I had a V-8

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

Life can truly be ironic. If you told me six months ago that I would be buying a domestic vehicle, I would have considered it possible, but highly unlikely. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike American cars. Our country just doesn't make the kind of car that gets my blood pumping -- a turbocharged 4-cylinder sports car.

The last American car I owned (and loved) was a 3-cylinder turbo Chevrolet Sprint. But let's be honest, that vehicle was made by Suzuki and rebadged by Chevy. That thing was as close to being a real Chevrolet as Madonna was to ever being a real blonde. I think the only part Chevy made for the '87 Sprint was the Chevrolet bow tie emblem.

If you also had predicted that I would be buying a V-8 sometime this month, I would have thought you were completely off your rocker. The closest I have ever come to owning a V-8, was parking my two 4-cylinder Toyotas perpendicular to each other for a photo.

So let's say six months ago you would have told me that I would be purchasing an SUV in March of 2005. That surely would have resulted in a visit to Reading Hospital's emergency room from a fit of uncontrollable laughter. After all, if there is one thing the owner of a small sports car loathes, it's the site of an over-sized, gas guzzling, can't-see-around-it, get-out-of-my-way, poor-handling sport utility vehicle. Why on Earth would you even think that I would buy such a monster? Please.

Four-wheel drive? Me? No way, Jose. Surely you jest. What on Earth would make you even envision me in something that offers power to all four wheels? Okay, let's say that was even remotely possible, surely I would go for an all-wheel-drive vehicle before I would even look at a four-wheel-drive one. At least AWD is the "right way" to deliver power to all four wheels.

It is still hard to accept, but I bought a 1991 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 with a 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine and 4WD. Sigh. At least this thing is fuel injected. I'm not sure what I would do if I had to figure out a carburetor.

I purchased this imposing obstacle to commuter merging for several reasons:

  • Towing. I needed a vehicle that was capable of towing a trailer and my racecar. The Suburban has more than enough torque and a very long wheelbase to making towing a cinch.

  • Winter driving. There's no denying the benefits of 4WD when the snow arrives. I have found that the best vehicle to drive in the snow is one you do not care about. Regardless of how much this Suburban can tow, it will not be tugging at my heart strings any time soon.

  • Cost. I'm a bargain shopper (see next month's column). I picked up this Suburban in good condition and for an extremely reasonable price. Considering how infrequently I am going to drive it, I did not see any value in spending a lot of money on a vehicle like this.

  • Parts availability. This behemoth is powered by an engine you can find parts for everywhere. You can find parts at the dealer, every auto parts store, along the shoulder of the Warren Street Bypass and I think you can even get parts at the Giant grocery stores if you have a Bonus Card.

So now that I have crossed over to the proverbial "other side," I have noticed some differences in the driving experience between this bloated excess of mobility and my normal mode of transport.

I was never aware that it was possible to see over the cement median on the bypass. Traffic, that for years has just been a congested hum of bustling, has suddenly received a face. Who knew you could see the on-coming lanes simply by raising your vantage point several feet?

My sports car, as the cliche dictates, handles like it's on rails. Comparatively, the Chevy handles as well as a bowling ball on a swing. Another interesting comparison is that the Suburban has the same engine displacement as all three of my Toyotas combined.

The next big difference I noted was at the gas station. With my daily driver, after I start the pump, I have enough time to wash the windshield and the back window before the pump clicks off at 9 gallons or so. The first time I stopped for gas with the Suburban, I started the pump and started washing the windows. I finished the windshield, the back window, the side windows and the two long windows along the bed. The pump was still going. I checked the oil, vacuumed the interior and rotated all four tires. The pump was still going.

There must be some mistake, I thought. The pump was zooming past $30 and had pumped more than 15 gallons of fuel. I was not even empty when I pulled in. Knowing there must have been an error, I stopped the pump, retrieved my receipt and jumped in to start up SUV. At this point, I realized the gas gauge must be broken since it only went a tad beyond 3/4 full. That couldn't be right. COULD IT? It was. Sigh.

When I called to add the Suburban onto my insurance policy, they asked if I would be driving it less than 8,500 miles per year. I laughed. Then I politely explained that I couldn't afford the gas to go 8,500 miles in a year. Needless to say, one of the four-bangers will be used for the daily commute.