirks of the Turismo came together. The doors froze shut so the only way to get inside was through the hatch, but remember, it wouldn’t stay open without the hockey stick technique which was precarious at best. So you always had to travel with a buddy who could hold the hatch open for you and then pull on the outside handle of the door while you body checked it from inside. Thankfully, living in student housing, there was always someone around willing to help out for a free ride to campus.
Winter was also the Turismo’s time to shine. Perhaps it was the overheating engine, or the over-running clutch, but that car would start in the coldest of weather. The Polar Vortex would have been no match for Goldie.
The attempted sabotage this car tried to inflict on me only managed to give me wizard status. As the car aged, it became more finicky and eventually only two people on the entire planet were able to get it to start and stay running. I wore that title with more pride that I probably should have.
Eventually the Turismo’s time here on earth came to an end. It was on a dark and slick highway one evening in March. The interior lights started to fade, the radio grew faint, and I barely managed to coast into a gas station to call the Clean Shaven boyfriend (who later became Bearded Husband) to come rescue me. We all had to agree that sinking any more money into Goldie was a fruitless endeavour. We had her towed to a wrecking yard and I think I received enough cash to cover the last tankful of gas I’d put in.
Oh, sweet Turismo. You never ceased to cause anxiety levels to rise. You always kept things interesting. I’ll never forget some of the phrases often spoken in that car:
It makes that smell all the time.
It’s okay, it’s when you don’t hear that noise that you need to worry.
We’ll make it, just give it a minute.
That noise is completely normal.
Hold on tight.
Open your window, we just need to crank the heat for a few minutes, then it’ll be as good as new.
Hold the steering wheel, I want to change the tape.
Gone, but not forgotten. Gold Turismo, the worst car I ever had.
Worst car experience? Could have been in the Turismo with me, it’s okay to share that, too.