If a team of mathematicians were to chart my automotive fortunes, they would note a stunning downturn that commenced in 1984, which happened to be the year I got married.
Until then, I was going through cars at a rate that averaged out to approximately three a year. For a while, I owned four cars at the same time: a pair of Volvo 544s, a BMW 2002 Tii rebuild project and a 1964 Pontiac Laurentian (bad handling, terrible gas mileage, but it had sofa-sized bench seats that were ideal for a young bachelor).
And so it went. I bought. I sold. I fixed. I raced. Sometimes I crashed. The cars rolled through my life in an unending parade, and I dreamed of the day when I'd make grown-up money and buy a genuine dream car like a Porsche 911 or a Shelby Daytona Coupe.
Then came the great automotive drought. Since my wedding day in April 1984, I have bought only five cars. And there's a reason: I am married to a one-woman vehicle-sale cancellation department. My latest attempted purchase (a tiny sports car called a Lotus Exige) was instantly denied. But I expected that. My wife has vetoed a long list of deals that includes a Porsche Boxster Spyder, a Caterham Seven, a John Cooper Works Mini, a BMW M3, a Jeep Wrangler, a Formula Ford racecar and at least half a dozen different minivans. There have been many more, but you get my drift - I am married to Doctor No.
Don't get me wrong. My wife is spectacular. And she has probably saved us at least half a million dollars over the past 26 years by throwing cold water on my often-ludicrous automotive plans - like buying a two-seat sports car with no trunk back in 1991, when the kids were still little, and we were trying to save money for a house.
But still I long for another cool car. And I now understand why I have failed in my endless quest to own one - I am the worst salesman ever.
I began to realize this a few weeks ago, when I got an e-mail from a reader who documented his strategy for getting his wife to let him buy a new Audi A4 (another car I tried to buy once, only to be turned down flat.) The reader was employing one of the oldest tricks in the book: To get the A4, he has spent months lobbying his wife for an A5, which costs more. As he put it in his e-mail to me: "To close the deal, to show I'm capable of compromise, I'll accept an A4. Which is what I wanted."
Why didn't I think of that?
I have a lot of car guy friends, and I appear to be the least effective spousal salesman of the lot. Which explains why I am still riding around in a clapped-out Honda Accord, one of the dullest cars ever built. My sales technique sucks. If you want to see a master in action, look no further than my buddy Matt, who has managed to get dozens of hot cars approved by his wife.
Well, maybe not exactly approved. Matt's approach to car purchasing could be compared to Genghis Khan's real estate acquisition strategy - get what you want, sort things out later. While I was trying to talk my wife into a minivan back in the early nineties (unsuccessfully) Matt went out and bought a full-sized van plus a Ford Taurus SHO and a new motorcycle. Since then he's gone through about half a dozen Mustangs (including a tricked-out SVT Cobra) plus a Volvo turbo, several pickup trucks and a BMW M3 convertible.
Matt overcomes his wife's resistance with a series of strategies. One of his favourites is psychic ground softening. In the weeks or months leading up to a purchase, he will leave brochures and magazines scattered around the house. When he shows up with the actual car, his wife explodes, but he immediately launches a counteroffensive - how could she not have known that he was going to buy it?
Then there's the concealment gambit. If a car costs less than $5,000 or so, Matt may simply bring it home and tell his wife. But if he buys something like a new Mustang GT, he might keep it hidden at a friend's place, or at one of several buildings he owns. When his wife finally discovers the car, Matt takes the heat, then goes out and buys her a bottle of wine, some flowers and several pieces of expensive jewellery.
Matt once told me that it's easier to say you're sorry than it is to get permission. I can see that he's right, but my technique will have to be different. Exactly what it will be is not yet clear.
When I married my wife, I knew she didn't care about cars - her parents drove a Plymouth Reliant, and she was a Kiwanis-champion pianist. To her, a car was just a way to get to the concert hall or a friend's house. Her passions took me into a different world - I spent hours watching her direct her choir and play the piano. I didn't understand music, but I could see that there was much more to it than I had realized.
By the same token, she glimpsed the world of mechanics and speed through me. On our first date, I took her to the track where I raced motorcycles, and drove her around the circuit in a modified Honda Civic. Then I took her to my parent's farm and showed her my workshop, where I kept the tools I had collected during my time as a mechanic out on the west coast. I showed her my polished Snap-On wrenches and the timing light I had used to tune the car we were driving. She didn't understand the details, but she could see that to me, a car was a mechanical dissertation, just as a Steinway concert grand was to her.
Things went on from there. We had children, renovated a house and developed our careers. Five cats came and went. Our parents died. About a month ago, my wife won a big award. But there is still no dream car in the garage.
And as I pondered my automotive fortunes this week, I realized that I reached a fork in the road back in 1984. One route was lined with hundreds of cars - Porsches, Shelby Cobras and Lotuses stretched away into the distance. The second route had two children, a beautiful woman and a couple of worn-out Hondas. That's the one I took, and I have no regrets.
P.S. My wife seems to have softened her position a bit. When she saw me staring at a black Lotus I'd customized with Photoshop on my computer screen the other night, she looked at for a minute and said that she liked it. That was a first. A smarter man would have capitalized on this moment, but I didn't know what to say. As a car salesman, I am still the worst.