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June 2011 From The Back 40

Posted in Features on June 1, 2011
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I pride myself in not becoming emotionally attached to anything mechanical. I figure that all of the junk I own was mass-produced and therefore can be easily replaced. Over the years that logic has worked well for me, but I still suppurate (that’s a fancy word for cry like a baby) when I think about the flawless, four-speed ’77 Firebird Trans Am I sold a few years ago. As I watched that angry ’bird rumble down the driveway under the control of its new owner, I figured it was no big deal and I could always buy another one. Now I realize that my logic had a serious flaw. After all, they don’t make Trans Ams anymore, and finding a top-notch F-body of this vintage is virtually impossible without doing thermonuclear damage to my budget. Besides, I really miss the car. Which brings me to the point of this month’s prattlemy awesome ’90 Geo Tracker.

I purchased this stunning machine about 13 years ago from a guy whose car collection included a vintage ’50s Corvette and a Plymouth Prowler. I’m still not sure how the Tracker fit into his stable of four-wheeled fantasy cars, but maybe that explains why he was selling it. Anyway, it was mostly rust-free and a picture of economical, agile simplicity. Auto trans? Nope. Power steering? Um, no. Power brakes? Sorta. Power windows? Puh-leeze. What it did have was a spunky quartet of cylinders, four-wheel drive with low-range, and a soft top.

The seller was asking $1,350, so I offered him $1,200 and the deal was done. For the next few years, we drove the wheels off the little Tracker. Figuratively speaking. I taught all of our kids how to drive in the Tracker. Learning to drive in the Geo was equal to being thrown in the water to learn how to swim. You either sink, or well, you know. Lessons took place in the pasture and on the lane between the corn rows out here around the Four Wheeler Midwest Bureau. The kids had to master driving basics while learning to operate the clutch and shift lever. Throw in weak brakes and non-power steering as well as operation of the transfer case, and they had an impressive curriculum of credit hours.

During the first eight years of ownership the little Tracker never let us down. It always started and it returned awesome fuel mileage, even though the factory gearing allowed the engine to scream like a banshee at highway speed. About five years ago the Tracker had rusted to a point where I was forced to retire it from road duty and put it into service as a snowplow. And this is where the Tracker really came into its own, as it were. It sits in the barn for months at a time and then starts right up. The only time it gets used is to push snow, so it’s literally run hard and put away wet. The only money I’ve spent on the little machine in the last eight years is a $45 scrap-yard radiator. And the four-cylinder engine has a neat feature: semi automatic self-changing oil. Lube runs out of several places in the engine whether at rest or in use, so I just replenish the oil. It’s an awesome time-saver. I did replace the oil filter in 2001.

It would be insane to try and argue that this Tracker is not anything but the coolest rig in existence and its mods are stunningly unique. For instance, it has a custom three-wheel braking system. I was showing off to my boys one day and launched the rig off a snow pile, which ruptured the passenger-side front brake line. The fix was to replace the brake line with a bolt screwed into the master cylinder reservoir. That jump also caused the front grille assembly to fall out, which was no big deal anyway because I removed the front bumper and welded on a custom plow mount for my SnowSport plow. (The first mount snapped off, so this is Mount 2.0.) It seems that everybody likes the Tracker, including mice. The rodents moved in for a couple months and organized a sprawling, thriving community. They’re gone now, but their legacy lives on every time I turn on the heater fan. It’s like hardcore aromatherapy, without the therapy part. Other cool touches to the Geo include a trashed, needlessly complex factory soft top with yellowed and torn window plastic; stained and smelly cloth seating; and custom lightweight body panels created by too many rustbelt winters.

So as much as I pride myself in not becoming emotionally attached to anything mechanical, I have to admit that I feel the love for the Geo. Sure, the gas in the Tracker’s tank may be worth more than the Tracker, but it’s a great little rig. The other day someone asked if I would sell it. I said no. After all, it’s the best 4x4 I’ve ever owned.

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