Driven to Extremes - The Diverse Vehicles of My Life

I was eight years old the first time I "took the wheel." That was when my dad started letting me steer his 1968 VW Beetle from the passenger seat while he drove. I then graduated to shifting as he worked the clutch. When I was about nine years of age he started driving me down to a dead-end street between a cemetery and the back of a housing development and put me in the driver's seat. It couldn't have been all that often because this only happened when he was on leave from the Navy. He seemed endlessly patient; but I was a "natural," so that had to have helped, right?

A  Delta Green 1968 VW Beetle just like my dad's

In 1975, my grandmother purchased a 1974 Chevrolet Cheyenne Super 20 truck (3/4 ton, 454 big block V8) from a couple for whom I babysat. It was Rosedale Red in color and in immaculate condition for having belonged to horse people. She paid $4,500 for "Rosie" and I loved her like crazy. I had my learner's permit and was my grandmother's gratis chauffeur. We had quite a few horses and used Rosie to haul feed, and pull our 2-horse trailer; and then after a lot of work (including beefing up the leaf springs & shocks, putting 12R16.5 tires & white spoke wheels on her and a custom extended bumper) she also carried a 10-1/2 foot Lance cab-over camper. About the time we got her our newish neighbor, Jerry, started inviting me over to learn basic automobile maintenance. He had three children younger than myself and he had been a master mechanic before an injury sidelined his employment. He taught me how to maintain Rosie and quite a bit about cars in general. I changed her oil, did a tune-up, lubed her chassis, rotated her tires, and learned how to detail her 'til she once again looked new. She belonged to my grandmother but she felt like mine. After my grandmother died in late 1978 I sold her for my grandfather for $5,000. It was hard watching her being driven away, let me tell you.

A 1974 Chevy Cheyenne Super 20 (Rosie) like the one I maintained & drove

Jerry's older son (about 12 years) had a 1970 Camaro Z28 under a tarp that they would work on here and there. Jerry showed me a magazine article featuring the different years and styles of Camaros and when I saw one almost identical to the one below, I decided that was my "dream car." I never did get one but then I had always favored trucks over cars. But isn't she an amazing fantasy car?!

The exact dream car of my teens & twenties - a 1969 Chevy Camaro Z28

While working (and essentially living) at an Arabian horse farm in Northern California, I knew I wanted a truck of my own. The farm had three trucks, all of different weight rating classifications, that were all at my disposal for farm business. However, I felt I needed my own vehicle for the limited amount of time I wasn't on duty. I can't recall with any certainty why I settled on the truck I did, but I probably saw one and thought, that's it! I called dealer after dealer looking for the exact model I wanted but didn't find one in stock until a dealer 150 miles away in Sacramento said they had only ONE! I arranged for a day off and permission to drive the farm's 1/2-ton truck to pick up my new truck. On 21 Jul 1981, after dropping almost $3,000 down, I had to drive home in the old farm truck while a salesman drove my new truck, and another salesman drove a separate vehicle to take the driver of my truck back to Sacramento. What a caravan! I swiftly named my new 1981 Toyota SR-5 4 x 4 Black Package Sylvester (as I never got my bright yellow Camaro that I planned to name Tweety). I enjoyed cruising in my new truck: back roads, highways, freeways, river beds, etc. It didn't matter where. I'd pop the moon roof, crank up my music, and speed on up (or down) the road. I loved my first vehicle an inordinate amount but man was it expensive! Even with the large down payment, my monthly payments were too much for this poor horse girl. After doing a few personal upgrades I sadly decided I needed to sell Sylvester. I think it was late summer in 1982 that Sylvester went to its new owner. I sure missed that truck for a long time but never missed those huge payments.

My 1981 Toyota SR-5 4x4 Black Package (Sylvester)

I knew any vehicle that I could afford would be a disappointment after Sylvester. How much of a disappointment I wouldn't have guessed until I ended up with a 1976 Honda Civic CVCC. It was a rusty orange with gray primer spots and I was not impressed. I needed a car to get me to work, to my horse, and for errands. It did that. For a year or so anyway. When it kept popping freeze plugs (I lived in San Diego!) and needing fuel system repairs it was time to let it go. Thank goodness. I have never wanted an economy car.

