Guilty Pleasures – The Three Vehicles I Never Want My Friends To See Me Drive
- February 10, 2006
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Long a car-sick motor head, over the years I’ve cultivated a rather ecclectic (and quite strong) list of likes and dislikes in the vehicles I have owned. Lots of overpowered coupes and sedans, a couple of oddball oversteering rear engined cars with more power than their engineers had envisioned when first they set pencil to paper, and only a single vehicle that could be categorized as a truck. And a pretty poor excuse for a truck at that.
Recently, after discussing favorite “Guilty Pleasure” films with some journalist pals, the topic turned the concept of Guilty Pleasure vehicles. Vehicles you like (or would like) to drive but would never admit it to a friend. At the top of the list were those small, innocous, underpowered economy cars that can be driven at ten-tenths all the time without raising the ire of police or other drivers. Why precisely these came up first is of some small concern to me. Perhaps I need a new set of journalist friends, but I digress.
Next the subject of traditional big American Iron came up. As in large, V8 rear-drive cars with primitive solid axle rear suspension systems better suited to buggies or heavy duty pickups than 21st century land transport. Nothing of any collectible interest or classic in nature, we’re talking about post 1985-metal. At the risk of trading in my VehicleVoice correspondent credentials and my AutoPacific analyst pass, the first of my automotive Guilty Pleasures comes to light, the Lincoln Town Car.
Guilty Pleasure One – Lincoln Town Car (the Panther Town Car, of course)
Riding on Ford’s Panther platform that dates back to days when a guy named Ford was living in the White House, the Town Car has only reluctantly been dragged into the 1980s. Based on the same component set that originally spawned the 1979 Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis, the Panther-based Town Car has progressed a bit since it first appeared as the 1980 Lincoln Continental Town Car and Mark VI models. But a major reengineering of the car’s front suspension a few years ago and several reskins haven’t changed the Town Car’s isolationist character. This is a transference device that never bothers you with any external input that is not ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to aiming the car in the general direction of the road. Road noise, tire noise, engine noise at cruise have been muted to a weird background ambience apparently left to remind the driver that he’s not sitting in his easy chair in the family room at home. Feel through the vermicelli-thin steering wheel rim is nonexistent. It’s as though the steering wheel has been transmuted into a smaller version of a ship’s helm. Which brings up the Town Car’s inimitable floating ride that feels all the world like a crossing in the Staten Island ferry. It’s a car right outta the mid sixties with the trappings of a 21st century luxury car. And it’s this time warp aspect that I find so entertaining about the Town Car. This is more than repackaged ground round that’s long past its sell-by date, it’s a kind of an automotive Fabergé egg, a relic, you can rent for 69 bucks a day with unlimited mileage. And, as it turned out, the only car on my list of Guilty Pleasure rides.
Guilty Pleasure Two – Ford F-150 King Ranch
As more and more coffee was consumed and our discussion of Guilty Pleasure automobiles had pretty much run its course, the talk turned to trucks. I have never considered myself a truck guy. Oh sure I owned one of those mutant turbocharged 2-door GMC Jimmys that went by the Typhoon moniker and for about six months it was an entertaining ride. After that I think I’d rather have sat around watching paint dry than drive the Typhoon.
That said there was a solitary 100% Hossack-worthy truck that came to mind as something I quite enjoy puttering around in – A Ford F-150 King Ranch 4×4 pickemup.
By my standards this is ONE BIG MACHINE. It’s also one very nicely equipped conveyance. The interior of the King Ranch (named for some cattle-raising facility in the Republic of Texas) is one of the better executed vehicles built on these shores. The leather is wonderful, the textures and ambience unlike any other truck on earth. Then there’s the view. Sitting at or over the level of most of the other effluent that pass for pickups, vans and SUVs, when you’re behind the wheel of a King Ranch you are master of all you survey. Overall, F-150 King Ranch does something for me that unique among all other lowly pickups: It makes me feel good about myself when I drive it. And so it is an easy addition to my Guilty Pleasures vehicles list.
Guilty Pleasure Three – Hummer H2
As is another perceived behemoth of the streets. What’s so wide it has to be equipped with windshield header running lights, less front and rear overhang than an Audi A8, more horsepower than a Mercedes-Benz E500, a listed curb weight of 6,400 pounds and can putter around town all day sipping unleaded at 8MPG? It can only be a Hummer H2.
Here’s where all selection logic goes out the window for reasons I am at a complete loss to describe. I know all the things that are “wrong” with the H2. It guzzles gas, it’s difficult to see out of, the interior (complete with leftover bits from the now-deceased Pontiac Aztek) is one of, if not the worst executed in GM’s none-too-good-to-begin-with fleet. Oh, and did I mention is drinks gas like a drunken sailor? And in spite of all that, I still enjoy climbing behind the wheel of an H2 every now and again. Just like the Town Car and King Ranch, I would NOT even think about spending my own cash for the mid-range Hummer. But I still get a kick outta driving one.
Guilty Pleasure Four – Toyota FJ Cruiser
Which brings us to a fourth vehicle. Another truck. One that is to me, every bit as compelling a Guilty Pleasure ride as the three previous machines. But with a difference.
I could actually see myself buying this one.
Unique among my Guilty Pleasures Toyota’s FJ Cruiser intones two vehicles fondly recalled from my childhood. Neighbor Tom Thomas’ beige and white Totota FJ 40 Land Cruiser. This was the first truck that ever took me off-road rock crawling. When I was but ten years old, it was Mr. Thomas’ Land Cruiser that took me, along with my EVIL brother and Nick Thomas (Tom’s son) prowling up a fire road in the San Gabriel mountains. It was truly a seminal moment. About seven years later, a high school chum, Ron Wilson was given a light green and white Land Cruiser, also an FJ 40, for his birthday. Many a weekend was spent systematically patrolling the desert south of Edwards Air Force Base and north of El Mirage dry lake outside of Los Angeles in Ron’s Land Cruiser. So when the FJ Cruiser appeared as a concept vehicle at the 2003 Chicago Auto Show it caught my eye. That Toyota put it into production as a 2007 model damned close to the original concept has it close to capturing my wallet. To be sure, much of the FJ Cruiser’s appeal is its styling. Design that is most self-conciously heritage design since the never-exported Origin sedan of 2001~2002. But please don’t get me started on the Origin. That’s the subject of another blog.
Beyond my preprogrammed interest in the FJ Cruiser from childhood, the vehicle has much of the same indescribable appeal as the H2 without that product’s insatiable thirst for fuel. Like the H2, the FJ is a pretty tough car to see out of to the rear and the interior, while vastly superior to that of the Hummer isn’t really on Toyota’s “perfectly executed cabin” list. The rear seat is a bit tough to get into and is far from spacious for a vehicle like this. In fact it’s kind of an SUV coupe. Which might explain why I’m so smitten by the FJ. As I mentioned near the start of this blog, I love coupes. Always have. Most likely always will. To me the FJ Cruiser is a vehicle that plucks at my heartstrings and more importantly is an SUV coupe. So if I end up purchasing an FJ Cruiser I will be forever able to rationalize my purchase as being far more than a Guilty Pleasure for that reason alone.