In 2010, my wife’s 2002 Jeep died and since our oldest son and daughter were both getting married the following year, my wife began to drive the Mini rather than us using the wedding money to replace her Jeep. It was sad not to get to choose which car to drive each morning but since it was the summer time, I’d usually have picked the ’02 Miata I was driving anyway. Then one day when my wife picked me up from work for a surprise weekend getaway, disaster struck—we got reared ended on our way downtown.
Needless to say it was not the evening either my wife or I envisioned. And I am not afraid to admit that when we got back to our hotel after dinner, I cried over the wrecked Mini.
We did get it repaired but as anyone knows who has had a car wrecked, it is never the same. While cosmetically it looked the same, it now had squeaks and rattles it never had before. These would have driven me crazy but since my wife was still driving it, it didn’t seem to bother her. I did usually drive it whenever we went out to dinner and while it was still fun to drive, it wasn’t the same.
My wife continued to drive it for the next several years but during that time, it began to have progressively more expensive repair bills. In 2012, I finally replaced the loss of my hardtop winter car with a Fiat 500.
But with just a 101 horsepower engine—all that was available at the time—it couldn’t hold a candle to the Mini. It does get great mileage though, 36 to 40 miles per gallon.
Just before New Year’s Eve this past year, I suggested to my wife that we take the Mini for what has become an annual New Year’s pilgrimage to visit our friends at their cabin in Boone, NC. It was the first time I had driven it on an extended road trip in almost four years. While the engine tuned along just fine, I could tell the rest of the car was not the same, as I experienced a rough ride and even more squeaks and rattles. Interestingly when we had it repaired after the wreck back in 2010, the owner of the body shop had described Minis as “fragile” cars.
Over the summer this year, I had it in for an oil change. When I went to pick it up, I was presented with a $4,000 repair estimate for all the things that needed fixing—a lot of it related to the suspension system, which certainly explained the rough ride, I’d detected. Since this followed onto a $4,500 repair bill we’d actually incurred just a few years prior, I declined the repairs. I guess that body shop owner was right.
After I drove it home from the repair shop all nice and clean, I knew its days were numbered so I took it by the lake in our subdivision for one last photo shoot.
In August, my wife and I agreed that with two grandkids and probably more in our future, it was time to get another four-door car that would make putting grandkids in child seats in the back seat much easier. For my wife, now grandmother, this would be her car, a replacement for her Jeep from five years ago. We talked about what different cars she might like but in the end, we picked one she had mentioned a number of years ago that she would like to have—a Subaru Outback.
My wife built one online but when we went to the dealer, we found it could not be had from existing inventory any where in the country. So for only the second time in our car buying history, we special ordered a car—this time, just the way my wife wanted it.
For the next 7 weeks, I grieved the imminent demise of the Mini. I really loved that car but I was most sad about how poorly it had aged. And while driving, over those few weeks, I probably noticed more Minis on the road knowing that I was giving mine up. A couple of weeks before we traded in the Mini, I gave her one last good washing (to me all cars are girls) so she’d look nice and pretty for our last weeks together.
We just so happened to be spending the night at our midtown condo the day the Outback came in and it was at dinner that night I learned from my wife that it was ready for pick up. The next morning, I volunteered to go pick it up as my wife despises all the paperwork and time it takes at a dealership when taking delivery of a new car. Unfortunately, I realized I had to first run home to get the title and extra keys and then come back and clean out all of my wife’s things from the Mini.
As my wife and kids know, I can be very task focused when I have a job to do and I completed the cleaning very quickly without even thinking about how the next step would feel. But then suddenly, it was time to drive the Mini over and I couldn’t find the extra key I had just gone home to get. In my frantic cleaning, I had left the key in the ignition, a very unusual thing for me as I rarely lose things and most always know where I have left something. I was obviously a bit flustered, partly because I was late for my appointment having had the extra errand to run home.
Before setting off, I intentionally turned off the radio so I could hear that wonderful supercharger whine even though I couldn’t roll down the windows to hear it in stereo, as it was an unexpectedly cool morning with temperatures in the mid 50s. As I drove her for what I knew would be the last time, I wished I had a fun road to take her on like the Tail of the Dragon or the Blue Ridge Parkway for this final trip. But as I got up to speed on the tame city streets we would instead journey together on, I noticed she was lacking all of the squeaks and rattles that she had become known for. It was as if she had tensed all of her muscles to make herself as tight and silent as possible for the short march to the metaphorical gallows. She had always been quieter in cold weather, no doubt the contraction of the parts that normally squeaked against each other. But it seemed she was even more intent this time as if this last kind gesture would cause me to turn around and not go through with the trade.
I drove on grateful for the quiet, but undeterred. As I pulled away from a stoplight, I noticed a new clutch noise I had never heard before that sounded almost like a sigh of resignation that after several years of her squeaky transgressions, even this generous, final act on her part could not forestall the inevitable. In one last jab at me, she kicked on the tire pressure warning light, a tactic she had been using all week to garner more attention from me.
As we rolled up the street to the dealership, driving past lot after lot of all the other new car dealerships, I sensed a realization on her part that she would not have to parry with the executioner, rather it was fellow autos, friends cut from the same materials, that would surround her. After almost 10 years of residing at our home, she would be among a multitude of fellow cars; even if it was just a temporary home before she met her next family.
After parking, I exited her snug interior for the last time and went inside the dealership to do the deed.
After a mostly painless process of exchange, I drove away in my wife’s new Outback with mixed emotions. I glanced back at the old girl one last time before driving away. While the view I had of her was from the back, marred somewhat by the dirty, discolored rectangle where the license plate had once been, it will be the images of all the fun we had together that will be foremost in my mind.
Emotions aside, it is still hard to get over the loss of all that horsepower in such a small sporty car. I loved owning and driving that car but in the end it was just going to be too expensive to maintain in pristine working order like she was in those first four years. I’ll certainly miss the fine English leather tuck and roll bucket seats…
but I definitely won’t miss how black the wheels would get from the disc brake dust.
So now that she is gone, I will begin the process anew of looking for what my next high horsepower car will be—the one that I can zoom off into retirement in.