Subarus to Teslas to Trucks: Which one do you drive? What do they say about the future of Aspen? |

Subarus to Teslas to Trucks: Which one do you drive? What do they say about the future of Aspen?

by David Stillman Meyer for the Aspen Times Weekly

Aspenites love to show some cheek and there’s nothing like a personalized plate to stand out in traffic. Here are some favorites spotted around town.


More O2 ... more problems?

420 JAG

It’s hard to imagine any other plate with this particular Jaguar.


To use the most overused phrase of the year: There’s a lot to unpack here.


ZG is the original license identifier for Aspen. More than the pre-fix “925” or the zip code 81611, ZG remains the ultimate Aspen-insider status symbol. These folks went the extra highway mile.

ZG BANK - ZG and Bank: Kind of redundant, no?

ZG ZEKE - A bit African virus sounding, but cute.

ZG JAZZ - Always bet on jazz.

ZG ONE - Hey, there can only be one ZG ONE.

If cars speak something to their drivers, then a community of cars must say something of the community who drives them. Aspen hosts a unique assortment of vehicles — from the sublime to the sensible — a mix that doesn’t quite look like any other town in America.

In the early 1970s, when Police Chief Michael Chandler wanted to get rid of the Ford Torino patrol cars (“Rear-wheel-drive monsters,” he called them) he picked the then-totally-unheard-of Saab. Part of a masterful marketing strategy, the Swedish company offered Aspen a sweetheart deal, and not since crème fraiche and caviar have two things gone so well together, each positioning the other as entities that do things a little differently.

With the police force switching to hybrid Toyota Highlanders in 2008 and Audi reigning automotive supreme on the marketing front, what does the car-scape look like in 2019? If Saab represented a simple, sturdy, speedy, slightly exotic style, what do the trucks and Teslas of today represent?

This mini-catalog is by no means exhaustive, but it covers roughly 90% of the vehicles one sees cruising Main Street. (As a baseline attribute, all these cars do well on ice and snow, unless otherwise stated.)


“I may drive on the right, but my politics are on the left.”

Under the Hood

Born in Japan in the ’80s as a sporty upgrade to the station wagon, the car evolved over the years into the quintessential crossover. Coined by marketeers “the world’s first sport utility wagon” and peddled by Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, the Outback (and Legacy) are workhorses.

“You can drive the bleep out of them for 300,000 miles, no problem,” says one loyal owner.

What Makes It “Aspen”

They also speak to a mountain-style practicality. They also can signal a certain alignment with progressive politics, which comes in particularly handy when great-granddaddy’s oil fortune weighs on the conscious.


“Hey now, that’s a nice truck.”

Under the Hood

There are a lot of interesting contradictions in the history of the American pickup truck. The “Chicken Tax” (in a nutshell: tariff wars) gives a certain understanding as to how the Ford F Series has been the most popular car sold on Planet Earth since 1982. Ford or Chevy, Dodge or Toyota, beat up or brand new, a nice pickup is a beautiful thing.

What Makes it “Aspen”

Aspen has a lot of driveways that need plowing, snow-melts mended, yards mowed, leaves blown, houses renovated, etc. That said, in spite of the pickup’s blue-collar bona fides, it also makes up the largest sector of the American luxury market — go figure.

The Land & Range Rovers

“Just because I’m rich, doesn’t mean I’m a b—h.”

Under the Hood

The Rover Company was founded after World War II, developing their off-road wagon for muddy English country roads and safari game drives. In 1970, they introduced the posher Range Rover and it has been a staple at the polo field ever since. Year after year, JD Power and Associates ranks them last in customer satisfaction, yet somehow their tempestuousness never affects sales.

What Makes It “Aspen”

They are expensive, impractical and driven by royal families the world over. To the Red Mountain set, what could be more Aspen?

SUVs Other Than Range Rovers

The Premier Ski Pass

Under the Hood

From the mighty suburban to the compact RAV4, from the Jeep to the G-Wagon, the sport utility vehicle is one of the great gifts from the late-20th century. Why? Because it gave parents the dignity of not having to drive a minivan.

What makes It “Aspen”

SUVs (including crossovers) make infinite sense at 8,000 feet. They just do — skis, bikes, golf clubs, hockey equipment, no problem! The SUV is like a Premier ski pass. Do you neeeeed one? No. But are they really nice to have? Oh yeah.

Vintage Darlings & Sports Cars

L.T.D. (a.k.a. “Living the Dream”)

Under the Hood

When the clock strikes midnight on the 1st of June, out they come from under their white cloths and climate-controlled garages to sparkle and roar and strut. Be they the dream cars of youth, or simply well-maintained and loved, the expensive sports car and the beautifully maintained vintage automobile demand your attention. And while easy to jeer (insert “must-be-compensating” joke here), one has to admit they are drivable masterpieces.

What Makes It “Aspen”

Aspen has cinematic mountain roads and a lovely summer climate, perfect for top-down drives to nowhere in particular. Or as local broker and vintage car-lover Lex Tarumianz observes: “It’s part of the Aspen way to milk every last ounce out of life, so why not drive something that ups the experience?”

The Junkers

The Ski Bum’s Bentley

Under the Hood

Don’t worry about it.

What Makes It “Aspen”

Part economic necessity, part lifestyle choice, there are some cars puttering around town that wear their rust spots like badges of honor. They represent the never-give-up, never-let-go spirit that goes back to the mining days.

The Teslas

The Second Family and a New Hope

Under the Hood

Tesla set out to replace the gas engine in 2003, and while they still have a long way to go, the progress thus far is the biggest thing in cars since the Model T. A former country club valet puts it like this: “I have parked every nice car you can think of — BMW, Maserati, Ferrari, you name it — and nothing, and I mean nothing, ever has or ever will come close to the feeling of tapping that accelerator.”

What Makes It “Aspen”

Cynics might say they are just self-driving status symbols, but if you take a step closer, they truly feel like a bridge to a better future, a reminder that technology and ingenuity can still accomplish great things.

David Stillman Meyer is a writer and art director. You can reach him at

Aspen Times Weekly

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