Our Retirement Vehicles!

You have perhaps read my "Car Crazy" article (a small book!) but the following stories are about the 14 motor vehicles that we have owned since retiring in 2002. That may sound like we are wealthy, but we made a profit on most of these cars, we are still ahead $600 not counting the nicest two specimens parked in our garage.

Four Buick Roadmaster "Woodies"

When we retired from Austria in October, 2002, we purchased a 1992 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon the day after we arrived. It only had 61,000 miles on it and had spent all ten years of its life in Florida. We paid $6,200 and both of us were soon in love with our "Woody".

A few months later, I saw another nice one for sale in a nearby town for only $1,500. I bought it and parked it in the garage for whenever the other wagon needed replacement.

After four years, I decided that it was time to register this crystal-blue wagon but it didn't happen! I discovered another Roadmaster wagon on eBay located just across the Delaware River in Wilmington. It was our favorite color, metallic burgundy and had a burgundy leather interior. Best of all, the car had only 49,000 miles on the odometer and was in like-new condition! I sold number 1 and 2 wagons for enough money to pay for number 3!

With the seats down, you can transport a stack of 4x8' plywood or drywall.

For a few days, there were three of these wonderful wagons in our driveway!

In October, 2007, we bought Roadmaster Estate Wagon #4. There were several reasons for this. I will begin with my wife's reason. Although these Roadmasters came with almost every conceivable feature, cruise control was optional in 1992 and the first owner didn't order it! My wife discovered this later and was quite disappointed. When I found another excellent buy on eBay, Verna said, "If it has cruise control, bid on it!" It was a nice black cherry metallic color with an impeccable tan leather interior in great condition with low mileage. There were other features that caught my eye that the previous wagons didn't have. It was a 1994 model with the famed LT-1 injected engine that also powered the Corvette. Some claim that it is the best engine that General Motors ever produced. Another feature was a complete heavy-duty towing package with extra oil and water-cooling plus load-leveling. We paid $3,600 for it and it is still in our garage with collector-car tags, gaining value. For a few days, we again had multiple wagons until someone who already owned three Roadmaster wagons bought #3!

I actually bought a fifth Roadmaster wagon brand new for just $50! It wasn't a woody, but I fixed that little detail in short order. I drive "Woody Senior with Woody Jr. piggy-backing on the roof-rack in local parades. Towing a "renewable energy vehicle" (a sailboat) our woodies get much applause!

We are not the only ones who have become infatuated with these Roadmaster Woody Wagons. According to the January 2022 issue of Hemmings Motor News, 1994-1996 Roadmaster Estate Wagons have become a hot item at auctions.

1975 Mercedes 450 SLC
In the late 70s when our children were attending Black Forest Academy in Germany, we walked past a used car dealership near the school and Verna paused to admire one of the cars. "That is a cute car, what kind is it?" she asked. I replied that it was a Mercedes SLC and, without much forethought, I added, "When we retire, I will buy you one." From that time on, every time Verna spotted an SLC on the road, she asked, "Is that mine?"

Twenty-five years later, we did retire, and although Verna only expected me to buy her a Matchbox or diecast Mercedes, I kept thinking about my promise. I reasoned that there must be a 25-30 year-old SLC somewhere that needed TLC and wouldn't cost too much. I kept checking eBay and newspapers, but most were too expensive or too far away. I found a really nice Burgundy SLC on eBay, but the reserve was too high so I didn't bid on it. One day while Verna was packing for meetings in Connecticut, I checked eBay and saw that the owner had re-listed it with a "Buy-it-Now" price well below the book value. I drew $6,000 from my retirement account and bought it. I didn't tell Verna, but stopped on our way to Connecticut. She asked where I was going and I just said, "Wait and see!" The owner opened the garage door and I said, "I kept my promise!"

The SLC sold new for more than the convertible version and this one was fully equipped with all the extras: electric sunroof, power windows, AC, white leather interior, Automatic und a 4,5 litre V8. It had been garaged all it's life and had only been driven 91,000 miles in 30 years. The burgundy paint and chrome shone like new. Verna seemed happy when I handed her the keys, but she always preferred to drive the Buick. After a year, we sold the Mercedes for $2,000 profit and invested the money in a cement driveway. We can honestly tell people, "Verna's Mercedes is in the driveway."

