Like an Old Leather Jacket

I have driven quite a few cars in the last 16 years or so. Some were dirt cheap, some quite expensive. Some in great shape, some… not so much.  Some were a great time to drive, others a chore. Some I loved, some I hated.

That last point is an important one, because it stands pretty much independent of all the others before it.

My '93 Civic rat hatch

I’ve often said that certain cars just fit like an old, comfy pair of shoes or a well-worn leather jacket — they just feel… right. Before I bought my old CRX, for example, I briefly owned a ’93 Civic CX hatchback. It cost me $2000, which, if I’m totally honest, was too much, because it could rival the SS United States for level of surface rust. It was also slow (blessed with a 70-something horsepower, 1.5-liter 8-valve engine), had no air conditioning or power steering, and lacked a passenger side door mirror (not because it was lost; it just never had one). The previous owner had bolted a coffee can muffler to the back, which did nothing to improve the power, but did assure that, when I finally drove past the neighbor who heard me coming 5 minutes before, he didn’t greet with a wave and a smile. Not much going for it, then, on face value.

But I did feel affection for it. When I got in to that car it felt like slipping on an old pair of leather shoes: everything was in exactly the right spot. The pedals were in the perfect place in relation to the steering wheel and the gear lever, both of which fell perfectly in to my hands. The seats were exactly the right combination of comfortable and supportive and, again, perfectly placed for my body. When I was in it, I didn’t mind all its faults.

When I was out of it, though, they were a bit overwhelming, so I only held on to it for a few months.

My Volvo (the ’97 850 sedan), on the other hand, was in comparatively great shape when I bought it, despite its equally low price. Beyond price, in fact, it shares very little with that Civic. However, I don’t drive it too much these days, but when I do I am struck by how well it fits — how much it feels like home.

And that sets me thinking. What is it that makes me love a car? Is there a clear, identifiable variable that all my automotive loves share?

Price? Well, so far the Volvo and the Civic would seem to affirm that.

But hold on, because I also owned a 2006 Acura TL with a 6-speed, which was quite a bit more expensive than those, and I loved that car too.

On the flip side, I purchased my current 2014 Civic  brand new. It has a 5-speed manual gearbox like the ’93, it’s in good shape like the Volvo, and it has lots of flashy technology that probably cost me too much like the TL. Sounds like the best of all worlds. But I don’t much like it.

Is it a question of fun to drive? Well, driving the Acura through a twisty backroad was like skiing down a black diamond. The Volvo is a bit more like riding the cart back to the top. The ’93 Civic deafened me and handled like a toddler on roller skates, but did so with joie-de-vivre. All very different then, but no less love between them.

Ready for a drive

So what exactly am I on about? Is there really a metric for determining whether I (or anyone, for that matter) will love a car? Probably not. Love or hate, I think, is totally independent of all the variables that should, logically, contribute to the feeling. It’s a visceral, emotional reaction not tied in any way to logic or ordered thought. You either do or you don’t.

So, in the end I guess I’ve spent the last 650-odd words not really talking about much of anything at all.

Ah well. I think I’ll throw on some old Pumas and my leather jacket and take the Volvo for a drive.

About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.

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