Why I Just Had To Buy This Twenty-Eight Year Old Ford Truck
As a once-upon-a-time travel writer turned TV Producer, let's start things off here with a slow crawl. I was born in the U.S., and grew up as an Expat in Tokyo and Singapore thanks to my Dad's job. His company created components that went into nearly every car built in the 90s. He was a car enthusiast and speed junky, but in a refined, high-compression sort of way. We had Lexus sedans since the inception of the brand, his company a part of their development. That being said, my twenty-two year motoring history is full of safe, reliable cars that got me where I was going with better than modest luxury and comfort. And I've been bored with most of it.
In between the writing and tv producing was some ten years of consulting with fleet companies. I opened offices for Budget, reorganized a rental group for Hertz, and even tried going in-house at Enterprise (in-house is not for me). This gave me the unique opportunity to drive some two thousand cars in my lifetime, and I believe that makes me some sort of expert. I wonder, though, how many cars does a normal person drive in a lifetime? Anyway..
A cool ride beckons for a photo on-approach
Since moving full-time to Los Angeles in 2018, driving has become a chore; a dreaded one, at that. It was clear my girlfriend and I needed something with a higher line-of-site than the IS350 Lexus we'd been driving around Atlanta the previous four years. We had visited Los Angeles multiple times for work ahead of our move, and that meant testing a range of rental cars, SUVs, and trucks in near every area of the county.
LA is a city obsessed with shiny things, and has a very short attention span. G-Wagons and Teslas are a dime a dozen in this town, and now that the older Aston Martin Rapides have dipped below fifty grand, so are they. I see more street-parked Lambos in my neighborhood than Camrys. So I don't lust after cars or trucks that anyone with a bulging wallet can drive off the showroom floor. That goes doubly for modern cars (read: anything with an LCD screen).
With all of life's experiences in mind, we opted for a pre-owned Subaru Forester 2.5i. I had driven hundreds of them in rental fleets, and what brought me back to the Forester was the fact that when the weather was bad, or I wanted to drive out to the beach, I left behind the keys to the Mercedes, the Tahoes, and the convertible Mustangs, and went for the trusted AWD Forester. It had the right drive height, was comfortable in traffic, and had that amazing panoramic sunroof. While low on power, it had a peppy personality that many cars go without. Right up until a man called *REDACTED* ran a stop sign and T-boned me, totalling our poor little Subaru. The car that took months (years) to decide on was gone.
An early days Ranger STX 4x4 Print Ad (Source: Unknown)
I spent most of the next few months using ride shares, since having your car totaled takes its toll on your body and mind. I scoured the internet for comparable Subarus, upsized my search to FJ-100 Land Cruisers, but had no luck. We decided to ease off the search, and to enjoy being driven places via Lyft. I wasn't looking for a bright red pickup truck with 80's-era vinyl graphics and a bit of rust while visiting family in Harrisburg, PA, but I suppose that's why I was led to it.
The idea of driving an old, single-cab pickup truck around LA wasn't enough to keep me from doing a U-turn and snapping a few picks. The fact that it had a manual transmission didn't deter me from calling the garage it was parked in front of and going back for a test drive. Even stalling out while under the gaze of the garage owner and his staff didn't bother me. I called my girlfriend back in LA, and she defaulted to my judgement. I paid cash and coordinated an auto transport pick-up for the following month.
The actual picture I took after U-turning for a closer look
It arrived in one piece, and looked arguably better than when I first laid eyes on it. The original paint shined up nicely after a Saturday of paint correction and waxing. The interior, a well-preserved time capsule of the era in which it was designed (1980s), needed nothing.
I hadn't driven a manual transmission with any frequency in years, and our first outing was to a crowded shopping area where I only stalled twice en-route. Upon returning to the Ranger a man was standing behind it and asked, "Is that your truck?" My girlfriend and I both smiled and said yes. "It's a really nice truck," the man replied. On average, this type of exchange happens about once a week. It's the only car I've ever owned that brings complete strangers to say hello. And that's one of the reasons I love it.
The Ranger has forced me to slow down and focus on the act of driving itself, something most of today's cars seem eager to help you forget. It takes three gear changes to get it up to any normal road speed, and give the brake peddle anything more than a subtle nudge and the rear end locks up. Because of this I am constantly scanning my field of view for threats and obstructions, much the way I did when riding a motorcycle. The Ranger has made me a better driver, and has certainly improved my road etiquette. We should all focus a bit more on that.
"Cool guy" parking only
I'm proud to show up to my local Cars & Coffee with it, garnering approval from the folk car collectors as I roll by, careful not to stall, because there, stalling out means a round of applause from the young and old alike. It's a talking point, and brings people together that would otherwise remain strangers. The little single-cab Ranger is far from perfect, but I don't care, because for all of those reasons it makes me smile. And that's why I just had to have it.