Daily Drivers
From October, 2002 through April, 2010, the Roadmaster Estate Wagon was our daily driver because the SLC had collector tags. Because the wagons were much sought after and therefore getting scarce, I decided to get a second small car to use for most travel. I always preferred rear-wheel-drive, but most small cars now have front-wheel-drive. We once had a '91 Buick Century with the 3.8 liter six-cylinder engine that we liked, so I began to search for one of those.

I wound up with a 1991 4-cylinder Honda Accord instead. It was listed on eBay and the seller said the transmission was defective, but otherwise fine. It was located nearby, so I went to check it out. It started immediately and I could drive it forward and backward with no problem, so I asked about the defect. The owner said "The warning light comes on and that is all I know. My mother has been driving it like that for weeks." I bid on the car and got it for $1200.

Ever since solder containing lead was outlawed, many cars have problems with sensors, modules and relays. I removed the transmission sensor, took it apart and re-soldered all the connections. The light stayed off and the car performed like new!

After a year of trouble-free service, the Honda developed a valve tap. I removed the valve cover to adjust the tappets and found that the threads were stripped on one of the valve stems. I really wanted a V6 engine, so I offered the Honda on Craigslist "as is" for what we paid a year earlier. Within an hour, we got over 20 calls for the car! When we awoke at 6:00 the next morning, a couple from Pennsylvania was parked in our driveway with cash!

1982 Buick Skylark V6
I began looking once again for a V-6 Buick Century, but like before, I found something else. An impeccable '82 Buick Skylark came up that was about to finish its auction with no bids. The seller claimed that it had only been driven 24,000 miles and because it is very similar to the Century and had the V-6 engine, I bid in the last minute and got it for $2,200!


There was one big problem with my acquisition, however. This car was much too nice to use as a daily driver, especially in winter! I sold the Skylark for a good profit before winter set in. That car was not going to see any salt on my watch!

Buick Century V6
I was glad to find a '92 Century for only $1200. We drove it about 5,000 miles and then sold it for what we had paid to buy an extremely nice 1995 Century "Sport" pictured next.


Our First Mercury Grand Marquis
The last US cars that were sold with rear-wheel-drive were the Ford Crown Victoria and it's luxurious cousin, the Mercury Grand Marquis. The police and taxi companies bought most of these cars because they were comfortable, robust and very dependable. When Ford decided to halt production in 2010, pre-owned models in good condition were soon selling for high prices, often to taxi owners. When our '95 Buick Century needed repairs that I couldn't do myself, I decided to start looking for a Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis.

One Sunday, I noticed that an elderly lady in our church was driving her brother's 2011 Grand Marquis (the final year was 2010 but a couple of hundred leftovers were sold in 2011). She said that her brother could no longer drive and he sold her the car. He had also sold her his 2003 Marquis when he bought the 2011. I knew the '03 was in pristine condition, so I asked how much she was asking for it. She replied, "$5,000". That price was reasonable, but we had only gotten $1200 for the Century and couldn't afford the car. On August 23, 2013, I bought a white 1995 Grand Marquis with 120,000 miles for $1,400. I installed new shocks, serpentine belt, idler and tensioner pullys, ignition cables and sparkplugs, bringing our investment to $1758.78. It served us well and we were very happy with it -- for three and a half months and 8,000 miles.

On December 5, 2013, Verna was involved in her first accident. She had been driving 55 years without even a traffic ticket, but while driving to the Garden Club Christmas dinner at the Scotland Run Golf Course, she was hit by a woman who ran a stop sign and blinking red light. Verna had been looking forward to eating baked salmon with the girls, but had a hot dog with me instead. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

The cars hit in the middle of the intersection. The Grand Marquis suffered only light damage, but because the airbags deployed, the car was totaled. The other car did a 180 degree spin and landed in the trees on the opposite side of the road. Verna can't remember the crash but remembers seeing it coming and thinking, "This is going to be bad!"

A police inspector and the ambulance medic both warned Verna, "You need to throw all your clothes in the washer and take a complete shower before putting on fresh clothes. The stuff in those airbags causes cancer." A policeman then told her that she should sit in our car until I arrived! Airbags save your life and then kill you!

