Eric L. Woods

RNF: Being released from an obsession with specs. A lesson finally learned from my Father.

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Preamble:

Years ago around 2011 my now dearly departed Father was shopping for a new truck. He found a great deal on a new F-150 left over from the previous model year that carried one of the larger V8s available for that year but a higher output turbo V-6 was available in the current model year with a higher output Coyote V8 from the Mustang soon to come.

7Artisans 75mm f/1.25

Dad and I always shopped for cars together no matter who the vehicle was for. I shared with him the power difference and he did not blink. I was confused. Further the model he chose, while well equipped with things like Bluetooth connected stereo and partially powered seats, lacked some of the flashier modern accoutrements. He had a retort for every available option omitted.

Back up camera: He was a retired tractor and trailer driver. Had no camera then so this relatively tiny truck was a walk in the park. Or parking lot.

Sunroof: Something else to break.

Leather seats: Too hot in the summer, will one day crack, and cloth is easier to clean once blasted with his standard procedure Scotchguard application.

Power sliding window in rear glass: I will never open it.

Automatic climate control: What? I cannot manage to turn a dial every now and then.

Went on like this. He could have easily had any truck on the lot if he wished but this was the one for him. He did order a constrained small bit of extra chrome here and there. Nothing too show-y as is his way. Would not know it was there if you did not know what to look for. When contrasted with the deep blue paint this earned his truck the nickname of “the pretty blue truck” in local circles. Just the way he liked things. Just enough to make it a little exclusive to his liking. He went for a single outlet Magnaflow exhaust upgrade instead of his usual dual outlet for added rumble while maintaining a factory look. All made sense to me except that engine thing. Dad had changed.

Back in the day buying a new vehicle was an occasion. You just did not march down and buy an off the rack car at the dealership. At least Dad did not anyway. You went in classy and all business. He was a shrewd negotiator then also. His ability to bat down frivolous add on expenses was a beautiful thing to behold. At times he would dangle his current vehicle as a carrot to sweeten the deal knowing full well he had no intentions of trading. And if you are going to trade always negotiate the sales prices of what you are buying and selling separately to make sure you get the best deal on both he taught me. And when he knew they needed to move a vehicle and he felt there was a little more on the table he would utter the classic negotiating line that I have used myself on occasion:

“I am not debating with you what the car is worth. It is a very nice car. I am informing you what I am willing to pay for it if you intend to sell it to me today. If you cannot meet that price I do not need to buy a car today.”

He never fell for the “I’ll take this to my manager.” schtick. And he was always prepared to walk if he felt things were not going his way. Which rarely happened. I soaked it all in like a sponge. Doing business with my parents was a joy to behold. I once watched them take turns calling GMAC daily until they finally agreed to replace an infamously flawed V6 in their Buick Regal only for it to never touch our driveway again and be driven directly to another dealership for a trade. They were done with GM after that experience… Now that I think about about it after years of doing business with GM almost exclusively with a childhood littered with Chevys,…

From our summer Saturday dirtbike outings. The very slant six, three on the tree Chevy truck I learned to drive on in the background.

…Buicks, Pontiacs, and such none of us have purchased a GM again since then. Except for their Corvette later. It is a Corvette, not just a GM car after all.

Corvette

GM did themselves no favors however. A few vehicles come to mind like the Australian built, Holden derived Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet SS models that they killed off so soon. He picked makes and models and features to suit his need while making the most of my parent’s dollar. He and my Mother took me a long and I witnessed his purchasing savvy through the entire process.

The first car I remember is the Road Runner. I loved that car and as far as I was concerned it was my car also. I voted against it’s sale but since I could hardly see over the dash my opinion did not carry much weight. As a small vindication my Dad admitted that I was right and he regretted selling it. Road Runner = Small-ish car in line up + biggest motor.

My cousin Johnsie and I in front of Dad’s Road Runner.

