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Smitten by Subaru
Owners have special relationships with most popular brand of car in Teton County.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: November 14, 2012
The latest national advertising tagline for the automobile Subaru could not be more perfect. Especially in Jackson Hole.
“Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
Yes, it’s gimmicky, trying to tug on vehicle-buyers’ heartstrings, but it really does sum up how many Subaru owners in Teton County feel about their cars, from the old beaters to the street-legal race cars to even the latest model on the market.
Subarus are practically the official vehicle of Jackson Hole. They are the No. 1 passenger car in the county, Teton County Treasurer Donna Baur said.
“Right now, currently registered, we have 2,747,” she said recently. But the number changes daily.
The county has 18,741 registered passenger cars total. Chevrolet and Toyota fall in second and third place, respectively, behind Subaru.
For all the Subaru owners and mechanics I talked to, the favorable traits of the cars blended together like synthetic oil. All-wheel-drive is a must-have for our mountainous region. The cars are reliable, easy to work on, get good gas mileage and are reasonably priced.
And they last forever — well into the hundreds of thousands of miles.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort veteran ski patrolman Dennis Comer has an affinity for Subarus because they are cars he can count on.
“I just have a lot of faith in the car,” he said. “They don’t break down a lot.”
His 1988 Subaru GI hatchback, dubbed the “baby Subaru,” got him everywhere he needed to go as a fishing guide and ski patrolman who commutes from Hoback.
“That car was a total tank,” he said. It got 29 miles to a gallon of gasoline, it never messed up, and it never left him stranded by the side of the road, he said.
“I never had to do anything to it except change tires and change oil,” Comer said. “Little stuff broke, nothing major.”
For the $6,300 sticker price, he got 25 years out of the car, he said. Then, last winter, with 210,000 miles on its odometer, the car got wrecked when another vehicle plowed into it at an intersection.
“There was nothing wrong with it,” Comer said. “One more year and it would have been an antique. I was really bummed. I really liked the car. I had the car for a long time.”
Although the wreck was devastating, he was loyal to Subaru and decided to buy another.
“You have a car for a long time, and it’s been totally good to you, it has good karma,” he said. “I wasn’t going to buy anything else.”
While waiting at Shervin’s one day, he flipped through a car magazine and found his new love: a 2013 XV Crosstrek — a completely new model for Subaru.
He ordered one in July and picked up his slick, new, khaki-colored baby late last month. The car is similar to the Subaru Impreza, but it sits higher off the ground and has a roomier interior.
“The biggest thing about it is it was 9 inches of ground clearance instead of 4,” Comer said.
His was the first Crosstrek in the valley, he said. He got it from Teton Motors before the dealership even had its own demo.
The first scheduled maintenance is at 80,000 miles. He has 1,200 on it now.
“It’s a great car for the money,” said Comer, who plans on driving it until it croaks.
And although he insisted that his Subarus are “just cars,” essentially hunks of metal and a lot of plastic, it’s easy to tell that for Comer his vehicles mean much more.
Subaru’s longevity means a car can stay in the family for years.
“It’s the first car you keep forever,” A-1 Auto owner and master mechanic Chris Hughes said. “If you don’t love your car, you tend to sell it, give it away.”
But a lot of people tend to hang on to their Subarus, he said.
The Fuller family had a gold 1981 Subaru for years, Wilson resident Claire Fuller said. A few years ago, a friend resurrected it, moved with it to Colorado, then moved back to Jackson and sold it to another friend, she said. The car eventually was towed by its last owner’s landlord for being parked on the street in the wintertime. Then it was impounded.
When Fuller’s older brother was training to be an EMT last summer in Jackson, his class went to the impound lot to practice using the jaws of life. There was the gold Subie.
“Nobody in the EMT class could quite understand why he was so upset for cutting it up,” she said. “In some ways, it’s a good use for a dead car.”
Fuller drives a 2010 Impreza now, after driving another, older Subaru throughout high school.
