The 1960s hit song “The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)” was apparently inspired by used car salesmen in California, who would tell prospective buyers that a car was “owned by a little old lady from Pasadena, who only drove it to church on Sundays”.
They weren’t always telling a fib, with plenty of religious couples from America’s Midwest moving further west to Pasadena to escape the 1930s Dust Bowl and Great Depression, and leaving a cared-for car in the garage – for much of the week – in their retirement years.
I’d not long moved north for my first paid radio job, when my parents traded their 1985 Mitsubishi Magna in on an automatic 1991 Hyundai Lantra dealer demo. The first-generation Magna had done well, but had some issues – and Hyundai was getting noticed for its cheap prices, and the rising quality of its cars.
On a weekend visit home, I somehow talked them into letting me take this nearly new car for a drive – along with 3 of my friends. We opened the garage door, and laughed: the registration plate on the car said 123-BLO. By chance we all immediately counted together, then blew out simultaneously. It was nice to drive a car, with that “new” smell.
The mid-sized Lantra had clean lines, painted bumpers, velour seats, air conditioning and power windows. Power locks were also included, and so was an intermittent problem with them, that was never able to be fixed. But there was one thing missing from the car: the letter ‘E’.
In plenty of overseas markets at the time, it was sold as the Elantra (and it is now sold as that here). However because Hyundai was getting Mitsubishi’s help with its designs in the early 90s – and Mitsubishi had a Magna model on sale at the time, called the Elante – it was decided that the Hyundai car would drop the ‘E’ and just be a Lantra.
The Lantra was mum’s car, and for years it did indeed do little more than a shopping trip once a week, and a drive to church on Sundays. It was fine for her, but anyone else driving it would notice the complete lack of power from the 1.6-litre engine, unless you pushed the pedal to the floor. It was so underpowered, Hyundai offered a 1.8 engine for the 1992 model.
After around 15 years of ownership – and with the odometer nowhere near 100,000 kms – a newer car, being sold by a neighbour, tempted mum to move the Lantra on. At first it went to my future sister-in-law, who drove it to the train station, but by late 2009 it was back on the market – and the odometer reading of just 102,000 kms meant I couldn’t let it go.
So I brought the Lantra home (the 5-seater shared the garage with the 2-seat Smart), and it had been used so little, it still seemed to have a “new car” smell. It happily did the school run for over a year.
Once I decided to sell it, I had it serviced – but a week later I noticed it was low on oil. I asked the mechanic about it, and it turned out that although the Lantra’s engine was barely used, parts inside it had deteriorated and (at highway speeds) were allowing some oil to sneak out the exhaust. So the engine would need an overhaul at some stage.
A young local mechanic eventually bought the Lantra for his lady, then I heard it was sold (unregistered) to a new owner, who still drives it around the local area. He’s a little old man, and I can’t say for sure what the car does on Sundays.