Picture a lovely California spring day, mid-1990s. I headed up to the Sierras with a friend in a 1982 Plymouth Reliant K car to meet up with my boyfriend and his fraternity brothers at a rock face they liked to climb. We’d missed them at the original spot and had to come back down the dirt, one-lane road that snaked up the hill. I carefully tried to ride the stiff ridges left by more adequate cars along a muddy stretch. I felt the K-car start to sink to the side, slowly becoming mired in the muddy grooves. Dusk was near, and in the interest of not becoming bear appetizer I jumped out the car, mud rising past my ankles (there went my white Keds), and had my friend slide behind the driver’s seat. I pushed as she hit the gas, the car eventually lurched out of the sticky mud, and I landed face-first in said mud.
Fast forward to my first new car, a 1995 Ford Escort GT. A friend and I decided to hop in the hooptie for a spontaneous road trip to Monterey. I found a brilliant shortcut across the Coast Ranges on my non-AAA-quality road map that should get us there in no time. When the road quicly turned dirt, I just kept on going. And going, with clods of hard dirt banging against the bottom of the car. Until the road was washed out, at which point we had to turn around and go back.
And I also can’t forget the time when I was reporting from near Campo, Calif., at the Mexican border, plowing through the dirt not-quite roads in a 2003 Camry when I heard someone following me in the desolate area frequented by drug traffickers and had to peel rubber to lose them.
In short, I have a long, illustrious history of taking vehicles into places they just aren’t built to go.
So when it came time to trade in my 2007 New Beetle convertible — first step was getting over the emotional attachment to Herbie, who brought me to the East Coast from L.A. and even had a stint in Denver where he got fitted with Blizzak tires — I decided to give in to my adventurous nature and get a car that could make it over a speed bump without bottoming out.