Submitted by @DrEntropyIt has always confounded me: the manner in which a major portion of the US public perceive our cars. For the most part it has been my experience that they think of the cars as “toys” or “cute” and “flimsy”. “Unreliable” comes in there too.
A personal case in point:
In another life I worked as a photographer for a studio in western Pennsylvania. The owner (I'll call him Sam) and I had known each other for years before this. I had just been discharged from the US Air Force, where I had been an “Aerial Combat Documentation Photographer.” It was a natural fit that I seek employment with a photo business, as the government would 'subsidize' my wages for some period if I stayed in a related field. It was a win-win for Sam and self. This guy was a successful owner/operator with many national professional awards and community prestige.
He drove a Lincoln Continental of the “suicide door” persuasion (an older car even then, with 80K showing on the clock). He also unfortunately had the mechanical aptitude of a grape. I was using the Elan as my daily transport, had just completed a full rebuild of the beast and it was in excellent condition. Sam was of the opinion the car would be less -than up to the task of “bride chasing” if I were to continue using it.
The first conversation over his “issues” went akin to:
He: “What're you going to do if that thing breaks down and you're on your way to a wedding?!”
Me: “I'll get out, fix whatever is wrong and continue on my way.”
He: “Oh, no you won't! You will get your gear out of it and flag down the first car you see, offer them money and get to the wedding! Leave it parked beside the road!”
Me: “I'll take that under advisement. But I think you're being too melodramatic. It won't just die on me.”
The part about “leave it” stunned me.
About six months later we were on our way to the wedding of a prominent area businessman's daughter. We were going as a “team” so as to be certain the event was covered. Sam was a nervous type anyway and this event had him tight as an “E” string on an Ovation guitar. We of course set off from the studio in his Lincoln. We had barely cleared the carport when he remembered he'd left some relevant paperwork at his home that AM and we were going to require a detour to fetch it. The house that photos built was a new two-story, column facade edifice atop a western Pennsylvania “hill.” It was accessed by a two- lane, three mile uphill zig-and-zag road. Very scenic.
As we descended said hill on our way to the event, his trusty Lincoln just quit. The tank was full, and all else was working. It just STALLED and would not relight. No power brakes, no power steering. He looked at me in abject shock. Bringing this lumbering beast to a stop beside the street was a struggle, no amount of key twisting would start it again. He started to say something like: “We gotta flag somebody down!” (this was pre cell 'phone). I calmly suggested he allow gravity to work and roll slowly the rest of the way down the road and into the gas station at the intersection below. If he could pilot it that far un-powered we would be able to drive it to the wedding on time. For whatever reason he went with my plan and we made the station.
What Sam didn't know was: I'd grown up with a father and two uncles who drove Lincolns. The Old Man also fixed his when something needed work. This spontaneous stall was very likely something I knew about.
He: “Now what are we going to do?”
Me: “Open the hood and stay in the drivers' seat.”
Ford built those engines with a mechanical fuel pump mounted at the front of the block, actuated with a push-rod from the cam. At almost ~exactly~ 80K miles, the push-rod tip had worn sufficiently to cause the pump to be at half its stroke, the car would stall due to a vapour lock condition. I went to the outside water spigot and filled the nearby galvanized vessel with water. He was sitting staring at the engine as I poured water on the pump and told him: “Start the thing and KEEP it running! Do NOT let it go to idle.” He resignedly turned the key and it lit right off. His expression was one I treasure to this day.
I explained we needed to find a gallon container and put it aboard with water in it, just in case it happened again then press on to the wedding. All went as scheduled, Sam was confounded but back from the precipice of panic. He subsequently had the Lincoln repaired at a shop he used regularly and they confirmed my diagnosis. There was never another discussion on the reliability of the Elan or of the “procedures” if something were to interrupt a journey to another wedding. Sam and I parted ways when the government subsidy ran out. He couldn't bear to pay me the full amount. To this day I'm certain the decision was based more on personalities than finance.
I drove the Elan for eleven years as my daily transport; it never had to be brought home on a stretcher. All of my LBC's have been called on to perform in similar fashion, only one ever required a flatbed: The +2 snapped a differential output shaft in an intersection. Replacement with uprated shafts removed that problem from the list. What seems to shade folks' opinion is the result of poor quality maintenance the cars generally received and the poor level of respect they had from most independent shops. Not any inherent frailty of the machines.