Up north, where the snow blows cold and each state’s department of transportation liberally applies salt to roads, car collectors save their nice cars from the ravages of winter by buying already-rusty cars as winter beaters. I’ve had many winter beaters through the years, but my favorite is still the 1986 Grand Prix I drove to college and work in the winter of 1999. The car was the sporty version with bucket seats, console and a V-8. The outside didn’t have one of those ‘70s suave vinyl tops, but rather a cool two-tone blue paint scheme that was horizontally divided down the length of the car.
I usually drive rear-wheel-drive GM products from the 1980s as winter beaters, and then remove their emblems and paint muscle car or upscale car names in their place. (A 1985 Regal became a GS, a 1986 Cutlass became a 442 and a 1986 Pontiac Bonneville had the “Bonn” removed and a “D” added to the front to become a Deville.) The ’86 Grand Prix became a GTO.
I bought the Grand Prix/GTO (and all of its rust) from my cousin for $600 and proceeded to beat the snot out of it. After a fresh snow, my gas station coworkers and I regularly took the old Pontiac out to whip donuts in empty parking lots for hours on end, and the car didn’t skip a beat. And, it still took me to work and class reliably and comfortably.
But all good things must come to an end. That spring, the Grand Prix/GTO was sold to make room in the driveway for the collector cars. Had it not been so rusty, I’m not sure I would have ever have parted with it.
I saw the Grand Prix/GTO later that summer when I was in a different city buying 1962 Cadillac parts. It was hard to miss with its rust spots and its silver-painted “GTO” emblem glistening on its quarter panels in the summer sun. I was tempted to knock on the door and see if it was for sale, but I realized it just wouldn’t be the same car to drive without the snow on the ground.