A 1976 Honda Civic CVCC just like the one I had

I don't remember where I found my next car (*grumbles*), but it was a step up from the Civic. The Rabbit was zippy and quiet and got great gas mileage, but it was still an economy car. I think I drove it between 3 & 4 years. At some point, it started having "issues" and three different times it stalled out right outside service stations. I was able to coast in and park. I have always been thankful for its timing, anyway. The last straw came when it needed a valve job or some other $1,500+ repair. Um, not on your life little car! See ya!

A 1979 Volkswagen Rabbit just like the one I had

One of the stores I managed for years was in a diverse area. Home to beach goers, the super-wealthy, and horse people, most of whom, it seemed, were driving SUVs. It was 1987 and SUVs were everywhere! Jeep Cherokees, Chevy Blazers, Toyota Forerunners, Nissan Pathfinders, and Ford Bronco IIs. I used every opportunity to ask the owners of one of these what they liked and didn't like about them. After months of "research" and talking to a customer who had a car-buying business in the same shopping center, I put in my request. On 23 Dec 1987, I was outside waiting for my new "baby" when I spied it for the first time. Being driven into the shopping center and then parking in front of the business a few doors down. It was two days before Christmas and we were busy but I had to go see it! After all of the questions and test driving two other makes I decided on a 1988 Ford Bronco II Eddie Bauer Edition. It was deep shadow blue and saddle tan and it was ALL MINE! I never named it and drove it all over California, Oregon, Virginia, and Maryland. For fifteen years I took excellent care of it and it took excellent care of me. I was heartbroken when it finally needed work and that work was too expensive. Parting with my Baby Bronco was heartbreaking, but I sold it to a mechanic who said it's in too good of shape to scrap. Thankfully, a few weeks later I ran into the mechanic's wife who was very pleased with her (new) 15-year-old Bronco II!

My 1988 Ford Bronco II at 14 years - My "baby" for 15 years!

Another reason I sold the Bronco II was because someone offered to give us their 10-year-old Chrysler Town and Country mini-van. They had already let us use it to move once before and they were upgrading. It had a lot of nice qualities but it had been used hard (moving lots of people's belongings, commuting, and long trips) and showed it. The previous owners had a rebuilt transmission installed and taken care of other mechanical issues, but in the 2 or so years we owned it we had to have it towed THREE TIMES! When it totally "crapped out" it was parked for nearly six months before we would get our next vehicle, which turned out to be my last! I'll always be thankful to it for introducing me to the wonders of mini-vans, though.

This 1994 Chrysler Town & Country was given to us

Which comes to my last vehicle...

My 2001 Ford Windstar SEL - 5 years old (left) & 15 years old

Not only my most recent but probably my last vehicle ever. My ex saw this gorgeous blue and silver Windstar in a small local used car lot. After we all laid our goo-goo eyes on it we jumped through hoops to get it. On 26 May 2006, I drove off the lot and it was true love! We put a new battery and new tires on it and drove it to Ohio. It was five years old and the only blemish was a light coffee stain on the pearl gray carpet between the front seats. I bought new pearl gray floor mats and new pearl gray seat organizers. I bought an organizer for the "trunk" and put a thermoelectric cooler in that same "trunk" for grocery shopping, picnicking, trips, and family visits. My daughter and I took it on many sightseeing trips and had mini-van picnics in it. It had all of the amenities of the time, was quiet, and ultra smooth. I took excellent care of it and took it in for maintenance regularly. But, my oh my, did it end up needing a lot of repairs. I had it for just under ten years with repair after repair after repair. When I had some work done and it immediately needed another rather mysterious and expensive repair I had to call it quits. I was moving across the country and couldn't depend on it getting me there. Damn, I was sad. I LOVED that mini-van! I sold it for almost nothing to a mechanic (just like my Bronco II!) and when he saw how visibly upset I was when I asked him, "You aren't going to scrap it, are you?" He said something like, "No way, it's much too beautiful to scrap!" And then he drove away...😭 A few days before I was to leave that area I saw it driving in my direction on the opposite divide of the highway. At least my last sighting was a positive one. (Flickr Photo Album: My Wonderful Windstar)

My beautiful Windstar driving away from me 😭

I'm too pragmatic to make this a goal but if I were to dream...

