Monday, January 13, 2014

An Ode to Rosie - Our Favorite Family Car

I think a lot of families have a particular car in which many fond memories reside, and in our case that car is a 1994 Colt Vista Wagon that my wife and kids dubbed “Rosie”. Rosie’s full name was “Rosebud”, mainly because of her rose-red color. That’s Rosie above, in a 2003 photo. She’s sitting in front of the house of our friends Tom and Mary. Nine years old but still looking like new!


My wife bought Rosie brand new from a Madison dealer (Russ Darrow) when we had just started dating. The decision was between Rosie, with her practicality and fuel economy and room for two kids and a dog, and a bright green, sporty, Chrysler Neon on display at the same dealership. Rosie won, and she stayed in our family from that day in 1994 until the day she died, in 2009. 15+ years of solid service.


Both kids learned to drive on Rosie. By the time our son was old enough to start learning to drive, in 1999, Rosie had already delivered five years of maintenance-free service, and her tiny 4-cylinder engine started up every time and purred like a kitten. At that time, I was driving a huge Cadillac ElDorado Touring Coupe with a Northstar V-8 that delivered 300 horsepower, and although our son campaigned heavily to “just take it for a cruise” after he got his license, he was restricted to driving Rosie. I know what it’s like to be 16 years old and have 300 horsepower at your command, and, well…..suffice it to say the only time our son got to drive the big black Caddy was one very late night around the turn of the century when my judgment was impaired.


It happened during a period of time when my radio compadre Sly was still in his drinking days. We’d had Sly over for dinner one Saturday night, and it was just one of those nights when everybody had a bit too much to drink. Some time after the midnight hour, while our son and several of his pals had a sleep-over going on in the lower level of the house playing video games and such, it became apparent that none of the “adults” were in any shape to drive.  I can’t recall whether Sly had driven the big Mercury sedan I called his “FBI Car” – because it looked like an FBI-issue sedan with heavily-tinted windows and a big V-8 – or if it was his big-ass classic Buick Roadmaster.


Anyway, the course of action decided upon was to have one of our son’s pals drive Sly home in his car, while our son and the rest of his pals would follow Sly home, and then bring the driver back after Sly’s car was safely parked at Sly’s west-side home.  In a moment of weakness, I allowed them to take the big Caddy, and stories of that night still abound among our son and his friends.  I never wanted to know the specifics.


As both kids went off to college at the UW, Rosie remained in the family, parked in the driveway. When my wife went to get a new car in 2002, the amount they offered us for a trade-in on Rosie was, I thought, insulting, so we decided to keep Rosie and “deal on the invoice” as the car folks used to say.  I gave Rosie plenty of loving attention, after all the years of service she’d given in family trips to Chicago and Hortonville, hauling brush to the dumpsite, getting groceries, and then becoming “the kids’ car” that sat in the driveway, off to the side, so my wife and I could get in and out of the garage without moving Rosie every time.
No matter what we asked of Rosie, she delivered. Even when she was just sitting and waiting to be driven.

Her low horsepower, front wheel drive, and narrow tires were perfect for battling heavy snow, and there were many snowy mornings over the years 2002- 2006 that I left the Caddy (and its sucessors) in the garage and took Rosie to work at 2:45 AM, long before the county plows went to work on the Beltline. We replaced a water pump and timing belt at some point; replaced the exhaust system; had ignition work done; but other than that, Rosie cost us little but gas, oil, and insurance.


After our daughter graduated from the UW, we gave Rosie to her. Our son did not like Rosie, and when we offered her to him, he said he would just sell her or trade her in – a concept we couldn’t live with. He wound up buying a nice 2000 Chevy Impala, which he still drives!


Rosie left home and went to live with our daughter in 2006. She got our daughter safely to and from work at Meriter Hospital, and then at UW Hospital for many years, and transported her to and from the nice apartment she and her BFF Breanna rented in McFarland. But then one warm spring day in 2009, our daughter called and said Rosie was not behaving well. I said “bring her over and we’ll take a look at her”. The test-drive was terrifying – at any speed above about 30 miles an hour, Rosie wobbled like a drunk and was very hard to steer.  I had a mechanic look at her, and the diagnosis was fatal: cost of repair would far exceed the value of the vehicle, to the point where it was time to put Rosie to sleep. Ball joints, tie rods, struts – a long list of things which had to be replaced. She had pretty serious body cancer by then; the air conditioner had given out quite a while ago; the tires were in need of replacement; add it all up, and it was a death sentence.  At that time, Rosie had about 161,000 hard-earned miles on the odometer.


So, the next day, driving on “surface streets only”, my daughter brought Rosie home for one last time; we drove Rosie to the huge Zimbrick dealership just off the Beltline, and picked out a nice, safe, low-miles Buick Regal to replace Rosie, and as part of the deal, the guys at Zimbrick said they would “dispose” of Rosie.


Rosie is gone, but will never be forgotten.  She was a good girl!


  1. There's an AC/DC song in there but I'll defer. Our cars hold some great, great memories.

  2. Haha I also noticed the AC/DC reference. Anyway, great post! enjoyed reading it!

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  3. Hard to say goodbye to the old reliable cars it seems. I finally retired my Purple 94 Corsica after 295K miles but too many Iowa winters and driving back and forth to Mad City rusted out the bottom.

    Great reading this blog ;)

  4. Great blog Tim. Just happens my wife's brand new red Scion XB is named "Rosie". Hope she give us as good service as your Rosie did.

    1. I like the xb. Seats fold flat and you can carry a lot of stuff in that car. Got a friend who has one. Thanks, Don!

  5. When I met my future bride, one of the first things I helped her do was pick out a reliable vehicle. She instantly fell in love with a tan colored 1996 Eagle Summit which looks much the same as Rosie. We had that car for 8 years and despite it's size, that car was like a tank and reliable as you describe Rosie! Ours too found the end of the road with about 160,000 miles. It was sad to let it go, but it's definitely a car we'll never forget either. Great post Mr. Morrissey!

  6. Disposing a beloved car is really heartbreaking isn’t it? I can only imagine all those precious moments you’ve spent with Rosie. I wonder what car has replaced her place in your garage. Have you ever featured that in a new post? I hope you could direct me to that article. Thanks for sharing, Tim! :)

    Sarah Erwin @ Baldwin Subaru