I owned other cars during the years but these ten stand out in my mind for various reasons. Especially as my company, J.D. Power and Associates, got more established I tried to never own a car that would be obvious or expected. I wanted to show people that the cars that were at the top of the J.D. Power and Associates lists for quality or customer satisfaction didn’t get there because they were my personal favorites.
I also wanted to demonstrate that I had enough confidence in the overall quality across the industry that I was willing to drive—and even let my wife and kids drive—cars that placed lower in the rankings. Still, because so many car buyers associate J.D. Power with getting the direct line on the best cars to own, when people find out I’m the guy who started the company they always want to know what I’m driving. And, you can see, when there were new models, or special editions that offered something different and unexpected, I was a happy pushover.
If there is a secondary commonality among my favorite cars, I suppose it has to be speed. I am not a huge car enthusiast, not one that physically works on his vehicles or is a racing buff, but I’ve been known to push the speed limits around Los Angeles, especially racing down the freeways or the canyons to get to the airport! I can admit this now, but I used to have a few friendly competitions with my employees about our best times driving to the airport.
- 1959 Ford Thunderbird: My first new car, purchased through Ford’s employee plan. We always love our first new car, don’t we?
- 1971 Buick Electra Four Door: Metallic green with a black vinyl roof. I drove the family (myself, my wife Julie, and our four kids) from California to the East Coast and back on summer vacation 1971. Last time we did that!
- 1979 Oldsmobile 98 Diesel: Of course the engine and transmission were horrible quality. But, the fuel economy and extra fuel tanks I had installed in the trunk were the perfect antidote to the energy crisis at that time—especially because my commute from suburban Los Angeles to downtown was 45 miles each way! It was a good-looking 1970s color, a metallic rust—almost copper—exterior, with a tan leather interior. I still believe in the value of diesel engines but in this case GM just did not get it right.
- 1981 Chrysler Imperial Coupe: Black with rich maroon leather interior. I worked a deal with Lee Iacocca and the Chrysler people to exchange a subscription to one of the JDPA studies for the car. Its styling was controversial at the time but it served the purpose of demonstrating a more expressive image for a big car, which Chrysler needed at the time.
- 1983 Jaguar XJ-6: Even though the quality was a big problem I found that when it ran, it ran really well. It had a great ride that struck the right balance between being tight and sporty, and yet it was smooth and supple. The engine purred like a Jaguar should. And, it was gorgeous to look at, too. A rich dark blue metallic with camel leather interior. It gave me some great personal experience with Jaguar when we were trying to help them overcome their quality problems.
- 1986 Audi 5000: Yes, I had one. It was right after the media crisis over the car’s sudden acceleration. Remember this model was expressing a new design language for Audi: smooth, sleek, and modern. Sales were great until the crisis. I wanted to show my support to Audi, and the rest of the auto industry, by owning and driving one because I felt it was safe.
- 1988 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan: Dark silver with gray leather interior. This was a special edition model developed to provide some excitement into the Oldsmobile line. It had a specially tuned 3.8 liter V6 engine, four-speed transmission, sport-tuned touring suspension, sporty leather interior, and exterior packaging.
- 1988 Buick Reatta: Bright red with tan interior. Another innovative design that had its fans and critics. Actually it was a car I bought for my wife Julie for her fiftieth birthday as a surprise. She got pulled over by the police the same day she drove it home because the officer wanted to get a closer look. The purpose of the car was to provide Buick with a new image-leading vehicle, and the executives at Buick were dying to get me to buy one.
- 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS: It started as a special edition model and only had a short production run of a few years. I was able to order one of the last one’s built before Chevrolet ended production. It had a Corvette engine and a sport-tuned suspension. Dark maroon and dark tinted windows. A police package beauty: it had speed, was fun to drive, and was big enough for my lanky frame.
- 2003 Mercury Marauder: I loved the idea of another police package cruiser for civilian use. Black on black (the only way they came). Like the Impala SS, this was a special edition built for speed. This is the car I still drive today!
The auto industry has brought richness and satisfaction to my life beyond what I’d ever imagined growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. The people who choose to devote their life’s work to producing the cars and trucks that drivers want to drive—from the workers on the factory floor to the engineers to the executives to the dealership personnel—have played an important role in shaping our culture, and I’m confident they will continue to do so.
Dave Power is the founder of J.D. Power and Associates. The new book about his fifty years in the auto industry, Power: How J.D. Power III Became the Auto Industry's Adviser, Confessor, and Eyewitness to History, is available at all major booksellers. Website: www.davepowerbook.com.