Older Subarus run great, but they sometimes have quirks. The tape deck in the Fuller family’s old gold Subaru would only work when the headlights were on, she said.
“There is a level of understanding for drivers and passengers of older Subarus,” she said.
Teton Motors has been the Subaru dealer in Teton County for four years now.
The dealership has probably sold thousands of new and used Subarus over the years, co-owner Dave Auge said — about 200 new ones a year.
“Subarus are popular because they’re an all-wheel-drive vehicle,” Auge said.
“There’s a lot of older ones around and on the road,” he said. “People love them. They hate to let go of them. They keep fixing them and driving them.”
The fun-loving, pet-focused outdoorsy culture that surrounds Subaru fits in well in Jackson, too, Auge said.
“There’s not very many Subarus that don’t have dog hair in them,” he said.
People name their cars and consider them part of their families, Auge said.
Artist Greta Gretzinger, of Victor, Idaho, who has given several Subarus whimsical paint jobs in her signature style, generally names the ones she drives.
“It’s the personal connection,” Gretzinger said. “When you sit in a car and start talking to it, it should have a name. They’ve all been named ‘a--hole’ at one time or another.”
One Subaru hood she painted had a picture of chipmunks running the engine. The name of that piece was “Here’s what’s wrong with your car, lady — one of the chipmunks is dead.”
At more than 354,000 miles, Teton High School history teacher Neil Gleichman is on a mission to have his 1995 blue Subaru Legacy accumulate the most mileage in Teton Valley, Idaho.
“My goal was to hit 300,000 and I was going to get a new car,” he said. But at 300,000, the rig was “running like a top,” so he decided to keep it.
“I want to hit the million-mile club,” he said. “I push it in all kinds of weather. It starts on the first turn, no matter how cold it is. It’s super-reliable. I just do regular maintenance.”
Gleichman checks his oil every time he fills his tank with gas, he said, and he doesn’t ignore any odd noises.
The Legacy is his third Subaru. Reliability is key for all his adventures. He frequently takes off for the weekends and logs hundreds of miles on dirt roads as he seeks climbing and running destinations, he said. He has even spent a lot of nights sleeping in the back.
“I have been all over the country in that thing, and I go on these mad, fiendish long drives,” Gleichman said. “A friend of mine calls me the road warrior. ... I just get behind the wheel and go.”
Although he said it’s not the perfect design, his Subaru consistently and inexpensively gets him where he wants to go, and that’s what matters.
Over the hill, Sue’s Roos services about 15 Subarus a day throughout the typical work week, owner Etta Rokes said.
“That’s how we keep some of our costs down for our customers,” she said.
The shop always has parts in stock, Rokes said.
“We’re pretty efficient as far as that goes,” she said. “Most of the time we know what’s going on with the car from the initial phone call.”
The cars are perfect for the area and are fairly inexpensive to work on. Roughly 40 percent of the shop’s customers are from Jackson, Rokes said, people who are loyal to their Subarus.
“They’re dependable,” she said.
Rokes has been working at the shop for 12 years and has owned it for five. She took over after the first owner and her sweetheart, Patrick Gallagher, lost his battle with colon cancer in 2009.
Because the shop is not a franchise, it can’t use the word “Subaru” in its name. But Sue’s Roos sounds like Subarus, so the shop kept it, she said.
She calls her 1997 Subaru station wagon Red, for its color. It has 270,000 miles on it.
“I grew up with Subarus,” she said. “We have a relationship. A lot of my customers have relationships with their cars.”
Rokes had a recent conversation with a customer about how invaluable Subarus are.
“Insurance will give us $1,800 for our car if something was to happen to it,” Rokes said, “but in our world it’s worth $18,000 because you can’t replace it for that.”
Jason Stiegelmeyer has had 11 Subarus. He bought his first one right out of high school from a dealer and got ripped off, he said.
