Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

It’s great to love the car you’re with, but all good things must come to an end. Maybe your old ride needs more repairs than it’s worth, or is rusting out from under you. Or perhaps it was totaled in a crash – one where you hopefully walked away. It could also be a conscious choice to try something new. Whatever the reason, eventually it’s time to part with your partner in crime, your friend on four wheels, and move on to something else. Appliance drivers don’t care, but enthusiasts get more attached to their cars than most people, and parting with an old friend can be difficult.


Doubling my initial investment in my 1994 Saturn SW2 5-speed when I sold it certainly cushioned the blow a bit. So did the fact that I was replacing it with a 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R. This was the first year of the first SE-R, both for the Sentra as well as for all of Nissan, who hit a home run on the first pitch with this car. It had Nissan’s excellent SR20 motor under the hood. It had no turbo, but still generated 140hp, which was excellent for the early 1990s, a time when the Civic Si only made 105. Best of all, this power went through a 5-speed manual transmission to a limited slip differential, rare in front wheel drive cars even today. The suspension was stiffer – a perfect compromise between performance and comfort – and brakes were upgraded to four wheel discs. I know, because I had to replace the frozen rear brakes myself on this particular car. It came with oversize tires that rubbed, which I quickly replaced with decent performance tires in the stock size. The body, though not badly dented, was in rough shape thanks to rust. It had been thoroughly patched before I got it, but I still replaced the holey driver’s front fender. All of the paint below the hood and trunk lid was from a rattle can. Color matching the new fender was easy. It wasn’t very pretty, but that also meant that anytime I needed a touch-up, I could just grab a rattle can, spray it on, and call it good. I named this car the Millenium Falcon. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve made a few special modifications myself.”


That Sentra SE-R is the best front wheel drive car I’ve ever driven. Despite having a Miata, I autocrossed the Sentra a few times, and though I typically don’t like front wheel drive on the track, I liked it in this car. When the Cumberland Motor Club held their first annual autocross on the old B-52 runways of the former Loring Air Force Base, we decided to take the SE-R instead of the Miata. It handled quite well, and we were actually be able to put the extra power to good use.

Listen to that SR20 sing during my final run of the day.

The car was mechanically solid, but its relative rarity would be its undoing. At the time, I drove a work van and co-owned half a Miata, in addition to the SE-R. I’d always have something else to drive if one of my cars had trouble, and I’d never miss work with a company van. But I lost the van when I left the job in Maine, and could only bring one car with me when I moved back to Massachusetts to restart my tech career. Though the SE-R was definitely the more practical option, I was concerned about parts taking several days to get instead of being available off the shelf, and missing that time off work as a result. It doesn’t look good to be new guy missing a few days at a new job because his ugly old car broke down. In the end, I made the hard decision to sell the SE-R, and take a non-rusty, common-as-dirt Miata with me.

Broken Miata


Ironically, that particular Miata turned out to be the only unreliable Miata in the world. Suffice it to say that after leaving me stranded three times in as many months, it was time to consider alternatives. As much as I like Miatas, this is the one I least regretted selling. The fact that an old friend bought the whole kit and kaboodle – hardtop, spare parts, everything – off me before I could even put up any ads for it made it easier, both the logistics and knowing that it went to someone who appreciates it and gives it the extra care it needs. He still drives it today. It’s a great second car.

But what I needed was an only car. I needed the newest, yet most affordable car I could find, with cheap and common parts that was easy to work on. My answer was the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (also known as the CVPI or P71). Ford made exactly eleventy zillion of these during 89,637 years of production (I may be exaggerating a little). It was obviously much bigger than a Miata, and weighed as much as two of them, but their commonality, not to mention heavy use by police and taxi services, meant a cheap and easy parts supply.


My blossoming tech career found me delivering computers and servers to client sites, which I had found challenging within the tight confines of a Miata. No problem here. Plus, by going with an actual P71, I had the better handling suspension, better acceleration due to the lower gearing and a Torsen style differential in my particular car, and bucket seats, between which I built a console for my amateur radios based on the police consoles used for theirs.

I wrote all about the experience of living with an ex-cop car and racing an ex-cop car on Oppositelock, so I won’t repeat that here. Suffice it to say it exceeded my expectations in every way. It was everything I needed out of a daily driver, and much to my amazement it was fairly competent on the track as well. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

In April 2013, my ABS light came on. It had flickered on and off occasionally, but this time it came on and stayed on. I thought to myself, “Who cares?” Most of my cars haven’t had ABS, and I’m good at threshold braking. In fact, I believe I drove the car on the track in this video without ABS. No ABS, no problem – I kept driving it like that with no trouble at all.

No trouble, at least, until February 2014, when my inspection was up for renewal. Before taking it in, I checked the Massachusetts inspection laws, and they clearly state that an ABS light is not a reason to fail the car. Unfortunately for me, Ford, in their infinite wisdom, decided that when the ABS light comes on in this car, the red BRAKE light on the dashboard comes on at the same time. And that BRAKE warning light is a reason to fail the car. So the ABS had to get fixed to pass after all, despite the fact that the regular braking system was working perfectly, and had been during the ten months since the light turned on.

The first thing I did was spend the $93 on a full brake system diagnosis. If the shop could identify a particular sensor as the cause of the problem, it would be relatively affordable to fix, regain the ABS, and keep on motoring. However, the worst case scenario had occurred. The entire ABS control module had failed. Between parts and labor (I wasn’t doing this job myself in a parking lot in the middle of a New England winter), it was going to cost over $1000 to replace. Then, and only then, would they be able to check and see if there were any further ABS problems that would have to be fixed to shut the light off to get a sticker.

The last known picture of my P71.
The last known picture of my Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

I was furious. Here was a perfectly good car, with perfectly good brakes, that wouldn’t pass inspection without a ton of work. This was precisely why ABS was exempted from inspections. But since Ford wired the ABS and BRAKE lights together, it wouldn’t pass. I couldn’t justify taking this chance on an 11 year old car with 160,000 miles on it. Not only was I required to get a new car, NOW, but this perfectly good car I already had was forced off the road because of a technicality. What a waste.

I’d been considering getting a newer, nicer car later in the year, but I wasn’t quite ready yet. Now I had to be ready. Fortunately, I managed to get a good deal on the Subaru BRZ I drive now. Don’t get me wrong – I love the BRZ. But the P71 should’ve been able to stay on the road a while longer, while I continued to plot and plan its replacement on my own terms, and possibly arranged to sell it for more than the scrap value trade-in value I got just to clear my parking space at home. Despite the BRZ being a much better car, the P71 was the most difficult car I’ve had to let go. It went before its time.

Letting a car go is always difficult, whether it’s by choice, by necessity, or by sudden loss. If you’re really attached, you can always get another one like it. I’ve had two Civic wagons, three Miatas, and four Saturns because I liked them so much. But it’s also an opportunity to try something new, like when I jumped from a Miata into a P71. The end of one project can be the beginning of another, and modifying a car into something that’s truly your own is always fun for me. It’s hard to say goodbye, but goodbye can also be a new beginning for enthusiasts like us.


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