The dream "car" of my sixties - a Chevy Express Passenger Van

...I would dream of a passenger van like the one above to convert into a camper van retrofitted perfectly just for me. I have a wish list with lots of ideas and I have watched thousands of hours of videos on converting everything from small cars to high-top cargo vans into homes on wheels. I don't expect it to ever happen but the ideas are there if it miraculously ever should.


Amy L said…
I love this! I love all of your car friends, from your dad’s Bug to the Windstar. I finally let my 2004 Cavalier go last year. It was such a good car. It was actually my 3rd Cavalier. Never had any trouble with it until the very end. I sold it my uncle and he fixed it up for his son-in-law to drive. I think he’s still driving it. Whatever the issue was, it wasn’t major. We just had 3 cars at the time and it was just sitting.

The car that I was most attached to was my 1984 Dodge Charger, it was so cute! I got it in 89. But it was a standard, and I was newly living in Dallas and could not continue to drive it in rush hour traffic. Plus the AC went out. So my parents helped me trade it in for my first newish car with a car payment and everything.

We watch a lot of those videos, too. I think Jeff would like to try workcamping. Maybe when we retire.
Virginia Hill said…
Aww, thank you, Amy! Don't a lot of us get attached to our vehicles? Some, anyway. Ooh, an '84 Charger?! I agree, standard transmission can be a chore in stop-and-go traffic AND on hills. The AC stopped working in my Bronco II and the Windstar. It was particularly bad not to have AC when my girl was really young. She HATED the wind blowing on her from the front passenger's window.

It sounds like you really appreciated your Cavalier. Letting go is tough, isn't it? I find comfort in knowing they will be repaired and will keep going after they've left me, though.

Yes, I enjoy watching alternative living videos: vehicles, off-grid, homesteading, tiny houses, etc. You too, huh? Cool.

Retire and travel? Sounds great!

Thank you SO much for your thoughtful comments. They mean the world to me!

Amy L said…
I love the tiny home and van life vids! It’s so cool to see what people do to make those spaces livable! The organizational hacks and stuff like that are so interesting to me!
Anonymous said…
I am so happy that you have positive experiences with the vehicles that were your babies for 15 years, the Ford Bronco II and Windstar. To know they got to continue being loved and appreciated by others and to see them again after saying goodbye must have really helped with having just let them go. I loved growing up with mini-van picnics, I get to do a-little-something-like-it by means of my partner's Toyota Rav4, which I hope we can take uo to the mountains and sit in the back together with the door wide open to the world~

That you *knew* a little "car" wasn't going to be for you is so perfect, I think I'm going down the same path. Viewability, comfortablity, space, and overall protection in a hatchback, van, or truck. Your Volkswagen Rabbit looks too cute and I miss adventures in the Windstar.

Your dream vehicle looks perfect for your wants and needs! I know you've researched quite a number of different vehicle types for nomad/caravan life, I wonder what some of the others you've found and liked may be?

I love you Mama! It was great to learn some new details about the cars from my childhood!

- D.D.
Virginia Hill said…
My darling girl! You are a huge part of the history of my last two vehicles. The Bronco when you were very young, the T & C, and the Windstar up into your late teens. It hosted many of our trips and mini-van picnics, which I'll always recall as happy memories. I wish you a lifetime of safety in any vehicle in which you're a passenger and continuing dependability in your first car of several years and any in your future.

Anonymous said…
Hi Virginia don’t know if you remember me but I had horses at the rocking s ranch on happy camp road if you remember a young cowboy type whose name was Mark and Brock and Teresa lived on the ranch remember you and your grandmother with very fond memories I remember riding horses with you and Kathy and Kelly and Dougie and Kimmy. My email is if you’d like to get in touch with me. I was looking up information about the ranch and you popped up on there and I thought it was you. Hope to hear from you take care
Virginia Hill said…
Mark, I attempted to send you an email using the address you supplied but it was undeliverable. If you happen to come back here to check, please know I did reply. I will add the contact form gadget back to the sidebar if you’d like to try again.