I got to drive a 1988 Porsche 959 recently. Now that I've mentioned that, thus fulfilling my imaginary obligation to participate in the Greatest of All Time discussion, let me tell you about the time my old Cherokee fragged a U-joint, causing the rear driveshaft to thump the floorboards like a freshly caught mackerel. Or about my E36 M3, which had a cooling system that was, I believe, constructed out of cardboard and soft cheese. Sure, we all have our list of GOATs, but what about the WOATs? Every car I've owned has had at least one day when I've declared it the Worst of All Time.
Ever have an alternator crap out on you at night, precipitating a game I like to call "Spark Plugs or Headlights"? My 1979 BMW 323i was good for that. Any trip in that car could be an occasion to get some exercise hiking to the nearest town. My next BMW, the M3, was a convertible. The power top was standard, but its possession by malevolent ghosts must have been an option. I could replace the M3's fragile cooling system, but keeping the top's servos, flaps, and wires in sync was a nightmare. You know who's good at working on BMW tops? Nobody. One time it was acting up, so I brought the car to the dealer, who charged $1500 to exorcise its demons. After paying, I tested the top, and once again, it folded itself into a stalemate. I trudged inside to have an enervating discussion about how the shop could either charge me $1500 or do nothing to fix the car, but not both.
That was my last convertible until my 1993 Bronco, which is powered by the legendarily reliable 7.3-liter Power Stroke diesel from a 1995 F-350. But just because an engine is as indestructible as a cockroach doesn't mean that every piece connected to it is, and old Fords are liberally seasoned with mission-critical parts that were chosen because they were three cents cheaper than the things that should have been used. For instance, the clutch linkage relies on a flimsy plastic clip to hold together the ball and socket under the dash. So when that clip fails, the linkage flies apart, and the clutch engages whether you like it or not. The first time that happened, I was at a stop sign and the Bronco promptly began grumbling its way out into traffic while I made panicky stabs at the useless clutch. I ended up deliberately stalling it in a parking lot—not as easy as you think, with more than 500 pound-feet of torque—and banding the linkage together with duct tape. Then I started it in first gear and practiced my rev matching on the 20-mile drive home, trying to save the clutch for emergencies. Why had I been so adamant about avoiding a donor truck with an automatic? Oh, right. They're not reliable.
At least with cars, when things go wrong, you're (hopefully) on dry land. In the mid-2000s, drawn by the siren call of the sea, I bought a 1988 Chaparral walkaround on eBay. The WOAT boat was on Martha's Vineyard, and the seller guaranteed the 200-hp Johnson outboard would get me back to the mainland. After that, all bets were off. He was right, on both counts. I developed a close personal relationship with my marine mechanic, who tried to disabuse me of the notion that old two-strokes are simple. "Look at all those carbs," he'd say, pointing to the Johnson's six-pack of pain. "For this engine to make 200 horsepower, it had to be in a state of tune like a Ferrari." And when it was singing on key, the Johnson had plenty of power. Like it did the day the throttle stuck midway open, causing me to barrel through a no-wake zone and get pulled over by an irate patrolman, who called for armed backup so he could board and tell me how dumb I am. Like I didn't know. I bought a 20-year-old boat on eBay. You think I'm a realist?
Then there was the coolant-spewing 1991 Saab 9000 Turbo, that driveshaft-ejecting 1987 Jeep Cherokee, an engine-seizing 1987 Dodge Ram. I bought a cellphone long before anyone I knew—not because of my lively social life, but because of my cars' propensity to turn me into an unwilling pedestrian.
Maybe I've just been buying the wrong vehicles. That 959 ran great.
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