Why do they all have to be Automatics?

12 valves of power delivered straight from the heavens.

Please welcome the second of a few new contributors, Ray Lindenburg. Ray comes to us from his own website, hatchtopia.com, which is, surprisingly, about hatchbacks. Please make Ray feel equally welcome and awkward at the same time, as you did Scott. -KK

I saw my high school dream car on eBay last night. It was exactly as I remembered all those many years ago. Sleek sheet metal wrapped around a high tech interior. It figured in to a major motion picture as a car from the future – fitted with the latest in automotive gadgetry. Nice color combination. Low miles. Automatic transmission.


Another bubble burst. I had seen another lustworthy car up for auction a few weeks back – an oddball to be sure, but still cool in my mind.  Fully loaded, rare leather seats, low miles.  Automatic transmission.

I’m not a car snob. I have no room to be. Fact is, if I told a wide audience what cars I liked, I’d probably be whisked away to a padded room somewhere.  What I consider cool, most would view as nerdy.  Ugly.  Weird.  It’s okay, there will be more of these gems on eBay to droll over.  So what.  I’ll take the risk. I like strange cars and I’m no longer ashamed to hide it. The car I saw on eBay last night?

Wheels. That's all it needs. Otherwise, it's perfect.

This one. 

The Ford Probe checked all the boxes for me when I was just-before-driving age. Pop-up headlights, hatchback, turbocharger, low, sleek looks. But the truth of the matter was, that even if I ever got my grubby hands on the keys to my own Ford Probe, there was no way in hell it would be the GT turbo. Even at 16, I was the practical sort – I knew that the insurance payments would bankrupt me. The eBay auction in question features the mid-grade LX. Nicer interior than the base GL, but the same powerplant: a 2.2 liter, 12 valve four putting down a thundering 110 horses. With a manual transmission, it would be a decent performer, able to get out of its own way while returning good gas mileage. With the automatic? Perish the thought.

I certainly would have caught a rash from my high school buddies. Don’t think I hadn’t heard all the Probe double-entendre.  It was high school after all.  Hell, I could imagine some of my current 30-something friends getting a good giggle out of me pulling up in a Probe today.  Worse, my particular school parking lot was comprised of at least 25% Ford Mustang variants*.  There were late-model four cylinders, 5.0s, four cylinders tarted up to look like 5.0s, LXs, GTs, older Mustang IIs, 60s classics, fastbacks, notchbacks, hatchbacks, convertibles, the whole gamut.  The Mustang, and to a lesser extent, the Camaro, were the alpha dogs at my Midwestern high school.

And then, if it were up to me, the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, Japanese presumptive one-time replacement for their beloved ride.  A tin-can economy car poseur trying not only to play with, but usurp the alpha dog.  With an automatic no less. I can visualize the twitching eyes and red faces now.  Even had I ponied up (yeah I did) and gotten that stonkin’ turbo version, with its 145 horses and 7.0 second 0-60 time, I would have had to park in the fenced-in teacher’s lot.

There was a small contingent of foreign car aficionados at my high school – if I’d just settle for the Probe twin, the Mazda MX-6, I could fit in with them. But I liked the hatchback.  And the blue oval on the rounded snout.  Ever since my dad bought a beater F-150 when I was 9, I was a Ford guy.  I’d learned to drive on deserted mountain dirt roads in that rig – before the family had moved to the wilds of the Kansas City suburbs.  It had an automatic.  

But the Probe was stuck in an automotive no-man’s land – shunned by Ford and foreign car fans alike.  There was, of course, another option – the refined and fast 5-door Mazda 626, on which both the Probe and MX-6 were based.  No, said high school Ray – that’s something my parents would drive.  And in my defense the 626 GT was, even at that time, rare as hen’s teeth.

Remember when a red stripe meant "sporty?"

The silver exterior is fine. Not my first choice, but not bad either. If I had my druthers, I’d have the red over funhouse red. Yes, a red interior. What ever happened to those? Nowadays, cars are either funeral black or funeral gray. Or maybe beige. But let’s be honest, the only time you should have beige on the interior is if you have British Racing Green on the exterior. 

Imagine the subwoofer box you could fit in there…

Red. And in perfect condition.  It is my firm belief that more cars should have red interiors.  But then again, if more did, red wouldn’t be as special.  Perhaps I’ll just hoard some for myself…

But that transmission… Was it put there to prevent me from walking out the door with a plane ticket in one hand and a checkbook in the other? I’ve done that one before. Let’s just say it didn’t end well. My new purchase broke down catastrophically four times in the state of New Mexico alone – the third in a five state rolling disaster area. I’m pretty sure that the EPA created at least two new Superfund sites as a result of that trip. My patient and loving wife threatened divorce if I ever tried that again.

So I’m pretty sure that it’s a good thing that whenever I see an interesting car, there’s some dealbreaker that prevents me from the above plane ticket/checkbook scenario – this time with the wife hollering behind me to not come back. Truth is, I do have some self-control. It’s not like I’d just go and pick up the next available Probe, or MX-3, or Prizm hatchback I happened to see within non-plane-trip distance.

I’ve got no place to park it.


*74.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

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