Rewind: “Capsule Review: 1994 Explorer and the Not So Naughty Nurse”

The 1995 Explorer gave me a real taste of what it must be like to be an “order-taker” at a Honda or Toyota dealership. Customers drove up, took whatever we had on the lot, and paid sticker without complaining. We were perennially short on inventory, which of course didn’t keep my flamboyant General Manager from reserving one for his personal use.

Glenn, the GM in question, liked to have things just so. Once every two or three months, he ordered a white Explorer XLT 945A with a few extra options. As soon as his new one showed up, we had to sell his old one. It was a system that worked very well; since Glenn’s demo was the only Explorer on which we offered any real discount, it was a quick sale.

Several Explorers back, Glenn’s personal whip had been involved in a mild fender-bender and had been shuttled off to the body shop. It was placed on the back burner because it was an “in-house” deal, but when it returned, we all marveled at how perfectly it had been repaired. It looked like a brand-new 1994 Explorer.

Which it was.

And it returned to us in January of 1995, in the middle of a monster snowstorm.

Did I mention it was two-wheel-drive?

Droopy, our dealership principal, was angry. He was the proud owner of a $29,200 1994 Explorer XLT RWD in the middle of the 1995 winter. The ’95 Explorer was incomparably superior to the ’94. It had independent front suspension, a completely revamped interior, more room, a better stereo, NVH refinements, you name it. It was also totally restyled and made the old one look like a brick.

We didn’t have a single RWD 1995 model on the lot, because two-wheel-drive SUVs are lot filler during a tough Ohio winter. Glenn’s demo was a triple threat: last year’s model, tricky in the snow, and it had crash damage which would have to be reported to the lucky new owner. The law’s quite clear on that. In the early Eighties, BMW was infamous for delivering damaged cars to dealers. Those dealers would then silently repair the cars at the lowest possible cost. Cue the early rust, the indignant yuppies, the class-action suit.

At first, we thought the truck might move at invoice price, so we advertised it at $25,999. No takers. Every week the price dropped. Droopy finally made us put it in the showroom with “$21,999” on the windshield. Seven grand discount. And it still didn’t sell. Buyers would come in, see the price, and get interested. Then they’d find out it was RWD, and that they couldn’t lease it, and they would drive away in a new ’95 instead.

On a do-nothing Friday afternoon, a blond woman in her late thirties pulled in behind the wheel of a Tempo. She was my “up”. Naturally, she wanted an Explorer. She still owed money on her Tempo; Tim the used-car guy quoted it at $2500 below her payoff. It occurred to me that we could bury the negative equity in Glenn’s ’94.

Of course, she wanted to drive it, and I had to go along. I’d learned to be fearful of winter test drives with women, particularly in RWD trucks. No need to worry this time. Karen, the customer, handled the Explorer like a Finnish rally driver. I was honestly impressed, and she was perfectly comfortable with the truck.

If shopping for cars is like dating, the credit application is like getting naked for the first time. There’s a little frisson on both sides of the table… and when Karen got naked for me, we had some problems. She had recently divorced her doctor husband and was working part-time as a nurse. $35K annual income, $18K of support payments from the hubby, two kids, big house. This was going to be a problem.

While our unsuspecting customer played with her hair and read brochures at my desk, Glenn and I put our heads together with the F&I guy and started calling banks. Nobody wanted to touch this. Finally, our guy at Ford Motor Credit laid down the law: They would finance the truck over 60 months and bury the negative equity… with $10,000 down. This was equivalent to saying “F off,” since divorced women with low income rarely have a spare $10K just lying around.

The three of us sat there shellshocked. We were going to have this 1994 Explorer until we all lost our jobs, which had to be an imminent occurrence. It’s hard to put across just how antiquated the ’94 looked in the showroom. The interior was straight out of the 1984 Ranger; shiny, hard-edged. It had the old single-DIN Ford radio when everything else in the showroom had a double-DIN. Worst of all, it didn’t have a freaking driver-side airbag, so it had the old-style Ford truck steering wheel. Just looking at that was enough to make customers think twice.

“Get out there,” Glenn said, “and ask that bitch for ten grand.” I walked back to my desk with the shuffling gait of the condemned man. Karen looked up, and that was when I realized that I wanted to see her naked in the non-financial sense, too. She was good-looking, a bit zaftig for my twenty-three-year-old taste, but as I sat down I knew that I would now have the extra annoyance of delivering bad news to somebody to whom I was rather attracted. I prepared to deliver my usual line, which was “We’ve got some good news.”

“Karen, we have some… bad news, I guess. You know, we have, ah, some negative equity here, and with, ah, the cost of the Explorer, um, well, it turns out the banks would want, like, um, ah, something in the neighborhood of the, um, ten thousand dollar range to, you know, make this happen…”


“Um, well, yes, the approximate range of the down payment, which…”

“Okay.” What did she just say?

“What did you just say?”

“Will you take a check?”

“Um, hold on…” She had the money! The court had actually given her a little more than that upon the successful completion of her divorce. Make it a lot more. She stroked the check out of her personal account and the bank verified that, yes, she could cover that one and plenty more just like it. Ten minutes later I was moving the approximately two hundred pounds of shopping bags, clothing, and random items from her Tempo to her new Explorer. On the way out, she reached up, hugged me close, and kissed me on my cheek.

