It’s now November and winter is approaching. We’ve had a taste of what’s to come and now it’s melted away. The leaves are raked and the yard tools and other outdoor amenities are tucked away with the bikes in the shed.
My ’03 Mustang will spend another winter in the garage. By spring it will be covered in a light layer of dust. This will be the third year it hibernates out there. I’ve been using other cars for winter transport. In 2014, I acquired a 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis from a friend. A stately looking full-size sedan loaded with options and a delightful highway cruiser. Cheap gasoline prices came into being late that year. So driving a 5.7-litre V8 was easier on the wallet than I had anticipated. The easy winter meant I rarely had to plug in the big Merc and a parkade space at work kept the car warm until I had to drive home. Two years earlier it was being pampered by my friend Jim and looked fabulous considering its age. Jim bought it from a neighbour who got it cheap from a dealership that didn’t want it on their used car lot. Jim’s grandson later drove the big Merc and that’s when the pampering stopped and the car was abandoned to the side of the house. It was in a sad state by then.
The asking price was minimal and fair considering how dirty it was. But it ran and I knew for most of its life the car had been well cared for. After getting the Mercury home much time was spent vacuuming, cleaning and polishing the shiny bits to where the big sedan looked fabulous. Considering how the grandson treated the Merc, the interior was in amazing condition including the carpeted floor mats. From a distance it was hard to notice the cracks in the vinyl roof and a little damage to a left fender end-cap. Minor stuff really. A tune-up, some repairs and the Grand Marquis was running really nice. It didn’t matter that the AC didn’t work or the driver side window wouldn’t go down –as inconvenient as that is. New whitewall tires nicely accented the alloy turbine wheels and the combo was the right touch to accent the chrome and Deep Canyon Red paint. The Grand Marquis rode as nice as many other cars you can buy today and turned a few heads when it was on the road. You won’t find many examples now as they were driven and racked up a lot of kilometres before being traded, sold or towed to the auto wreckers.
The Grand Marquis was sold to a gentleman from out of town who wanted to replace his own Mercury written off in a collision months earlier. I didn’t make any money on the sale, but almost all I invested went back into my pocket. The plan wasn’t to flip it anyway; it was a summer project that filled idle time during my days off. Because I got the car for a minimal amount of money, I knew there was room to carry out repairs and hopefully not exceed its market value. The satisfaction also came from knowing that I saved a car that otherwise could have easily ended up at the auto wreckers much sooner than it had to.
Putting the Merc back on the road made me reflect on the many cars we’ve had in our family over the years. We’ve bought very few new vehicles mainly because we had to make do on one income for a family of five and because test vehicles came my way on a regular basis. Still, I sometimes miss some of the cars we’ve had before; the ’74 Dart Sport, the ’80 Fairmont wagon, the ugly ’75 Torino wagon when we lived in B.C. – now that was a beast.
All the cars allowed me to learn some basic mechanics and hone my detailing skills. After the big Mercury sold I wasn’t planning on buying another car, but in the back of my mind neither did I want to subject the Mustang to the snow, ice and cold of the annual winter. Scanning ads on Kijiji I was hoping to come across a decent Fox Body (’79-’93) Mustang. But nice, unmolested examples are hard to come by. Then I thought what about a more practical and economical car? Low and behold, I spotted an ad for a 2002 Mazda ProtĂ©gĂ© for only $900. For sale in St. Albert and not that far away from my house.
The seller was a young man employed in Edmonton who was replacing the little Mazda with something newer. The Mazda looked good, had rust in the usual places for the model, ran okay and needed a cleaning, rear brakes and a tune-up. Part of the attraction however was the Momo brand alloy wheels and the after-market stereo with Bluetooth. The four of them are worth half the asking price of the car! The money was paid, the same routine as the Merc was followed and it has turned out to be a great little commuter car. This eighth generation of ProtĂ©gĂ© has a stellar reputation and with proper maintenance can run well past 300,000 kilometres on the original engine. My LX model has just over 271,000 km and doesn’t burn or leak oil. This will be the second winter for the car and hopefully it will get through the season and into the summer of next year. There are plenty of them for sale out there, choose carefully. The ProtĂ©gĂ© has certainly cost very little to get roadworthy compared to the Mercury, but “variety is the spice of life” and the change to a car smaller and more nimble is much more sensible for my needs –at least for now. I’ll have to tell you about the 1978 Cordoba sometime. That’s a story for another time.
Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the ’70s.