I don't know what set my mind to thinking about cars. Maybe it was reading a Car and Driver magazine at the doctor's office last week that had me thinking about the different mystery stories I've read throughout the years and the way vehicles play an intricate, if sometimes subtle, role in showing the personality of the characters.
John Sanford's Detective Davenport drives a Porsche.
Cynthia Harris' Dr. Popper drives her mobile veterinary van.
Nero Wolfe bought classic, but never drove.
A lot of the forties and fifties detectives drove a style of coupe. (Pronounced coo-pay by my dad and by narrators of that time)
Remember that wonderful Puegot 403 Columbo owned?
How many cars has Stephanie Plum owned? Fifteen at last count and she's blown up or destroyed several more not her own.
I thought how the types of cars the detectives drive say a lot about who they are. Several times Davenport has had to explain his luxury sports car because a lot believed him to be a cop on the take instead of being a successful role playing games inventor. It fits his character. It just wouldn’t do for Stephanie Plum to own one car throughout the series.
When I thought about Mallory Petersen and what make of car she would drive, I didn't have to go much further than the first car I remember riding around in as a child. I say remember, because there were others before, but baby memories don't stick around too long. Anyway, the car my parents owned was a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger, blue, with white hardtop. Basic interior, no frills, no bells and whistles, no fancy computer driven mechanics, no cockpit with talking GPS, no CD player, no satellite radio or On-Star system included, no seat warmers, no keyless entry, no remote starter. It was a car one drove to work or on vacation and the basic purpose of the car was doing just that. The style was sleek, moving out of the sixties, into the stretch style seventies. Think Charger-extra light. Two door, round headlights, basic square brakes set into the bumper. Broad hood, no fender curves, narrow grill. It was considered a compact car and one advertisement I read claimed, at one time, that the Dart was the most driven compact in America.
I loved that car.
My first car was a 1975 Fiat Blue Box. Okay, that wasn’t the actual name of the car, but that’s basically what it was. I was originally disappointed because I heard Fiat and I’m thinking sporty. But actually, that blue box was pretty cool and I wish I had owned it longer than I did. It was air cooled, which meant when I shut off the car, the fan would start up to cool the engine. People kept telling me my car was still running. Then I owned a ’69 VW Fastback. It was okay, but it nickel and dimed me to death in maintenance. When I went off to college I had our 1975 Dodge Tank. Actually, it was a Coronet. The seventies version wasn’t as stylish as its predecessors, but that car had power and bulk and was tough. It had seen the country on many vacations and did its duty pulling trailers. When it reached 100,000 miles it decided it was done. My sadness came in that I didn’t get very much for it in the end. Next up was an early 80’s Chevette. Stupid car had problems within a quarter mile after I bought the thing. The Dodge Daytona I owned was the only one so far to hit a deer. I had a Dodge Shadow convertible that was great, until the aluminum engine block became warped. I remember driving across the southern part of Minnesota against the wind. Whew, the gas it sucked down.
I’ve owned several family vehicles, including my grandmother’s Omega (basically an Oldsmobile Box) and my grandfather’s ’91 Chevy pickup. It’s the only vehicle I’ve owned where I’ve run out of gas…twice. That thing I still see cruising around town yet today, a little more rust each time.
And, so far, there has been one fact associated with every vehicle I’ve owned. Every car has had at least one flat tire I’ve had to change. I’ve had flats at work and on the interstate but never in a convenient spot.
So in Beta, as Mallory explains, her Dad still owned the Dodge Dart when she became of driving age and sold it to her for a dollar. Mallory added a few goodies into the interior and under the hood. She loves that car, gives it regular maintenance, keeps it shiny and waxed and protects it fiercely from the bad guys.
I could have had her drive around in my favorite car, the Corvette, but I felt it would be over the top, not appropriate and not a reasonable expectation for her. I didn't want her driving around in a beat up rust bucket, either, because she does have a reputation to uphold. I wanted something unique, amusing, and a vehicle people would look at and remember, if only to remember seeing them 40 years ago.
Like Mallory says, you keep your Beemers and your Lincolns; she owns a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger.
And that's good enough for her.