My First Vehicles

                           … were nothing to write home about
                                                          By Jeff Salter

             The vehicles I first DROVE were not the first I OWNED, but somehow it’s difficult to discuss the latter without mentioning the former.
            I learned to drive in a 1962 VW Bus.  And, except for whatever sedan the Drivers’ Ed. teacher had (and other minor encounters), that’s all I drove besides the family 1964 VW Bug.  Then my folks acquired a 1957 Rambler, which we called ‘Rambler Joe’ … for no particular reason.

Vehicle # 1
            Ah, but the first vehicle I BOUGHT – with my own hard-earned money – was a 1947 Plymouth Special Deluxe coupe with a flat-head 6-cylinder engine.  Bought it from a junk yard for $15 and towed it home.  I bought four wheels and some used tires somewhere.  Spent a few months working on it, with help from friends and my parents. 

This isn't mine. Mine was all black (painted with a brush!) & had 16-inch blackwalls.

Replaced valves, inserts, rings, plugs, points, etc., and got a used 6-volt battery.  Re-built the carb, replaced starter and generator.  Added an exhaust system.
            I should mention that I didn’t know how to do ANY of that stuff; I learned as I went along.  Thanks to the patience and kindness of an auto repair shop owner, I was able to observe and ask questions.  After time, I actually got that sucker RUNNING!  But it was never terribly reliable transportation.  Quirky … sometimes didn’t want to start.  My mom drove it for a few years and it suited her just fine.
            Most unusual feature:  the lug nuts on the PASSENGER side threaded backwards — yep, counter-clockwise.  A feature of Chrysler products of that era … on the belief that they’d hold more firmly against a wheel which turned (forward) in a clock-wise direction.  Since the wheels on the DRIVER’s side turned counter-clockwise, the lug nuts threaded in the customary direction.

Vehicle # 2
            But I needed something more reliable for work and college, so I bought – from a neighbor – a 1960 Ford Fairlane 4-door sedan with an overhead 6-cylinder engine and automatic transmission … for $40 and a used 3-speed bicycle.  It was already running (roughly) but needed new points.  I also had to beat-out the crushed trunk lid [I did this from inside the trunk, with the lid locked].
            Most unusual features:  The windshield wipers were powered by a vacuum pump system which tapped a hose on the engine.  Consequently, when you sped-up, the wipers slowed down!  To get the wipers to move rapidly in the rain, you had to slow the vehicle speed.  [I was very glad when our vehicles advanced to a wiper system run by electric motor.]  Oh, also:  there was a large hole in the floor of the back seat … which I ‘fixed’ by covering it with a piece of plywood.

Vehicle # 3
            After borrowing my parents’ NEWER Rambler (1962, I think) for a few months after I married, we had to acquire our own ‘newly-wed’ car.  We found a 1956 Plymouth Savoy (4-door sedan) with an 8-cylinder engine.  That was the year before the rear fins exploded.  This car cost $135 and we immediately spent $40 on four ‘re-cap’ tires.
            It was in pretty good condition – both body and interior – but rather a homely car.
            Most unusual feature:  It had an automatic transmission, but used PUSH BUTTONS instead of a shift lever.

Vehicle # 4
            We kept the Savoy long enough to move to New Mexico (my first Air Force duty station) and until our baby boy was a few months old.  Then we traded-in the Savoy toward a 1969 VW Bug — and our first car note.  It cost $1200, I believe.  We borrowed $400 from parents, cashed-in some savings bonds my grandmother left me … and got a credit union loan for the remaining balance of several hundred.  I can’t remember the monthly note, but I’m pretty sure it was under $50.  That was a lot of money when we were netting about $240 per month!
            I really liked this little bug and it ran well.  Despite the small air-cooled engine, it had enough power to pull a 4X6 U-Haul trailer from NM to LA.
            Most unusual feature:  our first vehicle with a RADIO!

Vehicle # 5
            We kept the ’69 bug for about two years — through my overseas tour and a move to California.  There, we traded the bug toward a 1972 VW Bus.  The list price was $3800, which had gone up from about $2400 a year or two earlier.  Most of that price ended up on a new CU loan, for which the monthly payment was under $120, I think.  We drove that bus for about 9.5 years and over 100k miles.
            Most unusual feature:  our first NEW vehicle.  It also had all the special gizmos required by CA for emissions control.  That caused me all kinds of fits over the life of the bus, since we only remained in CA for a few months after buying it.

