January 6, 1989 was also a Friday. It was the first full day that I had my new car: a 1988 Pontiac 6000 Safari that I purchased from Hertz Car Sales in Traverse City, Michigan. My dad had found it for me — he bought his company’s sales cars from Hertz — and when the wagon came out of the rental fleet and went up for sale in December, he first offered it to my younger brother, who had a growing family in Toledo. But my brother had his eye on a Ford Taurus wagon, so Dad called me up and asked if I was interested in the Pontiac. I was living in Longmont, Colorado, and my car at the time was a 1984 Subaru wagon, which had served me well. But it also had its share of problems, including being woefully under-powered at high altitudes. So I told Dad I was interested, and he got me in touch with the sales manager, Ernie Pobuda. Ernie quoted me a price of $12,700 out the door, including taxes and tag. I closed the deal with a verbal handshake, sold the Subaru back to the dealership that had sold me the car four years before for $3,000, and got a loan from the credit union for the rest. I bought a one-way ticket from Denver to Traverse City, arriving on the afternoon of January 5. Dad took me to the car lot and I saw the car for the first time, cleaned and ready to go. When I sat down with Ernie to fill out the final papers, he asked how much the airfare was for the trip to pick up the car. I told him $200, and he knocked that off the price. We shook hands, and as I drove out of the lot, I noticed the mileage was 5,386.
Thirty-four years later and some 255,000 more miles, I’m still driving the Pontiac. I’ve posted about taking it to various car shows since it became an antique ten years ago, and it’s been through its fair share of repairs, maintenance, and scares. It’s been registered in four different states — Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, and Florida — and while it may not be a 400-point car at an Antique Automobile Club of America meet, it does very well in the Driver Participation class, which is where it should be.
My family will tell you that my fascination with cars goes back to near infancy when I could identify different makes and models before I could read. To be fair, in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it was a lot easier to tell the difference between a Pontiac and a Chevrolet or a Studebaker from a DeSoto. But my affection for this machine that provides transportation goes beyond a childhood enjoyment, and as any car hobbyist or collector will tell you, there is something between a car and its owner that goes beyond rational explanation, and the willingness to spend far more money than it is worth to keep it running may not make financial sense. But then, some things defy logic. It’s like jazz: if you don’t get it, I can’t explain it.
I took the picture above a few years ago for the Pontiac’s annual January photo shoot to commemorate its anniversary. This is the view I first saw when I sat behind the wheel. There have been a lot of sights seen through that windshield, ranging from the mountains of Colorado to the deserts of New Mexico, the lake shores and pines of Michigan to the Florida Keys, and many other places in between. I’ve owned the car for nearly half of my life, and I hope to keep it for the rest of it.
See you on down the road.