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Letter from America

Saturday, 20 November, 2010

21 November, 2010

James May
Top Gear
c/o Dunsfold Aerodrome
Cranleigh
Surrey
GU6 8TB
United Kingdom

Stan W. Baker
Next door to the naughty shop, #K
Zilker
Austin, Texas
78704
United States

Mr. May,

I hope this missive finds you in good health and good spirits. My apologies for sending a letter at this time as I suspect the preparations for the next series of Top Gear are nearing a fevered pitch. However, these things must be done.

I am a long-time resident of Texas, and you may not be at all surprised to learn since 1995 I’ve driven a Ford Ranger. Not the Ranger you have over there, but the original, Kentucky-built little brother of the F-150. During the tenure of the Ranger I’ve seen the advent and rise of the internet, and have earned proper car bore credentials. I am the one reasonable friends seek when looking for automotive advice and cannot escape using automotive metaphors in my everyday speech.

Although quite attached to the Ranger, which along the way acquired the appellation Otis, recently the end became obvious. Despite the possibility of rebuilding the trucklet at many times its potential value, its days are quite few in number and I have secured a replacement. For several years, I have very rarely used my truck as a load bearer merely taking advantage of its utter reliability and other tank-like qualities for everyday transportation. Therefore, the replacement would be a proper car. Ideally, a station wagon, estate to you, or hatchback just in case something like the load-carrying abilities of a truck are needed.

Of course, as a fellow car bore, you are fully aware that one must not merely browse the internet listings and select something based upon its listed features and a handful of user reviews. The romance of the brand, the accompanying legend and reputation must be considered. Reliability from the standpoint of professional mechanics and engineers, rather than the impressions of non-experts shall be employed. Road presence and handling characteristics are always a concern. If at all possible a vehicle with generous aftermarket support is always preferred, due to the fact that people are thinking about and working to improve the car.

My short list included a 2000 Buick Regal, although not the supercharged one, a last-generation Jetta Tdi, Volvo 740s and 240s, as we have a legendary restorer in the area who does Converse conversions, and other not uncommon comfortable commuters like the original Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus.

In the end I acquired a humble car with an engine from a Lotus Elise. Built in a storied factory; the final automobile-assembly facility on our west coast. I hope you will agree, as a smaller car,  it is best in limited or base-level trim and of course has three pedals. It has four, if you count the left-foot rest.

Sadly, I must confess this car is a ninth-generation Toyota Corolla sedan, in gray, or Lunar Mist, no less. While I have plans to “dial in” the car to my specific tastes, I am enjoying the Corolla’s utter, not quite Teutonic competence as it is. It tracks well with nice, short shifter throws and because of the unpopularity of cars in base trim and manual transmissions in the area, it was an excellent value. Under 70 MPH on the long arcs of local highways, it’s quite fun.

My modest modification plans include a number of accessories to protect the car from the Texas sun including a dash cover and window tinting to the maximum allowed in the states I am most likely to visit, a round of tires and struts, utilizing tires a bit wider (20 mm) than present, eco-friendly and also “cool” racing disc wheel covers and the seat covers I use in lieu of no longer eating in the car on long journeys.

Every trip is a long journey in Texas. It’s five miles to the grocer.

However, because I have purchased what is essentially a transportation appliance, and the quintessentially American first-time buyer car, I am prepared to forward to you my car-bore credentials for retirement, at least until they are earned again.

Please find enclosed several essentially random documents. If you wish, you may return them when I have a comment posted on Jalopnik.

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Stan W. Baker

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