Other vehicles:
            Along the way, we’ve had numerous other vehicles, too many to discuss here.  But just to please myself (and check my memory), here’s a list:  1957 Nash Metropolitan convertible, 1967 VW Bug, 1972 Chevy Impala sedan, 1977 Chevy Impala sedan, 1980 Ford Thunderbird coupe, 1989 Dodge Dynasty sedan (‘program’ car), 1992 Mazda Protegé sedan (new), 1993 Mazda B2300 pick-up (new) with manual transmission, 1998 Saturn SL sedan (demo), 2005 Toyota Highlander SUV (new), 2005 Toyota Tacoma pick-up (demo).
            Of all these vehicles, the ’47 Plymouth Special Deluxe holds a special place in my heart — it was a ‘rescue’ car.  But I think the ’92 Mazda Protegé was my favorite to drive (and park).  My least favorite was the ’80 Ford T-Bird, which cost a fortune in repairs.  The one we drove the longest was the ’93 Mazda P/U — over 11 years.  The one I put the most personal labor into was probably the ’57 Metropolitan (which I could write an entire blog about).

 Questions:
            What was your FAVORITE ride?  LEAST favorite?  Which vehicle did you drive the longest?

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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41 Responses to My First Vehicles

  1. Tonya Kappes says:

    My first car was a 65 yellow mustang. HATED IT!!! It was beautiful, but it was a boy car! It had to be worked on all the time so I stopped driving it. After I sold it, I got another reliable car. The longest car. . . .my MINI! um….mini-van. . .

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Wow, a ’65 Mustang! I used to drool over that car. Not yellow, of course. But, hey, a good paint job could’ve fixed the canary problem.
      With all your boys and sports events, the mini-van was a necessity, I’m sure.

      Like

  2. jbrayweber says:

    My first car was the family’s ’71 Plymouth Fury III. That tank took a loooong time to slow and stop, and in the rain, it pretty much had no brakes at all. I believe I drove it all of 3 months.
    My REAL first car, and my favorite to date, was a Midnight Blue 1969 Cutlass Convertible 350 block – a perfect muscle car for a teen in the 80’s.
    Other cars were a ’88 Mitsubishi Cordia, ’91 Toyota Celica, and a ’01 Dodge Dakota.
    Interesting note: Despite the fact that many people tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift, I could not. That changed when I saw the Celica. Bought it off the lot, though I could not drive it. But I learned quickly. I suppose once a hot rod, always a hot rod. LOL!

    Jenn!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      The ’69 Cutlass was another classic that I longed for, Jenn. And the GM 350 cu in. engine was a workhorse … though not exactly thrifty to run. More power than anybody ever needed ouside of NASCAR.
      That Dodge Dakota is a full-size P/U — yes? Can’t picture a pirate lady in a P/U somehow.

      Like

      • jbrayweber says:

        Yup, it’s a four door. We needed something to haul the baby around in. The Celica was way too small and the A/C hardly ever worked those last few years. We couldn’t afford the Durango, so we settled on the truck. Besides, I live in Texas, doll! 🙂

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        I keep forgetting you’re a Texan.
        I know somebody who lives in the Woodlands, BTW, though she’s not a writer.

        Like

  3. Chris Bailey says:

    A ’68 Mustang, power nothing, no air. I didn’t know much about maintenance. Finally, I reported to my dad that I had to use both feet and kinda attempt to stand to stop it. He put on new brake pads. Or shoes. Or whatever brakes get. Anyway, my dad was the family car mechanic, so as soon as I realized that I should tell him any time things weren’t perfect, it operated like a brand new car. My recurring nightmare? Using both feet and my body weight to stop the car.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Chris, the ’68 Mustang was still in that first body style, as I recall … and also the object of my great interest. Didn’t Steve McQueen drive that car in Bullit?
      If you had regular hydraulic brakes, then you probably had two brake ‘shoes’ on each wheel … which worked with a cylinder that pushed them against the inside of the cast-iron wheel ‘rotor-hub’ (I can’t remember what that thing is called, but it’s where the lug-nut studs were embedded).
      But, by ’68, some Am. cars had disc brakes, which used ‘pads’ that would clamp onto a wheel rotor of a diff. design (looked a lot like a shiny platter).

      Like

  4. jeff7salter says:

    Another vehicle which figured prominently in my family was a 1938 Plymouth 4-door bought NEW by my grandfather and driven by my grandmother from 1950 until the early 70s when she could no longer safely drive. That old crate had running boards and the rear doors which opened backwards. My mom later had it worked on and my wife and I got to drive it a little. But it was definitely a car to keep INSIDE the city limits.

