On Sad Reunions – 1997 Opel Vectra reunited with a former owner

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Whenever you sell a car that hasn’t been a complete, barn-burning disaster to own, you kind of wish it to have a good life after you hand over the keys. It’s a given: you’ve provided the car with at least basic maintenance for some time, and it would be at least expected that the next owner give it due care in his time of ownership. Some time ago, I wrote about a Ford Scorpio a former owner bought back to save it, and he drives to this day. But the googly-eyed blob Scorpio is an acquired taste, and it deserved to be cherished – if that’s what floats your boat.

This 1997 Opel Vectra, in comparison, is probably one of the closest things to an appliance-like European automobile. Conceived in the time when General Motors Europe wasn’t known for the sharp styling it features on current Opels, nor the sturdy straight attractiveness of olden Opels, this B-series Vectra is a four-door swoop of committee product planning finished in non-metallic red and featuring only the basic 1.6-litre 16-valve engine.

However, this Vectra used to belong to a friend of mine, Robert. He traded it in for a turbo Octavia a couple of years ago, and the day these photos were taken marked the first time he had seen the Opel in the metal again. It wasn’t a happy get-together.

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For whatever reason, the Opel had been towed into the spot where it sat in Central Helsinki. It looked abandoned, with the red paint faded and dusty, featuring dents and hits that weren’t there the last time around. But even if the car looked reasonably straight outside, and on my photos it appears bearable, it was the interior that raised some questions.

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The entirety of the cabin was filled to the brim with garbage. Not just your regular run-of-the-mill ersatz stuff that floats on your seats or footwell, but literal garbage. Old newspapers, plastic bags, weird hoarding stuff that belongs to the dump and not inside anyone’s vehicle – let alone anyone left with a smidgen of sanity. The rear arches the dealership had repaired after classic Opel rust had appeared had been let to deteriorate again, and the tow bar bore a tell-tale blue rope. On the dusty dashboard, there were remnants of fluids, the origin of which I don’t even want to guess. It’s like the only logical place for this junk had appeared to be this Vectra. I don’t want to know what it smells like inside the car on a hot July day – we get those here even if it seems unlikely.

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The car still wore the ENZO wheels Robert bought for it, with the rubber on them driven to the ground. He had serviced the car at least diligently, and endured a costly engine repair at one point when the engine decided to munch on some valves. The weird thing is, he traded it in on the other side of the country, and somehow it had followed him back to the capital region. I MMS’d him a photo after spotting the car, and we had the following conversation: “This your old car?” “Yeah, WTF” “It’s back in Helsinki. Full of random crap.” He biked to see it himself, took a quick look at it and left it near-immediately. “Couldn’t face it like that, beaten and messed up. But you’re some Sherlock.”

To any random observer, the Vectra looks like a homeless person’s sleeping ground. But it used to belong to someone who cleaned it, filled the tank, had the service book stamped, made sure it passed inspection. At some point it was factory fresh, straight off the transport from Rüsselsheim. I almost feel bad I let the former owner see it – it gives out the air of being on its last legs after some catastrophic engine damage, not far from being collected to being delivered to a Helsinki city yard full of abandoned vehicles sharing its fate, then hauled to be scrapped. It’s not the aftermath of destruction the derelict LeBaron was, but the direction is the same.

Have you ever reconnected with a car you wish you hadn’t seen the way you saw it again?

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

21 Comments

  1. I gave an old SAAB off to a radio station for the tax deduction, for it to be sold at auction. About a year later, I received a bill from a police department in another state. I suppose I could have bought it back for the price of the tow and storage, but I didn't have the heart to take a look.

