As I write today’s entry, a life hangs in the balance.

This is not our car, but it's the same model. I don't think I ever parked it on the beach.
This is not our car, but it’s the same model. I don’t think I ever parked it on the beach.

Our 11-year-old Volvo V70 station wagon sits in the parking lot of a transmission repair shop awaiting its fate.

Those of you who are regular readers of New South Essays will remember that number 19 on my 30 days of Thanksgiving list was “functioning vehicles.” Apparently I didn’t knock on enough wood to stave off a jinx, but the Volvo has been tough. We’ve had near-death experiences before.

Almost five years ago, what was then Carla’s car received the terminal diagnosis of imminent transmission failure. The only treatment option, the dealer told us, was total replacement at a price tag exceeding $5,000.

That was nearly 100,000 miles ago. We elected not to pursue the replacement, and instead, Carla got a minivan and I started driving the grocery getter to work. Yes, we had to tolerate a certain level of “rough shifting,” but it’s amazing how much rough shifting you can live with for $5,000.

All has been well until I changed jobs at the end of August and started commuting to Midtown Atlanta. After a couple of months and several instances of the car just shutting off on me, Carla and I elected to switch vehicles. While I traded up in the reliability department, I made a lateral move in the coolness department.

For several months our boys, particularly our eldest, teased me that I was driving “an old lady car” when behind the wheel of our station wagon. When I started driving the Honda Odyssey, he said I was now driving a “Mommy Mobile.”

I would love nothing more than to have the Volvo put out of service and be able to buy a brand spanking new pick-up truck. But financial realities being what they are, a truck is not in my immediate future. We really need to be able to either A.) keep driving the Volvo or B.) trade it in for some value toward another vehicle. A truck would be about the least practical purchase for my daily commute.

It may be a stereotype, but the Clampett's car might be the most recognized Southern automobile this side of John Deere or NASCAR.
It may be a stereotype, but the Clampett’s car might be the most recognized Southern automobile this side of John Deere or NASCAR.

All this has me contemplating vehicles in the New South. If a pickup truck is a Southern icon (remember the opening ceremonies of the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta with the synchronized pickup routine?), has it been replaced? What is the iconic vehicle of the New South? Is it Mercedes Benz, manufactured in Vance, Ala.? Is it a BMW, made in Spartanburg, S.C.?

Or could it be the Kia or Hyundai models, manufactured in Georgia? Porsche is about to build a new headquarters in Atlanta at the site of the old Ford plant near the airport. Could a Porsche be the signature vehicle of the New South?

I don’t really know. It may be a minivan, for all I know. Every time we leave church or a scout meeting, the parking lot looks like a used car lot specializing in the Honda Odyssey.

This week’s post is interactive. Your vote counts, so participate and encourage others to answer today’s poll question: What is the quintessential vehicle of the New South? If we can answer this question definitively today, we could give car dealers something new to advertise during the holiday glut of red bow-topped cars.

Make your nomination by leaving a comment below. Results will be published with next week’s essay.

10 thoughts on “Wheels

  1. Well you know my personal preference but I did see a Toyota pickup on the way to work this morning that made me drool!

  2. My vote is for the SUV manufactured in Vance,AL. Been driving one for 15 years. No problems. Great for hauling bricks, pine bark mulch, dogs and people.

  3. You know I love my Enclave but you probably need something with better gas mileage. I still think SUV’s are the most popular and trucks here in Lake Wales.


  5. In the New South, I would have to say the Mommy-Mobile is the quintessential vehicle. Especially in Gwinnett County. In the Old South, it would have to be the Ford F-350 or a Chevy Truck. Much as I loved driving my dad’s old 1970 Dodge Adventurer 100 Pickup in Tiger-Lily Metallic, it was NOT a quintessential Southern vehicle then. Or ever. But it was big. And it got respect.

  6. In SouthEast Atlanta, the ideal and most popular car seems to be the Honda Fit and/ or a similar competitor (Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Avea, Ford Fiesta – the least of these). We have the Honda Fit and LOVE it.

  7. Well, Lance, I, too, have been put in your situation. My wife drives a minivan…and I have a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which is also on it’s last leg. With 4 kids and 2 dogs…and sometimes a visitor tagging along I need room. I think, I say, I think, I have come to the conclusion that the Ford Flex is the vehicle of choice. Check it out….I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised

  8. You have a whole blog entry on the different vehicle preferences between men/women. Rule of thumb: if you can sit in the driver’s seat, extend both arms and have your hands out both windows, you might want to reconsider vehicles that are “fit.” If your car needs a tailor, you might not like your commute on 285.
    From our experience, I would not recommend the SUV – Expedition or Tahoe. Your Honda minivan is much more comfortable, much more fuel efficient and unfortunately with seats removed, probably has more cargo space. Bigger is not better in this case.
    Our love for pickup trucks is shared. Ask Patrick how much he misses his. Although the same size, the SUV is a poor substitute.The only conclusion left: the Volkswagon van. A classic, easy on gas and up to three rows of seats. You don’t mind driving a stick, right?

  9. Lance- After a long life of my 1997 850 Volvo, I happily passed it to my daughter Carrie. It has been close to trade/ sell three times since 1997. My upgrade was a Ford Fusion Hybrid and It has been a superb replacement, which I would repeat. Only one family member needs a mini van as their primary mode of transport.

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