The Big Red Bomb
In which I get my dream car.
Not mine, but yeah, this is a red 1979 Dodge Magnum with T-Bar roof. Good fun, utterly impractical.
I'm glad I got it out of my system.
My first real job was in the personnel department of Chrysler’s Engineering and Product Development (E&PD) Group, which entitled me to a benefit nobody had told me about when I signed on. You see, executives at the VP level or above, were given what was called an assigned car. The complex in which I worked was home not just to E&PD, but also Design and the corporate offices. It had lots of VPs. These people were given a high-end new car for six months, then turned them in for a new one.
No, I was not a vice-president. I was a newly minted MBA fresh out of college. But you may wonder what happened to the assigned cars when they were turned in. Good question. Well, they became available to management level employees for purchase at a great price. After all, these were technically used cars. I was a management level employee.
Every morning as I entered the complex from the not-vice-president parking lot, I’d walk by a beautiful green Cordoba. It was simply gorgeous. You may remember Ricardo Montalbán doing the advertisements for it, dutifully (and erroneously) placing the accent on the middle syllable of “Cordoba”. The car was named after Córdoba, a good-sized city in the south of Spain. Note the accent over the first “o”. The pronunciation, probably the result of a marketing department decision, wasn’t Ricardo’s only faut-pas. He talked with great reverence about the car’s “fine Corinthian leather,” a term some advertising man came up with, no doubt enabling him to buy a second home, perhaps in Córdoba.
I wouldn’t have cared, had I known this at the time. I loved that car. It had an aristocratic, luxurious look to it. I took note of the name on the parking space, Frank Winders. I knew Frank Winders. One thing about working in the personnel department, I got the chance to meet lots of the company brass, and I was in a regular meeting with Frank, the VP of Materials Engineering. That green paint job? Paint was under his supervision. So was “fine Corinthian leather,” although he hadn’t named it that. When I told him how much I liked his car, he smiled and told me he did too, and was sorry he was going to have to give it up. That was when I found out about the assigned car program. The good news was that if I saw one I liked, I could arrange with the executive to be its purchaser. The bad news was that he had already made this arrangement with someone else.
Whether it’s true that every dark cloud has a silver lining I can’t say. What I can say is that at that time, for every Chrysler model, there was a corresponding Dodge. Now on the lookout for a soon-to-be-available high-end car (my AMC Hornet was wearing thin at this point) my eyes soon came upon an assigned Dodge Magnum, the Dodge version of the Cordoba. Different styling, but the same chassis, the same mid-size luxury car appeal and the same powerful, gas-guzzling eight-cylinder 400cc engine. This Magnum was more eye-catching than the Winders Cordoba. Red with a black fine Corinthian leather interior and optional T-bar roof, this was far less subtle than the aristocratic Cordoba. It oozed sexy and in-your-face power. Girls, come running!
The good news was that I easily found the exec to whom the car belonged. It was the Sr. VP of Marketing, and why was I not surprised at that? Likely the same guy who authorized both the mispronunciation of “Cordoba” and the fictional fine Corinthian leather. More good news, it wasn’t yet spoken for and would be available in about a month. At a huge discount, I soon had my new ride and dubbed it “The Red Bomb.”
And what a ride it was! The mileage was pretty bad, maybe 13 mpg, but I could handle that. I loved the power steering (I’d never had it before) and adjusted to the larger turning radius with no problem. Whether due to the fine Corinthian leather (made in New Jersey) or whatever, the driver’s seat was as comfy as I could imagine. While nothing can make city driving pleasurable, on freeways it was a dream. Cruise control was also new for me, and it worked flawlessly. Well, it did fail me once, but I couldn’t blame my friends in the E&PD for that mishap.
I was driving back home to Michigan from my brother’s home in Southern California on I-40. Much like Colorado, the western part of New Mexico is mountainous, while eastern part of the state is dead flat, ideal terrain for a car like mine. How flat? I’m pretty sure that in the eastern part of the state, the highest geological rise is a hill towering roughly five feet over the surrounding terrain, just on the south side of I-40.
As I passed this hill, I noticed a New Mexico Highway Patrol car had been hidden behind it. I noticed it because it lit up like a freakin’ Christmas tree. There were but two cars on this stretch of highway, mine and trooper’s, so I had a pretty good notion that I was his target. I looked down at my speedometer. Yeah, he was after me, alright. Common sense told me that whatever he had under his hood could never compete with my Red Bomb. I was already going so fast that he couldn’t have possibly gotten a read on my license plates. On the other hand, my car was red. I’d heard all about how red cars are targets for law enforcement. Where was the aristocratic green now that I needed it? I decided that I really didn’t want to have the New Mexico National Guard Helicopter Division sent after me (I’m sure they have one for such occasions) and instead pulled over.
The officer asked if I knew how fast I was going. I lied. “Well, I was going 68, but my cruise control hasn’t been working very well…” The real failure of the cruise control was that I hadn’t turned it on, and the ride was so comfy that I simply hadn’t realized how fast I was going. “I had you at 89” the officer interrupted, “but I’m going to write you down to 84, because at 85 you’d have to go to a different court which doesn’t convene until Monday.” Having called ahead to ensure my arrival, he gave me directions to the courthouse, and told me to slow down.
Unlike the officer, the magistrate hearing my case was in no mood to cut me any slack. He had probably seen enough drivers cited for going 84 through his beloved New Mexico to know that I’d already been given my break du jour, and he read me the proverbial riot act. The fine and points against my record weren’t enough, he took a more than generous pound of flesh to the point where I thought he was goading me into a contempt of court citation. I somehow held my temper. He then wrote something on my citation and told me to pay in the lobby. I asked if I could pay by credit card. There had been lots of public service announcements about not carrying too much cash while traveling, so it seemed like a logical option. The magistrate did not agree and started badgering me more than he had before. His provocation was again unsuccessful, though he probably got a good laugh seeing my tail tucked between my legs as I slunk out of his courtroom. Fortunately, I had my checkbook with me.
As fun as my Magnum was, I only had it for a couple of years more. The more gadgets a car has, the more things there are to go wrong, and the Red Bomb was gadget city. The automatic headlight covers would freeze shut when things got cold, burning out the motors that valiantly tried to open them when the car started. The fancy T-bar roof developed a leak and I went through two poorly designed catalytic converters. In addition, the price of gas went up and upon moving to Kensington, I found that the turning radius was just too big to easily manage a U-turn required on my drive home. I had to give up on the Bomb, opting for a Honda CRX, a subcompact hatchback painted in a dark, compromise blue. It proclaimed me neither an aristocrat nor in anyone’s face. I was now just a sensible suburbanite.
At least sensible enough to use his cruise control when appropriate.