    Like

  5. jeff7salter says:

    The kindly auto repair shop owner who offered advice and explained procedures — and even allowed me to hang around his shop (as long as I didn’t get in the way) — was Gene Martin. I can’t remember where his shop moved to, but for a while it was on the north side of Covington … maybe the far end of Jefferson Av. The summer I worked on the ’47 Plymouth, Gene had a professor from SLU working in his shop. That prof. was instrumental in locating the vehicle and facilitating my purchase; he was the one who had junked it! He’d said (and believed), “all it needs is a head gasket.” Well, it certainly needed that, and I did that myself, but (as listed above) that was merely one of MANY things it needed.

    Like

  6. Carol Myers says:

    Well, I don’t know if I can list all. . .the first was a VW Bug, then a VW Thing. There were several after (Datsun B210, and a custom Dodge Van (with the queen bed, ice box, table inside and painted side panels outside – the works). The one I drove the longest – Ford Aerostar Van – 20 years!!! I’m now driving a 2007 Prius – bought new with 11 miles on it. I’ve driven it hard (almost 90,000 miles). Quite a few long distance trips (very comfortable). I’m getting 40 – 59 mpg and I LOVE IT! If I can’t drive this one 20 years, I’ll just have to buy another one! Love, love!!!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Carol, I used to want a VW THING … mainly because it so much resembled the German “Jeeps” (utility vehicles) of WW2 (and I’m an amateur military historian).
      Sounds like you definitely got your money’s worth out of the Aerostar. For the time you drove that one vehicle, many people would’ve purchased 4-6 cars … and stayed in debt the entire time. Congratulations on thrift and common sense.
      I’ve not been impressed by the Prius, but if it gets that kind of mileage, it warrants another look. Is it expensive to have maintenance done?

      Like

      • Carol Myers says:

        The THING was a dude magnet! 😉

        There has been no extra maintenance on the Prius that wasn’t under warrenty (just standard oil changes, tires, etc.). A faulty headlight and a leak in water pump both fixed at no expense to me. I’ve trusted it back and forth from Maryland to Houston several times and will probably do several more trips like that in it. Can’t say enough good things! Like I say, looking forward to 20 yrs! I’ve also been amazed at the amount of room in the back with seats folded down! In the future, I might be interested in the larger model (15 years from now!). It is yet to be seen how I will like it AFTER warrenty!

        Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Carol, do you remember that ’47 Plymouth?

      Like

  7. Laurie Ryan says:

    I’ve only owned 4 cars in my life, spanning a Chevy Vega in the 70’s to my favorite little midlife crisis car, my current Olds Alero. It’s a zippy little car. 🙂 I tend to drive cars for years and years. My favorite? My husband’s 1967 Chevrolet truck, which still sits in a lean-too about back of our shed. It’s a workhorse. I don’t drive it much. It’s geared so low, you start off in second. But I LOVE to ride in it. It’s from a bygone era, you know? When engines…and life…were simpler. 🙂
    Fun topic, Jeff.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I remember the Vega. It was along the lines of the Ford Maverick, I believe: small, inexpensive, and good mileage. Never got very good ratings from Consumers Union, but they’re pretty picky.
      I had many occasions to drive a full-size P/U such as the Chev you mentioned. And, like yours, this one saved 1st gear for heavy loads only. [It must’ve been a 3/4 ton or 1-ton version.] Whenever you started off, you were in second gear.

      Like

  8. Jeffrey Williams says:

    Cars are good memories for those of us in school in the 60’s. My first vehicle was a 64 Oldsmobile given to me for payment due on labor. I immediately put on four recap tires and drove off to Morehead Ky. The alternator began to “sing” and those who borrowed my car gave it back rather quickly after driving it through town getting evil looks from those having to experience the whining of the alternator. This was the car that taught me about the importance of having insurance. I loaned it to a friend and unfamiliar with the weak brakes, backed into a fairly new Camaro. Not even a scratch on the Olds, but $300 damage to the Camaro. My second vehicle was also payment for labor owed, my boss giving his daughter’s 67 Mustang to me while she was away at college. Lots of mustangs in this blog. Being a Kentucky car, where roads are salted in winter provided this mustang with “wings” (flapping front fenders, unattached by rust), and missing floor panels. It was a 6 cylinder 3 speed and I swear I could drive it for 6 months on a tank of gas. Had an 8 track, too! Traded it for a nice 74 Chevy pickup with mag wheels, fog lights, and CB radio. Drove it twelve years while it slowly turned into a rust bucket like so many Kentucky cars. Have had three other pickups, drove them all about twelve years and like dogs, “I love trucks!”

