A Tribute To Woody - Our 1998 Subaru Forester S

I'm a pretty emotional guy, but even I never expected to fall in love with a specific automobile brand. In 1998 Candace and I purchased one of the first Subaru Foresters sold in the Bay Area. I have always had a fascination for automobiles (my dad and I used to rebuild Alfa Romeos back when I was in high school), and I am especially  fond of Subarus. The all-wheel drive (AWD) and the boxer 4-cylinder engine make for a car that says "drive me" when you sit behind the wheel. And in the rain and the snow there are very few cars that can match its stability and safety.

We took that car everywhere, mountains, deserts, and dirt roads through rain, snow and extremely hot weather. Woody went every mile with enthusiasm and security. 73,000 miles worth of family travel, commutes, shopping trips and drives to anywhere, anytime. We had looked forward to keeping the car for a couple of hundred thousand miles (not a rare thing for a Subaru.)

As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."

On Monday May 20, 2002, I was traveling Northbound on I680 on my way home from work at lunchtime in the middle of major rainy weather. We rarely get rain that late in the Spring in the Bay Area, though it comes down in buckets in the winter. As usual Woody was on rails, the all wheel drive keeping the car straight and true through the gluts of water that were on the road surface. I was one lane to the right of the fast lane going about 60 mph and slowing down as it began raining even harder. Suddenly out of nowhere I was hit on the left front fender and thrown to the right into a dump truck. There were a total of three impacts, the initial one from the left, the second (the biggest) as the right front corner of the car hit the dump truck in the left front wheel, and a third as the passenger door collided with the gas tank beneath the truck's left door. In between the second and third impacts the airbags deployed (at first I thought it was another impact.) During the entire event I could feel the all wheel drive stabilizing the car in the midst of rain and hail. Somehow I managed to drift over to the right median strip in behind the dump truck. I had no idea what had happened until a witness told me that a third car had been trying to pass me on the left and had hydroplaned and spun out due to excessive speed. That was who had hit me in the first place.

The witness looked at me and said: "I can't believe you are up and walking around. That guy really nailed you." I had pain in my wrist and neck and my ears were ringing from the airbags going off, but other than that I was functioning pretty well. The driver of the dump truck had a fractured wrist, and the kid who caused it all was uninjured. A a matter of fact he was able to drive away from the scene after the CHP officer finished her report! Doesn't it always work out that way?

Woody was totaled, at least it looked that way to me. The left front was crushed, the grill was missing, and the front bumper had almost fallen off. I took a couple of pictures with my digital camera. A paramedic checked me out and advised me to go to the doctor. I made a couple of phone calls and arranged to get picked up at the wrecking yard. The whole time I was in a daze because I realized that it was the safety features and the high quality construction of the car that had saved me from more serious injury. As it turned out a had a hairline fracture in my left wrist which required a cast.

The following week I went to the AAA secure lot where Woody had been towed and met the adjuster who was going to decide whether to total the car. I took a series of pictures which I include here. You can clearly see the three impact areas. Also note in the picture of the engine compartment how far back the radiator was pushed. Also note the gash where the heavy steel in the hood was cut. Needless to say AAA sent us a check for the current resale value of the car.

Losing Woody was like losing a good friend. Some cars have personality, certainly Subaru models do. I think that the energy and passion put into the vehicle by the designers and builders comes out in the vehicle somehow. I also own a 2001 Impreza Sedan (named Impey Biggs, after Lord Peter Wimsey's lawyer), and it projects the same aura of drivability.

So while we lost something, we gained a little also. We are now the proud owners of a 2002 Forester S Premium, silver with a moonroof, a fabulous premium sound system and a bunch of other toys. And, being a newer model it has better handling and is quieter. It also still says "drive me " whenever you get behind the wheel. And Candace named him "Silverwood."

I'd like to thank everyone at Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru of America, and the folks at Diablo Subaru in Walnut Creek, CA, who have treated me right three times now.

And I'd also like to thank the two witnesses who stopped in the heavy weather, as well as the California Highway Patrol officer. Some days it's easier to remember that being a human being in a civilization is a very unique experience.

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