… 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.
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.
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).
What was your FAVORITE ride? LEAST favorite? Which vehicle did you drive the longest?