Thursday, July 16, 2009
Leif and the 1983 Nissan Maxima station wagon, 1983 - 1993
In the summer of 1983 we moved from Germany to Japan and sold the cars we had in Germany. In Japan, Peter W. bought a used Toyota Crown Super Saloon, which the boys thought was pretty snazzy, but except for one trip to Osaka and Kyoto, and some drives to Yokohama and Yokota Air Base, we didn't do much long distance traveling in it. It wasn't a sports car and I don't think Leif maintained any strong emotions about it.
However, when we were due to move from Japan to Hawaii in the summer of 1983, we had the opportunity to purchase a new car through a program where we could look at the cars there in Japan but would take possession of the US specification model in Hawaii, the transaction taking place through Guam.
We took the boys along to shop for a car with us, and I remember trying out (that is, just sitting in and looking at the gadgets) the Nissan models. The boys insisted they wanted the Nissan Maxima station wagon. Not only was it practical for us, but it TALKED. And it had a great stereo system and nice upholstery. That was what impressed them, since they were way too young to be driving and we weren't offering any sports cars as options.
We purchased a silver 1983 Nissan Maxima station wagon, which served us well for many years, In fact, we still had it when Leif learned to drive ten years later! We picked up the Maxima in Hawaii. Peter W. drove it to work at Camp smith, but around the island and to the beach we usually took the little red Toyota Tercel that I bought used from Avis Rent a Car. It had plastic upholstery so trips to the beach didn't harm it, and it was cheaper to drive. Peter A. learned to drive in that Tercel while he was in high school in Hawaii, but drove the Maxima, too.
The highlight of Leif's car experiences in Hawaii was meeting David Hasselhof when he was starring in "Knight Rider" and seeing the famous car. He also got to see a variety of other fantastic sports cars on the island, and he started building plastic model cars, chief among them a black Lamborghini.
At the end of our three years in Hawaii, we shipped the Maxima to the West Coast and sold the Tercel, flew to San Francisco and retrieved the Maxima, and after visiting Peter W's motheer in Pacific Grove, headed across the country for Chicagoland. Peter A. helped us do the driving, and one of the experiences we all remembered, and Leif wrote about when he was taking creative writing in high school, was crossing Death Valley at night. Peter A. was driving. It was a moonlit night, eerie, and Death Valley was not at all what I had expected. It was horribly hot, which we did expect, but I didn't realize it was so mountainous and rocky, that the road would be so curvy, that it was so completely desolate. We could hear coyote howling.
For reasons we never understood, Peter A. suddenly switched off the headlights. I'm not even sure he realized that's what he was doing. Perhaps he was trying to put on the high beams and forgot how, but I remember us all hollering and being scared on that curvy mountainous road with no lights. Luckily, there was enough moonlight to make it possible to see as one's eyes adjusted, and he soon switched the lights back on. We were all relieved to be safe.
In the Chicago area, we lived at Fort Sheridan. Peter W. continued to used the Maxima to commute to work at Great Lakes, and we used it for long family trips or short ones into Chicago. I bought a red used Buick Skyhawk that I used and that Peter A. drove when he needed a car.
It was there in Chicago that Leif's interest in cars really took off. We took him to the big car show and he took photos of cars on his own. By that time he was also interested in photography, and photographs of cars were his favorite subject. He was really excited when he saw a DeLorean and got a picture of it.
He started subscribing to magazines like "Car and Driver" and "Motortrend," That brought about a really funny incident. I suppose that the magazines must have sold their subscriber lists to credit card companies, in the theory that guys who read them must have money to spend. Leif started getting all kinds of ads in the mail for credit cards . . . at the age of 13! We couldn't seem to put a stop to them, so I finally told Leif to make out one of the applications in his awful handwriting and tell the truth. Occupation: junior high school student. Income: whatever his measly allowance added up to. We had a lot of fun making it out. He sent it in and that was soon the last of the credit card application.
He poured over those magazines and could tell you just about every feature and statistic of any car that might remotely be considered cool.
It was then that, lacking the required age to drive, he got interested in building radio controlled model cars. I've already written about that.
Once, in Chicago, he had to help change a flat tire on the Maxima, and once he had to dig out the garage which was buried by a snowstorm, so that we could get the car out. He was out there shoveling snow like Tarzan. He worked up such body heat shoveling that he not only took off his jacket, he took off his sweatshirt and shirt, too, and was barechested shoveling snow. By that time, he was a 6' 1" fifteen-year-old.
From the Chicago area, we moved to Puerto Rico in 1990, and again, shipped the trusty Maxima to the island, selling the Skyhawk. We didn't buy a second car in Puerto Rico as we didn't need one. I was surprised that Leif didn't lobby us to learn to dive when he became sixteen, but he didn't. Neither had his brother. They both learned to drive when they were seventeen-and-a-half. When we were moving from Puerto Rico to Kansas, we sent Leif ahead for two months to take driver's ed in the summer at Manhattan High School. Again, we shipped the now nine-year-old Maxima to Kansas. There we bought a 1992 Honda Accord, which Leif never drove, but he got to drive the Maxima. It was the first car he drove as a seventeen-year-old, and I remember taking him up to the huge Bramlage Coliseum parking lot to learn how to drive on ice and snow that winter. he was quite surprised to find out just what happened when you hit the brakes or turned hard, but in a few minutes he was testing the limits of his control. Typical Leif.
A nine-year-old Maxima station wagon is NOT a cool car for a cool high school boy, so Leif did his best to soup it up. He put in a booming stereo system and put on neon yellow and green windshield wipers. They didn't go with the car, but they did make a statement. I sure wish now that we had a photo of the car with them on it.
Leif drove the Maxima until he was eighteen and starting college, and even after that, fairly frequently, when he needed to haul things.
We had that car until February 2003 when we traded it in (it wasn't running) for $1 when we bought the Buick Rendezvous. True to form, Leif was not only part of that transaction, but he picked the car. We had had it for nineteen-and-a-half years. It had been a part of Leif's life all those years but he did not mourn it's passing.
The photos are:
1. Leif in 1993 when he was a high school student driving the Nissan Maxima station wagon in Manhattan, Kansas.
2. Leif in the summer of 1983 when he wanted us to order the Nissan Maxima during our last months in Japan.
3. What a 1983 silver Nissan Maxima station wagon looks like. Unfortunately, we didn't take any good photos of that car, and I made a composite of it from photos I found.