Pulling into the dealer lot was more like crash landing than parking. Belching smoke and misfiring, my car was shaking itself apart.
“What did you do to it?” the salesman said when he saw the automotive monstrosity in front of him.
I just smiled and gave him the key. Now I look back with fondness for that car. My beater.
I’d picked up the Mitsubishi Cordia turbo three years earlier for about $2,500 in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. The red coupe boasted low mileage for its 15-year age, although the numbers on the speedometer didn’t quite line up. A few months later the odometer would stop ticking over at all.
The styling was mid-’80s angular all the way, with a steeply raked rear hatch and triangular plastic spoiler. The Cordia had been sold in Australia as a hot hatch with about 150-horsepower under the hood, and it even saw some police use for urban pursuits. In its heyday it had some of the street cred the Subaru WRX would come to have a decade later.
In a mix of youthful exuberance and naivete I was first talked into buying a new car, only to hate it a few months later. I traded it for a sedan and the payments were killing me. The cheap Cordia was the solution to these poor financial decisions, a chance to cut costs and get my head above water again. But I grew to love my Mitsubishi more than any other car I’ve owned.
The turbo had been treated to an after-market boost, giving a good blast of power with the requisite lag. Firm torque steer, brittle re-tread tires and soft brakes made the Cordia a handful, especially in Melbourne’s drizzly winters. But when it all clicked – or clanked as was often the case – it seemed to fly down the road. Its faults faded away to become character. Sass.
The red Cordia did the Melbourne-Sydney round-trip several times. It drove all over regional Victoria, and along the epic Great Ocean Road.
The good times were balanced against the bad. Near the end the car drank more engine oil than gas. There was the first exhaust manifold replacement. Then the second. Then the third. The leaky aftermarket sunroof and the loopy engine computer that would sometimes decide that the ideal idle speed was at the redline.
I think drivers have a sixth sense when it comes to their cars: a subconscious collection of little cues that together tell you something is about to go seriously south with your ride. That’s why one summer morning I just knew it was time to put the Cordia out to a rusty pasture.
I decided to trade it in for a much newer, nicer Mitsubishi coupe, and that’s when my beater really decided to fall apart.
Which brings me back to the shuddering heap I left on the dealer lot. By my estimation its list of faults at that point included: one dead headlight, busted CV joints, weak alternator, mushy front brakes, shot engine mounts, iffy starter motor, cracked exhaust manifold (again), worn transmission linkages, sloppy synchro, warped clutch, no air-conditioning, muffler hanging by a thread, and lots and lots of oil smoke.
As I walked away from the Cordia for the last time, its engine gradually ran slower and rougher, until it simply stopped of its own accord. I knew it was gone, probably never to move under its own power ever again, but more than 10 years and many cars later, its spirit still rides with me.
My beautiful beater.
Patrick Dell is senior video production editor at The Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdell.
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