I love cars and vans and SUVs. They have been burned into my brain since I was knee-high to a grape. Strange enough, I've had many cars—two vans and only one SUV. Enough about me. What about YOU? What would you prefer to drive? Let's examine the case for each.
Forget this picture, but let's concentrate on the picture in your mind. What do you want in a car? Speed? Roominess? Economy? Handling? It really is a good thing to ask. What needs would a car serve in your lifestyle? What kind of engine do you want, a 4, 6, or 8 cylinder powerhouse under the hood? Finally, depending on the car you want, how much are you willing to pay?
For me, my choices of cars have been very simple. I only had one car that had a V-6 engine. All of my other cars had four cylinders. I wanted something that would sip gas, not drink it. I wanted to get at least 30 miles to the gallon or even more. While an automatic transmission was nice, the manual transmissions were even better. Surprisingly, even though I had lots of cars, the 1983 Toyota Corolla was a leader. My car only had two things that bothered me. When damp or really wet outside, it never turned over when it was started. At first, I thought that the distributor cap was cracked. No matter how many times I took it in for a tuneup, the problem always persisted. The other thing, which wasn't a problem, is that it was a 4door. I liked it better as a two-door. Still, once running, it was really nice. It got great gas mileage. It had some speed and it was just what I wanted in terms of economy. It was not an intimidating vehicle. You were not going to pull up to a Hemi-equipped Dodge Challenger and race it. I don't think so, but it would outlast the Challenger's gas tank.
For style, I loved my 1976 Mercury Capri II. When this body style came out, it had two billings. One billing called it "A German Mustang" because it shared the same chassis as the Mustang. The other one, which I loved, was "The Sexy European." It was a sexy car. It was a hatchback, had folding rear seats, front bucket seats, a sunroof, and that awesome four-speed manual transmission.
My final choice was the air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle. They were inexpensive and very easy to fix. My first one which I purchased in 1978 was a black 1959 beetle. It had a six-volt electrical system. So, at that time, it was very tough finding a six-volt battery while modern cars at that time were all twelve volt systems. I ended up owning three of them over a period of time. In all of my Bugs, as they were called, I changed their clutches. In my last one, a 1971 model, I also managed to rebuild its engine down to the engine block. I even increased its displacement from the factory 1600 cc to 1635 cc because I wanted a stronger engine without adding a dual-carburetor setup. I succeeded.
Finally, a car that I wanted to give honorable mention to my 1987 Toyota Celica. It was a very speedy four-cylinder car. It had front wheel drive and some other nice things. I'd still own it today if it wasn't for an engine fire that demolished my baby.
The only car that I would classify as a rolling disaster was my 1972 Chevrolet Vega. It burned oil like no one's business. How badly did it burn oil? An Iraqi oil field burned much less than the Vega. I remember one day getting up and filling my engine with one quart of oil at 7 AM. After I got to work, I checked my oil level at 12 noon. The dang thing needed another quart of oil. That was the end of my lunch money. A friend invited me out for the evening after I got home. You guessed it. I checked under the hood at 6 PM. It needed another quart of oil. I was really flabbergasted. It drank up my whole day in oil. I never drank as much water in a day as this thing did in oil. Vega is another way of saying JUNK.
I enjoyed this category. I've only owned two vans. My first was a 1968 Volkswagen Bus. I enjoyed the "Bus designation because I treated it like a bus. I was a track coach back then. Therefore, I had to carry my team to and from their meets. The Bus did the job. It was a four-cylinder with a four-speed manual transmission.
Interestingly enough, the VW Bus came in three body styles. There was the standard van as pictured above, a seven-passenger vehicle, a business van for carrying cargo, and my favorite, the Westphalia.
The Westphalia, which I never owned, was a camper vehicle. It had the amenities that I wanted: kitchen, bedroom, and a popup bed on the roof. It also had a slightly higher stance than the regular van. There were blinds for privacy and everything, but the original camper shared the same engine as its brother Beetle. That was a lot of weight for a simple engine. When the Bus evolved into the Vanagon series, however, the engine was improved as well as the rest of the vehicle. In fact, the engine was now water cooled and very quiet.
This writer's favorite van will always be the Toyota Minivan. Mine was a 1984 model. The front seat reclined. It was fully carpeted, and the seats were soft. The windows behind the front section were tinted by the last owner, so you had some real privacy. Seven people were able to ride very comfortably in it. I got a kick out of the middle bench seat because if you were tired from a rather lengthy drive, all you had to do was get a pillow and a blanket, push the seat in a full recline position, and you had a bed-like platform to sleep on.
Mechanically, Access to the engine was very easy. All you had to do was get out, unhook a latch, and tip back the driver's seat. There was your engine with things like the belts, hoses, spark plugs, and oil filter in sight and in easy reach. For a fuel injected four-cylinder engine, this was a powerful puppy. The Japanese truly thought of everything here.
If I had my preference and decided to stay with vans, although I still love the VW Westphalia-themed Vanagon, my ultimate van would be the 1988 Toyota 4 wheel drive Minivan. It sat up much higher with the same amenities as my van. In addition, instead of a bench seat in the middle, it could be ordered with two captain seats in its place. It is a beautiful creation. Put a portable GPS in it and a few camper-like supplies like a food chest and miniature items like that that will still allow seven people to ride in comfort, you will have something there.
Finally, the last type of vehicle is the Sports Utility Vehicle, or SUV. Unlike the earlier categories, I've only had one of these instead of multiples like the car and van. It is also my youngest vehicle that I have owned the longest (ten years and counting). It is a four-door 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo. From the first day when I drove it under my ownership, I fell in love with it. It had a bad engine and a few parts that needed to be replaced. I had a new engine put in and gradually replaced the worn parts. Since 2009, I have used synthetic motor oil and maintained a regular schedule. Because of my efforts, the Jeep has repaid me with durability and dependability.
My Jeep has many wonderful features, but the one I love the most is its four-by-four powertrain. In my normal drive mode, I utilize just the rear wheels to get me around. When I get stuck in snow, I will engage both the front and rear wheels by moving the lever next to my gear lever. Sometimes, I will INTENTIONALLY get stuck just to have fun using my four-by-four lever.
This baby runs very nicely. It has an inline six-cylinder fuel injection system. On the highway, it runs almost like a V-8 and almost sips gas like a four. I drove this thing almost everywhere. The engine in my Jeep is the most common engine configuration in the entire Jeep production history even though they also have other four-cylinder and V-8 engines.
My ONLY regret about my Jeep is that I did not buy it fresh out of the showroom. If I did, it would be in so much better shape than it is now and it is in pretty good shape as opposed to when I acquired it.
I LOVE my Jeep!!!
If you are looking for me to tell you what to buy, I am sorry, I am not going to do so. I merely wanted to show you what I did and what my thought process was when I found my rides. You may be going through the same. There are many fine vehicles out there, but new and used. Just be careful and do your homework on whatever you want. Remember the adage: Don't judge a book by its cover. In this case, don't judge a car by its paint job either.