Sparky Stories

In the beginning…

I can be obsessive about cars. That’s how I ended up with so many.

Now, none of these were made in the 21st century. Most are classic muscle cars from the 1970s, the newest is a 2000 Firebird built in 1999. My daily driver, thirty-five miles to the airport and back each week, is a 1986 Fiero GT.

1986 Fiero GT

I don’t have anything against newer cars. I travel all the time and rent a new car every week. It just takes a lot to get me to part with that much money. It took me seven years to buy a fourth generation Firebird even though I loved it at first sight.

I’ve been enthralled by the idea of an electric car since the first viable models came out. Low range didn’t faze me, because that range easily fit into almost all of my driving routine. And I did have ten back up cars for longer trips. I’d rented hybrids and liked working the technology to try and maximize miles per gallon. I got a Prius to deliver a consistent 70 mpg every day for a week. But all electric, that would really be something different.

But now I was back to that parting with money problem. Electric cars are stupidly expensive compared to gas sipping small cars, and even some pretty nice mid-size cars. All electric Ford Focus vehicles ran $38,000, ditto the pseudo-electric Chevrolet Volt. Nissan Leafs were less, but, oh so ugly, and I do own a 1970 Corvette convertible, so I have standards. The electric car dream officially moved to the back burner.

The electric car market is less than 1% of entire domestic new car sales, and most of those are high-end Teslas for rich people. A small initial market breeds an even smaller, or in this case, non-existent, used electric car market. Uncertainty about long-term battery viability is a legitimate concern. The value of any commodity is no greater than the price someone is willing to pay for it. In the case of used electrics, that isn’t much.

I tested the theory, and searched for used electrics. Ebay popped up a three year old Focus electric with only 14,000 miles on it. That’s still a new car. The thing collected more dust than road grime so far in its life, and it was fresh off-lease with factory warrantees. Thirty-six months ago, the sticker price for the car was $41,185. Now it was selling for $14,500. My pricing theory was correct. See, two semesters of Economics wasn’t a waste of time after all.

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I test drove it and was amazed. Amazed at the silence, at the instant torque, at the full range of options, and at the plethora of data screens to monitor every aspect of the car’s performance. Range was seventy-three miles, more than I would ever drive in a day, and my airport parking offered free charging for electric cars. Home recharge time was long (twenty hours with a near depleted battery), but again, I had lots of backups. I wanted the car and went home to consider it.

During that thoughtful consideration, I took my 1970 SS 454 Chevelle convertible for a drive. Top down.


The contrasts couldn’t have been more stark. Ford’s 143 horsepower, silent, electric motor versus a rumbling, gas guzzling, Chevy big block. A dozen ways to monitor efficiencies and performance in 2013 vs. an ammeter and a temperature gauge in 1970, and those were expensive options. An amazing, multi-speaker satellite radio with CD and USB capabilities was a major upgrade from the Chevelle’s optional FM radio, which could be upgraded from mono to two speakers, or for more money, four. The Chevelle has style, but even fresh from the factory she couldn’t out handle the Focus, and certainly not at almost fifty years old. The backup camera, wifi links, garage door opener, and a list of other gadgets were only in Tom Swift science fiction stories back in 1970.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Chevelle. But the back-to-back drives just hammered home, in a way nothing else could, how much automotive technology has advanced in fifty years.

The next day, I bought my latest car, and began a grand experiment in 21st century auto ownership. We’ll see how it goes.

His name is Sparky.

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