  2. My senior year of high school ('97), my dad gave me his old '93 Saturn SL2 when he bought a new car. It had been well-maintained, but at 215,000 miles, it was definitely time for him to upgrade. It was the "high-end" trim line of Saturn with the twin cam engine, but lacked power…anything, really. Crank windows, manual locks, 5-speed manual transmission. It was a commuter car for my dad; he only wanted it for the fuel economy. It blew an engine sometime during my first semester of college and, stupidly, my parents paid for a brand spanking new engine. So obviously that next summer, the clutch crapped out. My parents and belatedly realized it was time to cut ties with the car, so I sold it to a fraternity brother. He replaced the clutch and, with the exception of non-functioning A/C, the car once again ran like a charm. He drove it for years – we fell out of touch after he finished law school, but I know he kept it until then so he had it through at least 2004.
    What happened to it after that…I had no idea. UNTIL October 2010. I was at a gas station down the street from my house in Lawrence, KS (the same place I went to college) and, lo and behold, there was my old silver Saturn SL2, parked in front of the convenience store. It still had the University of Kansas sticker in the rear window and the Chicago Cubs sticker on the bumper. The Deutschland D sticker had been removed at some point in its life, but it also had the peculiar little dent in the front right bumper where my dad had gently rear-ended a work van at some point in the mid-90s. It still ran! I waited outside to grill the poor, confused young woman about how she came to own it. She had purchased it from a neighbor who had used it for several years as a work car. She thought she remembered the former owner saying it had a new radiator and transmission, but she couldn't say for sure. Yes, it still ran OK, she said. From the look on her face, she clearly thought I was a lunatic. She had no idea how vividly I remembered hopping in the car with my dad at the dealership when he took delivery of it.
    Wait, we were supposed to be sharing NOT-happy stories. Sorry.

    1. In the same vein – years before I was born, there were 2 brand-new 1970 GTO's in the family.
      One, the blue one, belonged to my dad. He was 19 at the time and it was part of his fleet of hoonmobiles. I don't know its fate.
      The other, primarily light yellow with a black vinyl top, belonged to my grandfather. He used it as his nice car, trips to church & the like, for a while; then he sold it to my grandmother's brother & it was my great-aunt's car for a time.
      (My great aunt still reminisces about the car. She was a teacher at the time, and remarks how the school children would say how they loved to ride in her car because she squealed the tires.)
      Well, one day around 2000 I was riding along with my Dad as he was doing some business around our hometown, and he saw a very familiar-looking, immaculately-kept yellow 1970 GTO at the Jiffy Lube.
      With the car's owner's permission we looked at some of the documents in the glovebox.
      It was our old car.

  3. Ooh, ooh, I've got another one.
    A few months before I moved to Chicago last spring, my beloved-but-REALLY-rough Saab 9000 started acting even more funky than usual. Battery developed a weird drain. Turbo worked intermittently – it would just crap out on hard acceleration and the car would jerk back like a bucking bronco. Turn signals and headlights worked when they wanted to. Driver's seat was loose. Blower motor was louder than a Harley. A/C condenser leaked like a sieve. Temperature gauge stopped working altogether. You know…the usual things that happen when you buy a $500 car with the idea of fixing it right up but never quite get around to doing any of them. Anyways, I knew that I'd need a more reliable car in Chicago – one that wouldn't leave me stranded or get me pulled over. You can "aw-shucks" your way through a lot of police interactions in eastern Kansas – not so much in Chicago. So I traded the poor girl in for a new ride. They gave me an astonishing $1000 for the trade-in, though I'm sure they made their money back somewhere in the financing. As nice as it was to drive off the lot in a car with 6 miles on the odometer, I really hated to leave my beloved Saab to a certain doomed fate.
    A month later, I had given my 2 weeks' notice after landing a job in Chicago. I was standing outside at work and….guess what pulled up: that's right – a gold 1996 Saab 9000 CSE sporting a Pizza Hut delivery sign on top. I ran up to the (once again, very confused) delivery driver and excitedly gushed about my former car. Some coworkers came up, laughing as well since they knew my trials and tribulations with the car. Where's the "not-happy" part about this reunion story? First off, the kid had trashed the interior in less than a month. There was ink all over the leather, grease stains everywhere, and empty Mountain Dew cans littered the floorboards. But that's not really the sad thing – after all, the Saab had lived a pretty good life and was in really rough shape when I owned it. No, the sad thing is that I asked the kid how much he paid for it and he answered, "$2,000." He was making payments through a buy here/pay here joint in Leavenworth, about 20 miles away. As sad as it was to see my old Saab making pizza runs, it was even sadder to hear that some poor teenaged delivery boy was overpaying by a good 100%, probably at 50% interest to boot. Ain't that America, though?