    Like

  9. Lavada Dee says:

    Wow, Jeff you have a great memory. I can’t remember what my first car was but I remember it was a standard transmission and I hadn’t driven one. My dad took me out for a test run and we stopped to cross the Freeway (all two lanes of it) and I leap frogged across. Poor dad, he was gripping the seat.

    We’ve had a bunch of cars and graduated early to new ones because while Jack does a lot of things really well, mechanics aren’t one of them. My favorite, the Saturns and specifically the last one a SUV. I’d still be driving them but with depending on good service and no one making them anymore we switched to a LEXUS SUV hibred two years ago and are throughly spoiled by the service and car.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      The Saturn we had was okay — moon roof and many other amenities — but I never became fond of it. We drove it for sev. yrs. and then sold it to my son, who drove it for a while.
      Lexus vehicles seem to be very well made … and most look quite nice too.
      Have you ever had any problems with the ‘hybrid’ features functioning properly?
      Thanks for visiting again, Lavada.

      Like

  10. Susan Muller says:

    We once had an old VW bug with bad brakes. My husband was sure he could fix it. I sat in the car for hours on end nursing the baby. He would yell “Pump the break,” and I would pump until he yelled, “Okay, stop.” Every night for weeks I sat in that car, but he did get it fixed.

    That baby is now forty-one and in her second year of traveling the Americas with her husband and six-year-old son in a 1972 VW bus with a pop top. I think it’s called a Westy. They have been visiting me for two weeks and I just came in from driving them to the airport for their return to Chile. It will take them two days, three planes, a taxi, a ferry, and a bus.

    If you love VW’s or breathtaking travel photos, check out their web site http://www.bodeswell.com. The last few entries were just catch-up while they were here, but look back a ways and see that bus on the Road of Death in Bolovia, or camping by a volcanic lake in Chile. Those old busses never die. With their high clearence, they can go anywhere.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting again, Susan.
      From years of driving my parents’ ’62 VW bus and over 9 yrs driving our own ’72 VW bus, I can speak with authority on them. Great for carrying a lot of stuff or a lot of people … & thrifty to operate. But very slow to get up-to-speed. And terrible for passing on the interstates and very scary to operate in crosswinds. In fact, whenever a tractor/trailer would pass us, it usually knocked us sideways … you had to keep a death grip on the steering wheel and constantly correct for such forces.
      Neither of ours had A/C, so driving in hot Louisiana summers was awful. The heaters on those things was air from the hot engine which was pushed (or drawn) to the front footwell. It was difficult to ‘control’ climate in the Bus.

      Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Bleeding the hydraulic brake lines was a horrible two-person job. It may be tedious for the person in the driver’s seat, but it’s misery for the one under the car. Even the tiniest bit of air had to be bled out … or the hydraulics were compromised. And after bleeding all the lines and wheel cylinders, beginning with the fartherest from the master cylinder, you’d sometimes find out that you had to mess with the master cyl. too. Then you had to bleed everything all over again.
      What I learned: unless the veh. is relatively new and you’re certain the entire problem is in one particular wheel, It would have been more cost-effective (in time/hassle) to replace the master cyl. and all four wheel cylinders at the same time … then bleed out the air.

      Like

      • I have never actually owned my own car! I know… I am not a driver which works out since I live in Manhattan where the public transportation system is pretty amazing. But I do remember driving my mother’s red Ford Fairmont to school and having it stall on me at every stop light while the cars behind me beeped their horns and made me feel worse than I already did.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        Well, Meredith, after that experience with the Fairmont, I can understand having no particular desire to rush into a vehicular relationship. Ha.

        Like

  11. Oh my gosh, what a stable of cars! LOL. My husband (who can fix anything) and I plan to get each of our kids a “fixer upper” of their choice as they near driving age. They’ll have to put it together to whatever extent necessary and he’ll finish it off with a coat of paint. This accomplishes two things: one, they’ll learn a lot (car knowledge pays off BIG) and two, we hope they’ll be less likely to tear the car/truck up after they’ve put so many hours into it themselves. I have, of course, met my husband so I know this won’t always be the case. ;c)

    I, on the other hand, have been spoiled rotten. I got my first car (a ’94 Ford Ranger pickup) when I was 16. It was a brand new truck with only 51 miles on it, most of which were acquired between the dealership and my house. Six years later my husband and I were expecting our second child, and for Mother’s Day he bought me a 3 year old car (’97 Ford Taurus). Then in 2002 we bought a brand new Chrysler minivan, and two months later we bought another identical brand new van because someone ran a stop sign and totaled the first one. I’m still driving that second van, although my favorite of ours to drive is a 2002 Chevy HD2500 four door pickup. (We have seven vehicles licensed, registered, and insured and that’s not counting any for the kids yet. GAH!)

