'Lil' Subie' was a 1987 4WD Subaru station wagon. It came from the factory equipped with power steering, A/C, and a few other convenient options. Like the famous horse Black Beauty, it passed through a series of owners before showing up at my doorstep saying, 'drive me.'
Well, actually I traded a broken-down van for it. No matter. I turned that wagon into a reliable car that would go practically anywhere.
Once I drove it into the high country of the Washington Cascades and reached a very steep road that led to a campsite with a perfect view of Mt. Rainier.
But someone had beat me to the spot. A 4WD Toyota truck loaded with camping gear sat at the bottom of the road with its driver considering the task of climbing it. I pulled over politely and waited. He backed up the truck and gave it a run at full revs. The truck bounced and skidded, finally lost traction, and the driver had to back it down the hill. He made several more runs at the hill, all with the same result. Finally, he rolled down his window and shook his head at me.
'No way, man. Try it if you want...'
I put Lil' Subie in 4WD low and it walked up that hill as easy as you please. Toyota guy could only look on in amazement. Got some nice pictures on that trip and no one bothered me.
Over the next few years I took Lil' Subie to some of the highest and toughest spots in the Northwest you can imagine. I installed a second battery, a deep-cycle, and used it to run a power inverter. This way, I could watch TV, movies, and play video games while camping. When the battery got low, I just hit the switch to use the main battery, started the car, and charged the deep-cycle battery back to full. We did deserts, mountains, the coast, the plains, everywhere.
Then on Christmas Eve, 2002 someone stole 'Lil' Subie'. I was at a family gathering at an apartment complex and when I came out, Lil' Subie was gone. I was really bummed. I reported. I searched. It was to no avail. She was in the hands of someone else, and like the father of a kidnap victim, I only hoped she was being treated right.
Three and a half years later...
Call from the police: 'We found your car...'
I went to pick her up. The cops told me they pulled over the driver on a routine stop, and caught him because he had switched out the dashboard, and that it had a different VIN number. But what REALLY got their suspicions first was checking the VIN plate installed on the driver's side door panel. It was from a Ford Escort. The cops popped the hood and got the true number that was welded onto the firewall in the engine compartment. They ran the true VIN and then called me. Dumb theives, they said.
Lil' Subie was leaking fuel near the tank and the battery was dead, so I had it towed home. After a careful exam, I discovered that the theives had installed a new engine, repaired the A/C system, and did some other upgrades. But they let a few other items go to hell, which had to be fixed. I replaced the fuel pump and battery, changed the oil, and tuned her up.
Pretty soon, Lil' Subie and I were back in business and hitting the mountains and deserts again. I put so many miles on her that she finally began to show her age. On Christmas Eve 2011, she threw her timing belt a second time, and after nearly 300,000 miles, I knew she was near the end. Reluctant to end our relationship, I let her sit in the driveway for the next few months before making the decision to send her away.
I cleaned her up good for the trip, removed the blue gearshift knob (for my next car), and called the wrecking yard. They paid me more than I expected and hauled her away. I was pretty sad about it, but it was time.
But before I did all that, Lil' Subie did one last job for me very faithfully, and one that I will never forget.
The last major thing I asked of Lil' Subie was to take an 18-month trip around the Northwest USA interviewing people for a book on skyjacker 'D.B. Cooper'.