The Giving Nissan: Sometimes, the ones we love are the ones that have to go
1992 Nissan NX Coupe, sold here as the NX2000. Photos courtesy Nissan Corporation.
When I moved back to civilization after two hateful and poorly spent years in South Bend, Indiana, I left a piece of me behind: a little white chunk of steel, quietly rusting to pieces with dignity. The one that got away still haunts me.
That was my first new car—a ’92 Nissan NX2000, the little-seen replacement for the Pulsar. SR20DE twin-cam Four, T-tops, five-speed, 7500-rpm redline, grrr. It had gone 203,000 miles in 11 years with me, and certainly still had more in it. Beyond being a car, it meant so much to me. It was a car that never sold very well, and as a result I’d never see another on the road—a small way of asserting my individuality. (Hey, it wasn’t The Prisoner’s Lotus Seven, but it did the trick.) It meant that I was out of the hellish confines of a Midwestern university and making my way in the world. It was the only tangible asset I had that could be traced back to my recently departed grandfather, whose house was sold upon his passing and that paid for that machine in whole. It saw me through my rise from New Jersey Monthly wage slave, to low-level car-magazine grunt, to staff writer for a better-known and more widely circulated automotive magazine, to an ill-advised career change making toys. It was a subject of mockery at car-magazine staffs on both coasts. We saw at least 26 of the lower 48 states together. It pre-dated my wife. We were inseparable. We were running buddies. It was there for me when nothing, and no one, else seemed to be.
Poor thing was a mess. It deserved better. The front spoiler had bit it in a snowbank years ago. Someone in a Jeep got too close in a parking lot and ripped the rear bumper clean off; it was patched with spit and bailing wire since the repair estimates came within three dollars of an insurance deductible I didn’t have. It had been through a pair of five-speed transaxles, including a hard-to-find close-ratio ’box; both suffered from fifth-gear popout, a design fault in that particular trans. Cruising at 80 in Fourth not only kills the gas mileage, but it really makes things loud, too. It was stolen in the late ’90s to nab the 17-inch Enkei Wungun wheels I had recently acquired; the tow company, discovering it downtown on cinderblocks, pulled it onto the flatbed, knocking the front subframe out of true, puncturing the radiator, and wrinking both front fenders. Then, they charged me $500 to get it out of their storage yard. Somehow, I was happy to do it. I replaced the struts at 150,000 miles; the fronts were so worn that the strut shaft would retract into the body of the strut simply by holding it upside-down.
It left LA with us when we returned to the Midwest. When it turned 200,000 miles, sometime within those two years, my wife was behind the wheel. I knew the milestone was approaching, but hadn’t been in it for a couple of weeks. Next time I hopped in, it showed 200,300 or so on it. I missed the turnover. You could have shot me and not gotten a worse reaction. Why hadn’t I been informed of this milestone? I stewed silently for days.
In 2003, the move back to California was already in motion, and spending a grand to transport a $500 car across the country was too much for my wallet and my common sense, no matter how loudly my heart tried to intervene. A for-sale message was posted on a marque-specific web forum, and a deal was struck.
I cruised to meet the buyer at 80 mph in Fourth, an even 4000 rpm, the 300 or so miles there. We met in an Ohio hotel parking lot just off the Turnpike, halfway for both of us: the kid (barely 21) had cash, and my wife followed me in the new daily driver. We took our time going home, and I was inconsolable, alternately stony silence and making a blubbering mess of myself in an Applebee’s near the state line. Tears, snot in my moustache, the whole nine yards.
Dispensing with that particular car felt like I was in effect closing the book on large chunks of my life—pieces I didn’t necessarily want to leave behind. Memories, stories, dead relatives, the successful exodus of my unhappy college years, all embodied in one little white hatchback. My head and my bank account still tell me that it was the right move. My heart? It’s been nearly 15 years since I left. The heartache is more of a cramp after all this time.
Imagine my surprise when I got home and played the answering machine message: the new owner had blown it up 10 miles from where the deal was done, that it was on the side of the road, and what was I going to do about it? He claimed the crankcase had no oil, which I found hard to believe since I’d just driven it more than three hours to meet him. I suspect he over-revved it, shifting at or beyond redline in his zeal for a new toy. A 203,000-mile toy. No finesse. Kaboom. I broke a pop-up Perfection game board the Christmas that I was 8, with much the same enthusiasm, so I recognize the symptoms.
A day later, I receive a call from a member of the Ohio Highway Patrol asking, “When are you going to take your car off my road?” Noting his pointlessly snide tone, I matched him, telling him I didn’t much care, since it wasn’t my car anymore.
But that was a lie. I did care. I wanted to send it to a good home, and I failed. All I’m thinking is, this is a message. It’s being a brat, Herbie the Love Bug style, and is making its intentions known: it wants to be with the only owner it’s ever known, the only one who’s ever cared about it. It wants to be here, with me. And I wanted it, too.
We heard that the new owner beat the Highway Patrol in a race to retrieve it, and then…silence. It turns out that the $600 we made on it paid exactly for the gas that powered the 28-foot U-Haul (with car trailer) from South Bend to Los Angeles. It let itself get wrecked in the hands of some clueless punk in order to get my wife and me away from the horrors of the Midwest, and home to a place where we only knew happiness.
I am reminded of Shel Silverstein’s classic kids story, The Giving Tree. And the car was happy.
But not really.