We spent 3 1/2 hours in the ER where Verna got a tetanus shot, a cut on her leg bandaged and cat scans on her head and neck. The results came back favorable. She was sore and had black and blue marks from the seat belts and airbags but nothing serious. We thanked God his for protection. A week later, we also thanked him for his provision. The other driver's insurance paid us $3,734, so we could go car shopping again!

A Second Mercury Grand Marquis

I saw our friend in church the following day and told her, "It was good that we didn't buy your car because the one we bought was just totaled in an accident." She surprised me by saying that her 2003 Mercury was still in the garage. She had not sold it! I asked if she had come down on the price and she said she would sell it for $2,750, a thousand less than the insurance paid us!

It was the first day of winter in 2013, shortly before Christmas, when we bought "Silver Bird". The car had been driven only 81,000 easy miles in ten years. Because the owner spent winters in Florida, it had seen very little snow.

In the next five years we drove "Silver Bird" 50,000 miles without a complaint, but then, Verna was involved in her second accident! At an All-Way Stop, a 17-year-old girl in her mother's Buick barreled into the intersection without stopping. She saw our car and drove into the opposing traffic lane trying to avoid it. She struck the end of our car's bumper, peeling the plastic skin off (no frontal impact and no airbags deployed). The lights and grille were broken, but the rest of the car was undamaged. After hitting our car, the girl tried to correct her Mom's car to keep it from landing on the railroad track. In doing so, she flipped the car over on its side but fortunately, no one was injured!

Because both drivers claimed to have stopped before entering the intersection, the New Jersey "No Fault" law kicked in. That means neither driver gets remuneration for damages unless they hire a lawyer. The other car was totaled, but I fixed our car for less than what a lawyer would have charged. I bought a donor car, took the parts that I needed and sold $600 worth of other parts before junking what was left.

Before and After Photos

A neihgbor did the only welding needed

This may be hard to believe, but one week after the repairs were finished, I hit a deer on the way to a church function! Almost all the parts I had replaced were again broken!

This time I bought all the parts at Amazon.com for under $600

Around that time, the lady who sold us "Silver Bird" told us that she was no longer allowed to drive. Did I want the 2011 Marquis? It had only 80.000 miles on it.

2011 models were selling for top Dollars and, again, we couldn't afford to pay even her generously reduced offer. Besides, the Silver Bird was serving us well and after two accidents and repair jobs, I had gotten rather attached to it!

Two years later, our "Silver Bird" had accumulated 160,000 miles, so I started checking ads for another low-mileage Marquis that we could afford. I watched several nice ones sell for a lot of money and a few needing work or with high mileage that also sold for far too much.

I bid on a 2008 model that was "in perfect condition with low mileage" and was surprised when I got it. I called the seller to arrange for paying and pick up, but he said that it had suddenly developed a serious engine problem and he couldn't complete the transaction. I later discovered that the car was on eBay again with the same photos and description, so I did some research. I found that this guy had "sold" the same car three times already!

Third Mercury Grand Marquis
A few weeks later, I saw another Marquis on eBay located across the Delaware River. The seller claimed that the car had been driven only 71,000 miles and had never seen salt or snow". Probably because it looked too good to be true and came from "sin city", no one bid on it.

I wrote a note to the seller just before the auction ended, saying that I was very interested. If no one bought the car, I would like to come and see it. If all was okay I would pay cash. I was surprised when he replied, "I am leaving on a longer business trip tomorrow but if you come in the morning, I will be here." He gave me directions to his home. Verna and I drove over and were amazed that every claim he had made was true. He inherited the car from his Aunt, flew to Vegas and drove it back. He liked the car so much that he intended to keep it, but then pointed to his garage and said, "I don't have room in the garage and it would be a shame for this car to stand outside in winter." I looked in the garage and gasped. A Mercedes, a Porsche and a big Harley Davidson were staring back at me! We got the car for $4000.

Because the "Silver Bird" was still running great, I decided to keep driving it for a while. Fifteen months later, I learned that a neighbor's car had broken down and the repairs would cost more than the car was worth. He was nearly broke and trying to raise his two boys alone after their mother left them. We gave him "Silver Bird" and took "Bluebird" out of storage.

Click here to read about cars Ralph has owned since the early fifties: Car Crazy (at 36 pages, a small book!)
There are many pictures of boats and cars on www.rvharvey.com