  4. I bought my first van from a marching band that went bankrupt. They'd been given the van by a local business, and had never used it. I loved that truck, and it took me everywhere. So, imagine my surprised when I went out to it one day, on the other side of the country, to find a mash not under the windshield – someone had grown up in the town where the truck was from, and they'd loved the business it did deliveries for. Too bad she didn't leave a number…

  5. Every mechanic I know has a similar story about a guy whose car was so full of crap that they could only fit in the driver's seat. So either this is deceptively common or there's one guy who had to travel to every town in Saskatchewan to get someone willing to fix his car. Maybe he moved to Finland?

  6. My mother's first brand new car was a 1967 Camaro RS/SS. Dad and I spotted it getting on the 520 bridge in the mid-80's, a bit worse for wear with a minor crease or two a (no kidding) wire coathanger for an antenna and one of its popup headlights up. Nevertheless, I still wanted it. Even in that condition, it may qualify as the coolest car I've ever owned.

  7. Ha! I spent last week in Helsinki and actually ran across this mobile dumpster. Beautiful city and I had a total blast…

  8. This is the reason of the 13 cars ive owned, i've only sold 2, and that was only when I emmigrated to NZ. I tend to overly care for my cars, and seeing something that I have lavished time and money on would be heartbreaking. Whenever I see a beaten car I always imagine what it looked like when new, back with its first owner who cared for it, and kept it nice.
    Similar thing happened to a mate of mine on a forum I'm on. He had what most considered the nicest Legacy GT in NZ. He worked for Subaru so it was mint. He sold it to someone on the forum and got to slowly watch the guy ruin the car, bashing the arches in witha hammer for the dorifo look and fitting stupid mods.
    Also on pistonheads.com, Top Gear buy a lot of vehicles for their challenges as theres an eclectic collection and theyre usually well cared for, and you ofter get threads made by the previous owners lamenting at the fate of their once prized possessions. Its bad enough you telling your friend to come see it, but imagine if he'd been watching TV and 3 lummoxes were there taking great pleasure in destroying it!

  9. Most of my previous cars suffered terrible fates upon leaving my ownership. My first car, a Tahiti blue Spitfire was hocked during my sophomore year in college to pay tuition. I *really* didn’t want to sell it but the kid who bought it assured me that as he was “the son of a doctor” that he’d have the $$ to keep it in good fettle. A few years after graduating I spotted a haggard lookalike in a nearby city. I pointed it out to my girlfriend, “I had one just like that in high school” I said as we stopped to take a closer look. The car looked like it had been literally hammered on all surfaces, the top ripped, the interior trashed … then my mood sank when I spotted my high school parking permit sticker still on the back bumper.
    This story repeats with detail changes for my 240z and my Scirocco. If I had a way to research I’d like to know what became of my immaculate RX7 GSL-SE or my ’72 Westfalia…

  10. I got a voucher for two free Carfax checks recently, thanks to a class action settlement, so I'm planning to use them to run Carfax checks on the Previa we traded in two years ago, and the F-150 I traded in last fall. I can't even speculate what happened to the Previa (it needed some work), and as for the F150, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up in Mexico.

  11. My almost-first-car rusted into the ground. I parted it out. Bought it back as Chinese jackstands.
    My actual first car suffered some sort of engine failure I was never able to track down, then sat for a year with a broken window covered with a frayed tarp. It's the only one I'm at all likely to see again – it's gone to become a LeMons car.
    My second car was thrashed mostly to death before I got it, and threw a rod after a year of only basic maintenance. It, too, is now refrigerators.
    My third car looked deceptively nice in the dim light of a winter evening, but turned out to be a rust monster in disguise. I traded it straight-up for my fourth car, half a state away from my hometown and even farther from where I live now.
    Said fourth car was kindly written off for me. I said my goodbyes, and it's been long enough now that she's probably gone from whatever yard ended up with her.
    And now I've ended up with a rather distinctively generic Saab 900, so I get to potentially be That Guy to its former owner every time I go to Boston. The car's actually a bit cleaner than it was, though, so should I run across its former owner, it'll be a happy reunion.
    In short, I've made damn sure I never have to see my old cars again. It's for the best.