“It was a terrible car,” he said. “It’s surprising I stuck with Subaru. It did its job, but it had a lot issues.”
Ten cars later, he commutes over Teton Pass in a modified 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI with 485 horsepower. Stiegelmeyer calls it his race car.
“It’s a street-legal rally car,” he said. “I’ve rarely ever been in a car that I had so much fun driving.”
The car can go 140 mph uphill, but it has four doors so he can still justify it to his wife, he said.
“It’s a full-on beast,” he said. “If you’re not careful, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble or hurt.”
When he gets really serious he takes his car to the racetrack in Salt Lake City.
“It’s where I can legally have a lot of fun,” he said.
Stiegelmeyer worked for Teton Motors for several years before switching careers to work for DOMA Coffee Roasting Company distributing beans.
Subarus say a lot about the people who drive them, he said.
They have “obvious signs of dogs, skis, climbing stickers and coffee cups,” he said. “If the Subaru is clean, you wonder. You rarely ever see a clean Subaru.”
Silver Dollar Bar server Erin Landry is on her second Subaru. She got her first, dubbed Super Reuben, a ’99 Outback Legacy Limited, two weeks before her 21st birthday.
“My [Dodge] Neon had broken for the 9 millionth time in six months,” she said. “I always wanted [a Subaru] because that’s what I thought cool kids drove when I was in high school.”
She rolled Super Reuben over, held parties in it and drove it all around her home state of Maine for eight years before it got too costly to maintain.
“I loved my car, and I was sad it all broke,” she said. “If everything was working, I would have kept it.”
She traded it in at Norm’s Used Cars in Wiscasset, Maine.
“I finalized the sale and gave my trade-in for the other car at the bar I was working at,” she said.
Norm’s girlfriend brought in the paperwork and then delivered the car while Landry was at work.
“It was great, because I didn’t have to say goodbye to my car,” she said. “There was another car in place of it. I was actually in tears when I came to work.”
She calls her second car, a black 2005 Subaru Forester, Maude the Hot Rod. While she admits that she’s not as in love with Maude as she was with the Super Reuben, it’s an affordable car that gets her to Grand Targhee Resort for skiing, Cache Creek for walks with her pup, Ferris Wheel, and to Kelly for Jackson Hole Juggernauts roller derby practices. It’s also taken her across the country, back home to Maine, five times.
Landry has bedecked the bumper and her Yakima Rocket Box with all sorts of stickers she likes for skiing, skating and inside jokes.
“I didn’t know what a love affair I had with my car until now,” she said.
Ruby Pocahontas explores the West
I drove my shiny, red 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport to Jackson from Alaska when I moved here in June of 2011. That was my second trip on the Alcan Highway in the car I affectionately call Ruby Pocahontas — Ruby for its color and in honor of my favorite Portland, Ore., McMenamins brew; Pocahontas because it seemed fitting for a car that explores the West.
I’ve driven Ruby since high school, even though she wasn’t officially mine until after I graduated from college.
While in high school, I had a Subaru wagon that changed hands from my dad to my older brother to me. We called it the Silver Surfer.
Smothered in bumper stickers, it had an identity crisis switching from my brother’s decorations to mine, which tended to be sparkly, pink and have something to do with “Hello Kitty,” which appealed to my 16-year-old self.
I had a lead foot in high school, though. Speeding tickets bookended my junior year in Chugiak, Alaska, and I lost my license. My parents for some reason thought it would be best if I didn’t drive for a while even after I got my license back. Sadly, they sold the Silver Surfer to a neighbor kid for $100. He scraped off the bumper stickers and then drove me to high school in my old car.
When I got my license again, my parents bought a hybrid and gifted the Subaru to me for my college graduation. I re-learned to drive in California, and we’ve been adventuring ever since. We’ve been through a lot together, including my 4,000-mile road trip to relocate to Jackson. At nearly 239,000 miles, I hope we get to go even farther together.