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Sarah, I LOVE the plan of nudging your kids toward knowledge of vehicles.
      I’m quite serious when I say that getting that ’47 Plymouth from “towed-from-the-junk-yard” to “driving-under-its-own power” was a huge accomplishment and filled me with confidence.
      Yeah, I made lots of mistakes … but I also had to fix those mistakes. I learned a LOT.
      My parents not only helped me work on the car, but encouraged me… and bought me a $100 set of tools.
      I worked on my own vehicles for sev. years … until everything got so computerized.

      Like

  12. Louisa Bacio says:

    Oh, Jeff. Don’t make people hate me 😉 I’m a spoiled, only child and my parents bought my first car new. It was a NIssan Pulsar, with a T-top, silver. Oh, so, cute for a 16-year-old in SoCal. I’m teased that I’m a 3-5-year car gal. I have very little patience for cars that don’t work, especially with potentially hours in driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and with kids.

    Least-favorite car is a toss-up — BMW 323. I think that was a model. Gorgeous car. Too bad that in 2001, they couldn’t figure out how to make electronic windows. Mine broke multiple times — 3 on one window, two on another two and then one was fine. Loved my green Jetta, but it had a possessed sunroof that would open and shut on its own, and the dealer kept saying they couldn’t “recreate” the issue.

    Favorite car is my current — Acura RDX, but it’s going on three years now … 😉

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      LOL, Louisa. You’re definitely making ME envious! BMW and Acura … wow.
      The Jetta was a VW … right?
      That silver Pulsar T-Top must’ve gotten a LOT of attention on campus.

      Like

  13. Micki Gibson says:

    My favorite car? Well, if I’m being totally honest, my red Trans Am with the leaky T-tops wins in the looks department even if it could have used a good paint job. But substance? It may sound lame, but it’s my current wheels, the 2008 Honda Odyssey touring model. It replaced our 1999 Odyssey. I guess that says something when we replace one vehicle with the newer model. I knew we made the right choice when we went on a road trip to Arizona from Texas less than a month after buying the new van. Three kids and there was peace and quiet due to that mack daddy DVD player. My husband fell in love with the navigation system. Me? 6 CD changer and satellite radio rocks my world!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Micki, you should be on a Honda commercial: driving one Odyssey for 9 yrs and then buying a new Odyssey. That says a LOT.
      However, the Trans Am with the T-top can’t be beat!

      Like

  14. Ok…I’m a girly girl. Cars are to get me from one spot to another. If they’ve got 4 wheels and go vroom vroom, I’m good. In fact, I didn’t even learn how to drive until I was 21. When we lived overseas, we all took taxis or had drivers. College was in New Orleans and had a boyfriend and the trolley cars. My husband, on the other hand, can talk cars all day long!!!

    Like

  15. jeff7salter says:

    That’s right, Stacey, N.O. had a pretty good transit system with the buses and trolleys.
    And parking one’s personal automobile was a nightmare in N.O.
    When I was a kid, my folks wouldn’t use the parking buildings because they cost prob. 50 cents more than those open lots with the metal elevators … so they could (theoretically) stack two cars in one spot. Of course, they had to move six care to get one out, but WHATEVER.

    Like

  16. You had some awesome rides, my man- My spouse had a Ford Fairlane when I started dating him. The back end was jacked up almost as tall as me and I nicknamed (yes, I do that) it THE TANK. He then traded it with his brother for a small Corolla to use to travel when he moved to Chicago for a job. That car was nicknamed HUNKA for Hunk of Junk. Men and their toys! LOL!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      My Fairlane ran pretty well, but it definitely was a TANK.
      I didn’t have to do too much work on it, besides routine maintenance … and a new gasket for the oil pan. There was prob. other things I’ve forgotten, but it served its purpose.
      The hole in the floor of the back seat came in handy one night when a passenger got sick and had to throw up. We didn’t even slow down. I guess the car behind us got some surprises, though.

      Like

  17. Very good information. Saved to boomarks!

    Like

  18. Pingback: Oh Car, Wherefore Art Thou? | Four Foxes, One Hound

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