  12. I actually have this era Vectra for sale, my dad's last car, wagon, 2.0, automatic, has been parked under the tree 3 years now. Seeing that ones like the red one above, only without crap inside, are offered for 500 euros, my best bet probably is scrapyard.

  13. That's nothing – a couple of hours work would see that Vectra looking good (well, as good as it's possible for a Vectra to look…)
    Around here it would be sitting on bricks with the wheels missing, or stolen by pikeys for the scrap metal value.

  14. There used to be a hearing aid beige Austin Maestro around the corner from me that was full to the brim with plastic bags full of stuff. A few years ago they got a Rover Metro and exactly the same fate has befallen that too.

  15. When I sold my first car, a '77 Volvo 242, the new owner really broke my heart. The car was orange and since I had tried to stop rust and worked on it with rust converter, it looked like a lady bug. The interior was perfect, though. Everybody loved it, but the guy I sold it to turned out to just want it as an organ donor. Upon returning home after the sale he sent me a text message saying that it was fun crashing the car into objects at least twice, that he was surprised about the nice engine that he wanted to keep for a Suzuki SJ, and that the interior will fit nicely into his 242. I tried never to think about that disappointment again, but whenever I see a two door brick …

  16. My A4 1.8T From Hell got shoved off to the local Subaru dealer for trade for that Impreza 2.5RS. About a year later, I got an email from a guy who said he had the car in Memphis. I sent him all the old receipts and other nick nacks I'd collected. I'd check in about once a year where he'd say he replaced this-that himself. A few years went by and he said the car had set a while and wasn't running.
    The A2 GTI I had sold to a guy in Houston. He got a good deal and had it a while. I knew him from the Texas VW scene. He sold it a few years later to a young kid. I get an email from the kid- "THIS CAR EFFIN ROCKS". Imagine that turned up to 20x. I felt sorry for the GTI then.

  17. I traded my 1990 Chevy S-10 (105,000 miles) to my parents for their 1991 Saab 9000 CD (87,000 miles).
    Now aside from the fact that I traded a very reliable truck for an expensive to repair and occasionally dodgy Swedish sedan, I think I came out ahead on that deal. Whatever, they needed a truck and I didn't want a truck anymore.
    So, they give the truck to their employee who manages their property holdings.
    The first year or so after this happens, I'm still living nearby and see the truck fairly regularly. It looks pretty much as I left it.
    About 5 years later, I'm back for Christmas. The Saab is long gone (I sold it after head gasket #2), the Wagoneer I bought to replace it has come and gone, and I'm back in a Saab, this one a 2001 9-3 SE.
    Damn, they've still got the truck. Only now it's got 220,000 miles on it, the passenger seat is broken, the driver's seat is split, the extended cab is full of random shit, one of the doors is white (the original color was maroon), the tailgate is blue, there are dents all over it and it sounds like there's a hole in the exhaust. But the digital dash is still working like a Friday night in Shinjuku.
    I suggested to my father that he'd gotten his money's worth.

  18. That's pretty disgusting… and I can't help but think that the trunk is full of Russian L&M cigarrettes and jeans for sale.
    These basic Vectras are pretty boring. But there's a metallic dark green V6 sport manual wagon in a friends family that they've had since new, it's pretty rough by now at close to 300.000km but otherwise it's a nice and fun car. Too bad no new car in this class has a V6, they are all I4 turbos now.

  19. I've seen the car interior hoarder phenomenon before. I used to ride my bicycle up a hill past a couple of E30 BMWs and an E24 that suffered this fate. I didn't know what to make of them, and they were parked in a neighborhood with seven figure property values at the time. I spoke to someone about them that told me they belonged to a drug addict that had an inherited house but was often seen getting thrown out of restaurants and sleeping on the street. One day one of the BMWs spontaneously combusted, with the fire seeming to start in its detritus-filled interior. The fire department didn't exactly make the most efficient attempt at putting it out and then the shell remained on the street for a while. I'm guessing the junkie has gotten some control over his problems, as I think he is now a neighbor of mine. That or there is a second BMW hoarder in Pacific Beach, since I regularly walk past a guy with a four car garage full of beater BMWs and with a few crummier ones parked on the street to share his psychosis with the world.

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