Commissioner's Car Is A Catastrophe

March 17, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

This is a story of a man, his car and their venture into an autumn of automotive hell.

"I have almost 100,000 miles on the car, and, let me tell you, none of those miles were trouble-free," said Elmer C.Lippy Jr., who, when he's not in a mechanic's waiting room, is the county's commissioner vice president. "Standard equipment should have been a crowbar."

The car -- a 1982 burgundy Oldsmobile Omega with all thedoodads -- sits innocuously enough in a parking space along North Center Street on a recent morning, acting as the peaceful hunk of transportation that it most certainly is not.

At least not during Lippy's successful campaign for commissioner in the fall.

"I really haven't looked at the car's registration lately, but I swear it must be a registered Republican," said the 70-year-old lifelong Democrat. "I like to call it the car that almost cost me the election."

Rusted-out distributors. Loose gears. Failed transmission. Stuck-shut electric windows. Sudden stops in the middle of 50-mph journeys.

Taken separately,a car owner's nuisance. Together -- as Lippy experienced -- a candidate's worst enemy.

"Needless to say, it didn't do wonders for my state of mind," he said, outlining a list of a half-dozen meetings or campaign stops he either missed or almost missed because of the burgundy monster.

The Oldsmobile -- the most recent in a line of only-American cars Lippy has bought since he learned to drive in 1936 -- became the butt of many jokes, the excuse for excessive tardiness and the object of much scorn in the Lippy house along York Street in his native Manchester.

In fact, one of his earliest campaign promises -- if you could call it that -- was to use a portion of his 2,400 percent raise to procure a shiny new set of wheels (as mayor of Manchester, Lippy pulled in $1,200 a year; as commissioner, his annual renumeration amounts to $30,000.)

So, between and budget-balancing sessions, the retired chemist has been shopping around for another Americancar.

But not just any car; no, he's on the lookout for a car whose transmission works in both forward and reverse gears. For $500, he had to replace the Omega's transmission because getting the thing into reverse was, uh, problematic.

He's looking for one that doesn't stop in the middle of a 50-mph cruise down Route 140 -- that trick made him hours late for an endorsement interview.

And he's certainlykeeping an eye on a car whose four windows all roll up and down, unlike the Omega, in which only the rear left-side window works.

During the course of the four-month campaign, Lippy said the car's various trips to the shop cost him more than $1,000.

"You've heard of cars that can nickel and dime you to death," he said last week. "Hell, I could live with that. This thing's been $50 and $100 me to death."

It's really a shame, to hear Lippy describe the glee with which hebought the Omega, a four-door he refers to as his first luxury car. When he rolled off the Reisterstown Road lot of the former Heritage Oldsmobile, his new car was the first he purchased that had air conditioning, power windows, power locks and FM stereo.

"Believe it or not, I really am considering buying another Oldsmobile," Lippy said. "But I am going to take this thing in. I know when I'm licked."

Butbefore he does, don't be surprised if you see a burgundy Oldsmobile Omega with Maryland tags THF-656 inadvertently parked in the fast lane along the Northwest Expressway.

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