Sometimes you spot a car out in the wild and wonder what motivates the owner to keep it on the road. It happens with me whenever I see a late '80s Oldsmobile Sierra Cutlass or a burned-out C3 Corvette in a grocery store parking lot. You have to admire people who choose to drive something different. Not a race car or exotic supercar, either—I mean regular cars, like Gabbi Simon's 1980 Dodge Aspen.
This slant-six Mopar has been in Gabbi's life for 15 years and she has been driving it for 10. I've been social media car-friends with Gabbi, who lives in Michigan, for a while now, so I had to reach out and ask what motivates someone to daily-drive a $500 Dodge Aspen for a decade.
The Aspen entered Gabbi's life in 2005 when her mother needed a "cheap car" for Gabbi's older sister, who had just graduated high school. The first time they saw this car, it had a smashed grille, a dented front fender and a $500 asking price. The front-end damage came after a run-in with a deer, but mechanically it was fine, so they brought it home.
Gabbi's first memories with the car were spent riding shotgun on the way to school. When her older sister decided to move out, she gave Gabbi the keys. She was now a teenager with their own set of wheels.
The Dodge was used as a semi-daily driver as Gabbi started buying newer used-cars. These supposedly more reliable cars always crapped out, and when they did, the Dodge Aspen was there as the fateful backup. It wasn't until 2015 that she decided to stop gambling on used cars and keep the Aspen as her only means of transportation. And more money started going into it.
The first thing was replacing the tired 225ci slant-six, after it started making unsettling noises, with another 225ci out of a 1973 Dodge Dart. The Aspen's odometer can't record six-figure mileages due to only having five numeric slots, which tells you how much faith Chrysler had in the longevity of these cars back then. Gabbi is unsure how the total miles this Aspen has but will testify to seeing the odometer roll-over twice in the last 10 years.
The replacement engine was fitted with an aluminum intake, a four-barrel carburetor, and stays cool with an aluminum radiator's help. The car has survived 39, soon to be 40, Michigan winters and been relentlessly reliable, even after it was crashed into by a drowsy driver in an SUV and spun-out into a concrete divider. The rear quarter panel was crumbled in the accident, so Gabbi spent hours hammering out the damage to reshape the unibody car back to normal. Plans for the car include a lift-kit to handle the Michigan backroads and give the Aspen some punk-rock attitude.
Gabbi's Instagram page is mostly dedicated to documenting her DIY progress on the Dodge Aspen. She learned how to fix cars through friends and family, with Gabbi's parents both being gear-heads. Her father is a master mechanic who worked at Ford, and her mother taught herself how to do paint and bodywork on her own 1979 Pontiac Firebird when she was younger. She was born into this, as many car-people often are.
People have stopped Gabbi on the street and offered to buy the Aspen, which she said surprises her. Some people ask more than once. Gabbi loves this Dodge because it never lets her down, and it's different from anything else on the street. She has a point, when's the last time you saw a Dodge Aspen on the road? Not sure I've ever seen one in person.
They say we don't choose who we fall in love with, and sometimes we don't choose what we drive, but cars have a funny way of nesting in our hearts. It gets to a point where the mere idea of getting rid of them would be considered blasphemy.