“I’m so happy,” she whispered hotly into my ear. Me too, Karen. Me, too.

17 Replies to “Rewind: “Capsule Review: 1994 Explorer and the Not So Naughty Nurse””

  1. rnc

    My wife worked for insurance agent that sold only to MD’s. You’d be amazed how many surgeons, anesthesiologist, etc. making high six, low seven figures had no savings, no retirement and just massive amounts of debt. Aka one paycheck from bankruptcy* There might not have been anything left for her.

    * These were the doctors that wanted to purchase $40k/month of disability insurance at 55 to finance their retirement on the cheap (all you needed was another doctor to say you couldn’t work). Worked by filing for bankruptcy, getting debts/obligations discharged, filling for disability which the court couldn’t touch.

    • gtem

      The book “Millionaire next door” outlines that class of high-earners/high consumers with very little safety net or savings pretty well. I see a lot of my wife’s friends that spent their medical school and residency years living large (I”m already hugely in debt, who’s even counting? I’ll pay it off when I’m a doctor!”). What are the chances that they’ll let their finances catch up for a bit once they start earning big, rather than just continuing to upgrade their lifestyle at an ever-increasing pace?

  2. Jeff Zekas

    “A doctor’s wife driving an old Tempo on payments.”– that was my mom, except it was a Pinto, and she got screwed by a Harvard trained (free eduction, courtesy the GI Bill) West L.A. doctor. This scam– “filing for bankruptcy, getting debts/obligations discharged, filing for disability which the court couldn’t touch.” –that was my dad, who retired to Canada, had his $3,500 disability insurance check (“back injury”), owned a three-quarter-million dollar house free and clear, and never paid a dime of child support).

    • John C.

      That this is not just a one off situation is sad. These guys worked hard to get where they were. Yet to be willing to give it up for the life of a welfare queen. The life they lead while at the top of the income chart must not have been what they thought. They themselves are lousy doctors and a little coked up with all the paranoia that comes with that, so they see their empire as vulnerable and ephemeral. Their wives turn themselves into baby factories, not out of love of baby making, but to insure a claim on the money stream. The debt that never goes away is another burden that they had not planned on. Next thing you know, the children are screwed and the aging mother is flirting with Jack as he puts her into last years hot truck. The Explorer will not age well when the RX300 that she doesn’t yet know she wants comes out. Maybe the 10k she put down will prevent her from being underwater when that happens.

  3. JustPassinThru

    That’s actually amazing. I don’t doubt that it happened somewhat along those lines…but…amazing.

    With ten thousand dollars cash, she could have bought half that truck at the marked-down clearance price; and put the payments on the Tempo on a credit card until selling it through the papers of the time.

    If she put it out on the front lawn with the same price the dealership was offering her, she’d have gotten a quick sale. At most, it would have been more of a hassle to get the same return; but the odds were, it would have paid off far-better.

    And frankly, a woman going from near-millionaire-spouse status, to $30k single-motherhood, had NO business shopping for a car on the basis of image or emotion.

    • John C.

      Or she could have bought APPL(apple) stock at split adjusted 1.50 per share and now have close to 1.5 million. It would also pay her an additional $19,000 a year in dividends over and above her nursing. She could have held on to the Tempo till the payments were up and then red carpet leased a string of Contours-Fusions for a lower payment than the Tempo. One of the worst bad habits is blowing a windfall.

      • JustPassinThru

        Do you remember how Apple stock was regarded in the late 1990s? It was junk-status. Nobody expected the company to make it – the only hope was a purchase by some sort of White Knight parent corporation.

        With hindsight, we can play all kinds of games. If I’d put my $20,000 into bitcoin, six years ago, I’d never have needed to work again. But I didn’t and there was no logical way I could have seen this.

        Nor could anyone have anticipated that Jobs, who eight years earlier had been wrecking Apple from the inside, would have matured into a near-psychic predictor of market trends and demands.

    • Danio

      “And frankly, a woman going from near-millionaire-spouse status, to $30k single-motherhood, had NO business shopping for a car on the basis of image or emotion.”

      Hey, that’s our business model right there in this biz.

  4. Matt

    The last pre-’95 Explorer I saw was idling unattended in a convenience store parking lot squatting on its w-shaped leaf springs. It was belching blue smoke as its graying 400 lb owner was inside buying a couple monsters and a pack of camels. Wasn’t sure which one would outlive the other.

  5. Shocktastic

    Jack, love this story from so many angles. I see it from both nurse & md point of view. It reminds me of your “Doctors Auto Lease” story. It reminds me also of a local physician who was so angry about his divorce & resulting child support that he had both of his Porsches parked wheel-less on stands in his garage to avoid towing while faking a vestibular disorder (brain vs ear balance thing) and trying to abandon his practice in the hope of reducing both his alimony & child support obligations.

  6. rnc

    I usually have a lot of free time on Fridays, one of the ways I’ll kill it is going back and re-reading old TTAC, GM Deathwatch, curbside classics, finding crab spirit stories in the junk yard finds, etc. Today I’m going back through avoidable contact. This story would have had 150 comments in a few hours, and I would have read all of them.


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