Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fire Duck Redemption

Although the v6 2.8L Firebird was not a performance vehicle, it was an improvement. It sat lower and cornered substantially better than a station wagon. Exit ramps came alive as a source of entertainment. It also had a little more horse power than the LTD wagon. I don't know the weight of the LTD, but I suspect it was heavier than the Firebird. It was more fun to drive. My best friend got a Honda Civic around the same time. My car was cooler than that.

The Firebird V6 engine did have one tangible benefit over a V8. There was lots of room in the engine compartment. It was easy to work on. Since I was in college and had no real income self repair was a key benefit. During it's tenure, I replaced lots of stuff including the alternator, the radiator hose, an annoying radiator pipe that ran down beside the engine, the sparkplugs, the entire radiator, the starter and the bushings on the sway bars. I learned about torque wrenches and started to accumulate metric tools. And of course there was body work... endless body work fighting off the rust caused by the salt of New England roads in the winter.

I graduated college, and went on to Graduate school in Buffalo. For my research project I studied a bird called the American Kestrel. Each pair requires several square miles of territory. Among other things I was checking nest boxes for occupation, clutch sizes and fledgling counts and most nest boxes were a mile or more apart. The research was conducted south of Buffalo near Springville NY. I drove all over the nearby villages of East Otto, East Concord, Morton's Corners Riceville and others. This was farmland. The roads were undivided 2 lane, hilly and mostly 55 mph. Even in a V6 Firebird there were thrills to be had driving between nest boxes except when the roads turned to dirt.

During the winter, in Buffalo, a Firebird can only be described as less than ideal. Rear wheel drive and light in the back, I learned a lot about skid control. I discovered that sometimes the easiest way to make a turn in the snow was to intentionally pop the back free and let it swing the car until it faced the new direction. That was a fun trick especially if someone was in the car to gasp and curse about it.

Even though it was not high performance in any way, I did enjoy driving the Firebird. No peel outs, no drag racing, but more turning than a station wagon, and I had never driven a real performance vehicle, so I didn't have a clue what I was missing.

Next... Totally Mazda and a stick.

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