The $4,000 Car That All the Millionaires Love
Last year, my wife and I rode an Indian Chieftain "
My wife's friend and her husband both come from real money and they both have brilliant careers, so I wasn't surprised to see that they live in a house that is worth several times what my humble little Midwestern casita would fetch. Nor was I particularly surprised to see that they and their children were all dressed from head to toe in the super-expensive but strangely style-free exercise mufti that serves as a sort of uniform for American independent wealth on the go.
Here's what did surprise me: The car in their driveway, the vehicle they'd chosen to complement their stress-free life of perpetual luxury and obsessive fitness devotion, wasn't a Range Rover or a Mercedes G-Wagen. It wasn't even an Escalade or Suburban. It was–get this–a rusty, sixteen-year-old Subaru Outback. With a stick shift. You can get a car like that for two or three grand pretty much anywhere. Maybe four thousand bucks for a really nice one.
"Do you have a maid?" I asked the wife, pointing to the Outback.
"That's not the maid's car," she responded. "It's mine. I love it!"
"That's not the maid's car," she responded. "It's mine. I love it! Although I think the maid has an Outback, too. In fact, I think everybody has one." That night at dinner, I
Some of the Subaru drivers I saw during my day in Jackson were service-industry employees or ski bums, but far more of them were successful young people who looked like they were definitely living up to the county's average income. They were members of a demographic that would be driving new Audis or Bimmers on the coasts. Maybe Yukon Denalis in the Midwest. I met a lot of people like them back when I was in the luxury-car sales business; thirtysomethings with double six-figure incomes who started to fret the minute their car had its third birthday or displayed creases on the leather seats. Yet here they were in Wyoming, driving Outbacks with 175,000 miles on the odometers and seats that were worn through to the bare padding.
"Will you ever get a new Subaru?" I asked my wife's friend, as we bounced back home later that evening.
"There's nothing wrong with this one," she chirped in response. "But I don't know about the new ones… they're different, aren't they?" She's right, of course. The original Subaru Outback was a quick-bake attempt on the manufacturer's part to catch the SUV wave of the Nineties without actually building an SUV. It was funny-looking. It didn't handle particularly well. And somehow it managed to combine relatively poor fuel economy with sundial acceleration, particularly if you bought one with an automatic transmission. The Forester that eventually joined it in the showroom was sort of a raised-roof Impreza. These were not "real" SUVs. They weren't even crossovers. They were cars on stilts. They were ad hoc at best.
Today's Subaru lineup has nothing of the ad-hoc about it. The Forester is an effective and competent crossover competitor, not very different from the CR-AV4-Santa-Fequinox. The Outback is a handsome monochrome
I resolved to write about this when I got home, but by the time I left Sturgis a few days later I'd seen so many outrageous things that the oddly humble flat-four fleet of Jackson Hole had sort of vanished from my mind. This past week, however, two things happened to make me think about old Subarus again. The first was that I happened across a blog entry on this very topic from a writer I know. "I think the denizens of Jackson Hole rock Subaru
The second thing that happened was that I spent half a week in and around Gunnison, CO, visiting various historical sites on a writing assignment. I looked at a lot of very tall mountains and I saw very clear streams. Those streams had quite a few campsites next to them. Most of these campsites had at least one Subaru Outback in the parking lot.
The Colorado crowd is not quite as Outback-obsessed as their wealthier counterparts in Wyoming; the Toyota Tacoma easily matches it for popularity. But while most of the Tacomas I saw were new or at least new-ish, the Subarus were just plain old, just like they were in Jackson. You know, if this planet ever gets visited by aliens who are just here for the skiing and camping, I cannot see how they wouldn't assume that the two-tone jacked-up Subie
It's easy to understand why the Outback is popular with outdoorsy types. It has enough ground clearance to get down a graded trail to a campsite or up a snowy hill to a ski lodge. In all other respects, it's just a plain station
The beautiful people of the Middle West don't agree with me. They don't want to hear the new album; they want the greatest hits. Which is all well and good as long as there are parts to keep the old Outbacks on the road. My conversations with my wife's friend revealed that she's not at all tight-fisted when it comes to keeping her vintage
Something will have to replace these worn-out Subarus.
Mind you, this is a state of affairs that cannot continue forever. Something will have to replace these worn-out Subarus. There's probably room to open a boutique business restoring them to like-new condition, the way that people do with Grand Wagoneers and first-generation Broncos. That will satisfy the really picky Outback loyalists, but everybody else will just have to move on.
If I ran Subaru, I'd come up with a special edition of the current Outback. I'd bring back the goofy two-tone cladding and lowbrow interior. I'd pay for a list of all the people in wealthy
I would work very hard to obtain the business of these Eloi, these people who have been #blessed by wealth and success in an era where those blessings seem harder and harder to get. I would jump through hoops to make sure that the farm-to-table restaurants out there continue to look like Subaru showrooms. I wouldn't try to push the sleek monochrome current generation; I'd just give the people what they want, no matter how awkward-looking and two-tone and cloth-seated it might be.
Back in the real world, though, I've decided to think long and hard about adding an old Outback to my fleet. I'll put my mountain bikes on it, maybe run it up a few trails. And when my wife's friend comes to visit, I'll have my rust-pitted, four-thousand-dollar, hundred-thousand-mile, two-tone
Born in Brooklyn but banished to Ohio, Jack Baruth has won races on four different kinds of bicycles and in seven different kinds of cars. Everything he writes should probably come with a trigger warning. His column, Avoidable Contact, runs twice a week.