Connections: Helen Wheels

The deluge that comes with the season — not of people, but of luxury vehicles

Maybe it’s because Memorial Day is almost here, the time of year when (at least in the decades before year-round weekending) second-home owners used to arrive in force, saying they were going to “the country.” Whatever the reason, I cannot stop anticipating the deluge that comes with the season — not of people, but of luxury vehicles.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no quarrel with those who drive expensive cars. Some of my best friends are Mercedes owners. My issue is that, unfortunately, fancy vehicles draw my attention to the aging car my husband and I share. It certainly doesn’t warrant comparison with a late-model Range Rover, for example.

My first car was a Fiat, a small Italian automobile you don’t see around here much, whatever the season. My Fiat helped me pass my very first driving test, because when I stalled on the railroad tracks in Riverhead, the examiner said, “It’s not you. It’s the damn foreign car.”

Chris and I drive a 2006 Honda Civic hybrid and haven’t taken it on very many trips so the mileage is only 86,747. Consumer Reports lists the Civic among 10 cars most likely to reach old age at 200,000 miles. Still, my husband has been ogling new cars, especially those that have rear-end cameras. He even asked the Honda dealer, where we take our car for maintainance, how much it was worth. He was told its trade-in value was about $1,000. Kelley Blue Book says that a car of our make and year is worth about twice that, but maybe the dealer was taking into account our propensity for fender-benders.

Have I ever mentioned, here in print, that when they were young my children nicknamed me “Helen Wheels”? It was eventually shortened to just “Wheels,” which I actually answered to sometimes for a few years there.

I’m not so sure about a new car, myself, despite my husband’s wandering automotive eye. I would have to be comfortable driving it, which means it would have to be small, while nevertheless holding its own against all the big-bully S.U.V.s, which apparently are still outselling conventional passenger sedans and such.

Still, maybe I will start thinking about it. You come to appreciate the value of style when the car you drive has absolutely none. I don’t remember how it got into my head as a young married woman to imagine myself owning a convertible Jaguar, but it did. In my mind’s eye, it was yellow. I even inquired about the Jaguar reputation, once, and was told they were too high-maintenance for the likes of me. At that time, I drove one of those long, heavy, American-made station wagons that were so common in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, I drove a giant, rear-finned Cadillac, the uncoolest car of all time, mainly because it made me feel safe. The Cadillac was an odd beige-pink, the color of a pencil eraser. 

I asked a friend to tell me this week what the small and snappy sports car I saw him driving was. It was a classic BMW Z3 roadster. Now, a nifty little car like that would be the right scale for me, even if it would be ridiculous to think I would ever take advantage of its alleged top speed: over 120 miles an hour. But, then, there is the aforementioned propensity for fender-benders. And I believe a BMW convertible costs around $50,000. I have another friend who owns a Tesla, in which he tools around Springs. That one is pretty stylish, too. I think a Tesla costs even more.

Truth is, I am jealous of the car belonging to the editor of this paper, my son David. It is a 2014 Chevrolet Volt, an electric car bought at a local dealership, and he has given it high marks in the weekly column that sits below mine every week. 

Is electric the way to go? I’ll check it out and keep you posted.