Early 70s Buick Riviera was nice, but a Pontiac Grand Prix will do just fine. Add a custom selected chocolate brown paint scheme with a matching landau vinyl top and some chrome Cragar basket wheels and we are done… Almost. Continue down the engine check list until you got to the largest V8 they had to offer and we are done. A lovely car. Dad loved it until it broke down on him and then…

Late 70s Cadillac was nice, but a Buick Electra 225 will do just fine. This time a deep burgundy color was selected with a contrasting cream colored padded half vinyl top. Dad had swapped out the factory Pontiac wheels before selling the Grand Prix so on with the those same chrome Cragar basket wheels and we are done… Almost. Continue down the engine check list until you got to the largest V8 they had to offer, this time a 403 Olds V8, and we are done. A lovely car.

Dad continued this trend with further vehicles like when he took my recommendation and bought a Volvo 740 Turbo… because you could get a Turbo. This is the car that the Buick Regal mentioned above was traded for.

For years the one constant was modest specs teamed with the most powerful engine available. He and I often discussed our bafflement at the existence of V6 Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers. Our retort was the same, “But… They have a V8 option.” That is a car with all of the inconveniences of a muscle car while lacking the very reason it exists. These cars are merely a relatively affordable means of acquiring large V8 engines that happen to come with a car attached in our universe.

So I was baffled for a while as to why he went with the older model year, lower horsepower V8. I thought maybe it was because he did not trust the reliability of a boosted, smaller displacement engine perhaps? But remembering the 740 Turbo that is not the case. Cylinder count maybe? But no, he was not interested in the newer Coyote V8 either. Though he offered I avoided driving the truck as much as possible because unlike him I did not spend years at the wheel of a tractor tractor. As a result backing up his truck felt like blindly navigating a vehicle with a storage shed grafted onto the back of it. And I had no interest in putting a ding in the precious.

My engine bay befuddlement was unimportant. He really loved that truck and I was happy for him.

Fast forward to now and Dad is no longer with us.

Dad

By far the most difficult days of my entire life were when I lost him. In the last days when he started listing his wishes the first thing he said before any other business matters was that he wanted me to have his truck. And I completely fell apart… again. Was not the first time and though the frequency may lessen also far from the last time. His Corvette was almost an afterthought. Makes sense. If any vehicle was the embodiment of my Dad it is this truck. Handsome, elegant, strong, accommodating, practical, etc… It is Dad in vehicular form. Mom keeps correcting me by saying I should call it mine, because he wanted me to have it. But I am still a work in progress on that one. It is still Dad’s truck no matter whose name may be on the title. On to the matter at hand.

Matter at hand.

Along the way I picked up those same older vehicular proclivities. When shopping for a sedan a few years ago I pounced on a lightly used recent V6 Passat. What made it somewhat unique was that like the Grand Prix and Electra it was not the top spec model but carried the most powerful engine they had available and since discontinued. Today you cannot walk into a VW dealership and purchase a new Passat with anywhere near this much HP. The rather snorty engine and abrupt automated manual transmission are a bit at odds with the relatively softly sprung, cushy American-ized demeanor of this built for the US in the US offering admittedly, but a nice car.

Rokinon/Samyang 75mm F1.8 Auto Focus Compact Full Frame Lens

Same could be said of our next purchase that went well

Crown Vic

…now in the hands of my Mother after my Father took a liking to it, and our next ill fated purchase that did not end so well.

Charger

But somewhere since the purchase of that car I changed as my Father had before me.

Perhaps subconsciously I had also shifted to a place where HP output took a backseat to actual need. This became evident when I surprised even myself by deciding on, purchasing, and then being more than perfectly happy with a relatively low HP daily vehicle.

I believe I now understand my Father’s revised line of thinking.

After years of chasing specs I was now primarily concerned with what I actually needed rather than what was the latest and greatest. It was not a conscious choice but just sort of happened without my realizing it. I cannot point to one time or event. It just sort of happened.

It has bled it’s way over into other areas of my life as well. For example…

With regards to camera gear I do not need to have the latest brand, technology, format for capturing images, or the latest and greatest specs. The minimum required to accomplish what I need to do is all I require.

Now that I think about it this helps me understand my Dad’s decision even more. That year new engines were being offered but Dad understood that what was new then would just be replaced also one day by something newer. What he had fulfilled his need and he needed nothing more. Instead choose your own end and be at peace with it. The joy is in finding what will make you happy. That remains static.

The pursuit of ever changing and increasing specs is a fruitless one that will never end.

It is a wonderful way to be.

And I am the happier for it.

Dad is no longer here but I am still learning from him.

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