It was already 14 years old and had well over 100,000 miles on it. And a big dent in the front, half a grill, and no side mirrors. But it only cost $500, courtesy of our friend Sue, so we considered it a deal.
It broke down in a lot of places. Certainly in Madison, and also in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada, California, New York, and Alabama. We had to bypass visiting a good friend in Albuquerque on our way home from the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego (1997) because it turned out our radiator was busted and the only way to keep the car from completely overheating was to blast the heat and to take the southernmost route across the Rockies.
But most of the time it could be fixed easily, and we met quite a few people while we were stranded. There were those hunters when we got stuck by the side of the road, trying to get as far north as possible from Florida while we outraced a storm (they patched us up with duct tape). There was the stranger who let us into his house to use his phone when we got stranded taking my mom and sister to Niagara Falls. Of course, there was also that creepy guy at the rest stop who made a point of restarting his car and driving it all the way to the farthest corner of the lot before turning it off again, so I had to walk half a mile up the highway to find someone to give us a jump, but overall people were friendly and the car’s reliability a harmless quirk.
At least for a few years. The day came when our mechanic refused to fix it: “It’s 16 years old and has gone 180,000 miles. It’s time to say good-bye.” So we got another car, but kept the Impala anyway, though it was down to 6½ cylinders and needed to be warmed up for 15 minutes before moving. Eventually we had a kid and the romantic breaking down in strange places started to seem a lot less romantic, and we sent it onward to the Great Garage in the Sky.
During its last year, the car didn’t have very good gas mileage. Ten miles per gallon was about as far as it could manage, and from a cost perspective that just wasn’t very economical. In 2000, the year the car Went Away, gas had jumped up to $1.50/gallon, which translated into a cost of around 15 cents a mile. At the time, that was expensive.
I was thinking on this today when I was looking at gas prices. Our car now (which does have side mirrors) gets a whopping 26 miles per gallon. Of course, gas around here is $3.90/gallon, so I did a quick check and you know what? That translates into 15 cents a mile. And 15 cents today is even a little less than 15 cents eight years ago, in an “adjust for inflation” kind of way.
Ah, the Impala. It was a car ahead of its time.
The Impala, stranded 99 miles from Barstow.