Friday, May 10, 2013

My Kingdom for a Shitbox

Anyone who has spent anytime within earshot of me knows that I spend a lot of money on gasoline.  Subsequently, I've been thinking seriously of trading down to something that burns less (both in gas and liability insurance), preferably at a lower octane.  

But, things have changed in the last 15 years or so.  All the cars I was hoping to trade down into are gone. The shitbox, as an automotive institution has all but vanished from the road, and I am sad.

Maybe I should define my terms.  Many years ago, car manufacturers' entry level vehicles were small, light, unremarkably-styled, spartan in appointments, and literally cheaper than dirt.  These vehicles largely made no attempt to disguise the modesty of their design parameters; 13-inch steel wheels, manual-everything, with both carpeting and radio appearing on the "options" list. They were unpretentious.  They were practical.  They were shitboxes.  

I don't know whether the culprit is our own dishonestly optimistic consumer taste at the national level, exponentially increasing safety standards or things just "getting better", but now, even the basest of the base so-called sub-compact comes with chrome, 19-inch drug-dealer wheels,  8-speed, paddle-shifted, smarter-than-you automatics and....I or whatever.

James May, reviewing the second generation Fiat Panda, described the attitude of the car as simply saying, "Look--I'm a cheap, little car.  Let's just get on with it."  Historically, the US has been a much smaller market for these cars (we never even got the Panda), but there was a time, not so long ago that cheap, wonderful shitboxes could be found for a pittance in the free-ads at every corner market.  

The following is a short list of cars I was hoping to find for sale (or at least find one on the street to photograph instead of stealing from the internet).  No dice.

Subaru Justy 

"Hey, ladies!"  

Subaru has now effectively cornered the market on granola-and-sandals parents, but before Fuji-Heavy Industries had ever heard of "branding" they were trying to sell cars to every Tom, Dick and Hitoshi. They even  made three-doors with non-mandatory 4WD.  Look how happy this guy is!

Ford Festiva
"I've really made it!"

Not to be confused with the Ford Fiesta, which is, by all rights an actual "cool car," with modern styling and creature comforts.  Ford used to import a little Korean shit-box which shared the Japanese car-naming tendency of using "almost a real word."

Toyota Corolla FX

"I fit inside my car.  Today was a good day."
In the late 1970's, the Corolla was available in seven body configurations.  Today it's available in one, and that one is fucking terrible.  The FX had a dramatically different look from the rest of the Corollas in the line, taking a cue from AMC's let's-just-chop-its-butt-off-and-call-it-a-day design philosophy, used to such great effect on the Gremlin.

Anyway, I'm at an impasse.  The cars I want were all crushed into salvage steel, when I wasn't paying attention.  I guess the used Hyundai Accents I see everywhere meet the criteria of being thrifty and unaffected in character...But there is a difference between a good-quality shitbox and just an actual piece of shit.