Friday, May 11, 2007

Baby Blue Blues

Yesterday, Joel Achenbach blogged about the terrors of having a teen driver, which is a very blogworthy topic I will get to someday, but like anything in the Boodle, it veered slightly of-topic into tales of learning to drive and first cars. The first car I drove regularly was a pumpkin orange VW Super Beatle I discuss briefly here and here, but the first car I owned in my own name was a 1979 Toy-auto Corolla.

I had gotten a co-op job in Atlanta but needed some transportation to get back and forth to work since freshman. My dad in sincere generosity (that’s you, flyboy) found me a car and told me to come and get it. I took a sixteen hour bus ride to Tampa and drove it back to Atlanta, the first of many times that car would make that trip.

It was a two-door with a 1200cc engine, black vinyl seats and no air-conditioning. The black-seat/no-AC combo always made a trip to Florida a test in logistics. I either traded fatigue for daylight and drove the eight hours at night or built in extra time to stop at every Dairy Queen on I-75. Several times I investigated adding AC but I think you had to have at least 1.6 liters under the hood to have enough spare horsepower to drive the compressor.

That car went all over the place. I took it to Cherry Hill, New Jersey one year just to mooch some Thanksgiving turkey. It wore ruts in I-85 going back and forth between Atlanta and my wife’s college in western North Carolina. It was on these trips that I learned all the words to every track on Hotel California. One time I ferried four other people at my wife’s college up to an away football in eastern Tennessee. Going up hills on I-40, the speedometer would sag until it bottomed out at about 45 miles per hour. The eighteen wheelers would downshift to pass and honk at me.

After about a year of owning it, I noticed another Corolla in the parking lot whose roof had faded through to the primer was beginning to rust. I got proactive and took the car to Earl Scheib for the any-car any-color special. The dirty secret at Earl’s being that ninety-nine dollars didn’t include colors found on cars in the wild. I picked baby blue, which made my car very easy to find in parking lots.

With the engine being so small and simple, I did most of my own minor repairs. I dutifully changed the oil, distributor cap, and spark plugs as needed. Once right before leaving work for the swingshift run to Tampa, it threw a fan belt. Amazingly, I happened to have a spare in the trunk. I changed it in the parking lot and didn’t even lose any time. For bigger jobs like the water pump, alternator and brake master cylinder, I found a shade tree mechanic that worked for cash. The car was nearly bulletproof.

After three years and 100,000 miles on top of the 50,000 it came with, my beloved car came to an ignoble end. On a rainy morning I was cruising in rush hour traffic to get to class and I hit a huge puddle on I-85. The car bounced off the median jersey wall and spun 540 degrees at it slid across four lanes of traffic and landed facing backwards on the shoulder. The only person I nearly hit was an eight-month pregnant lady on her way to the doctor. She gave me a ride to a pay phone and I had the car towed to a dealer.

They wanted nearly a thousand dollars to replace the bent axle. I made the sad decision to take the car behind the barn. A junk dealer gave me two hundred dollars in cash and a ride back to campus. He claimed he was going to have to break it for parts since there was no market for the nearly indestructible Toyota engines. Three months later, at a traffic light on Buford Highway, I saw a baby blue Corolla with a distinctive rust patch by the trunk key hole. I had been lied to by the junk dealer, but I was glad to see my car back on the road.

Cars hold a special place in a guy’s heart, somewhere between faithful pets and old girlfriends. They may have faults, but they always bring back fond memories. Mine are colored baby blue.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What was your first car and what happened to it?


Anonymous said...


My first car, a well-weathered 11-year old (at the time) 1967 Chevy Malibu coupe w/ 283 V8 and a 2-speed Powerglide trans. I bought for the princely sum of $200, saved from delivering newspapers and other odd jobs. I was only 15 at the time, so I spent a lot of time fixing it up before I could take it out on the street (didn't stop me from sneaking out with it on a few late nights, though. Put it into neutral and roll it down the street before firing the engine, this being in the days before transmission and steering locks).

Used to do some street racing with it, beat up on the anemic new cars of the day (that being the late 1970s), new Corvettes being a particular favorite target. Did all my own work, because I enjoyed it and didn't have much cash anyway.

When I was 16, traded it and some cash for a rough '67 Chevelle Super Sport, w/big-block 396 ci V8, disc brakes (hey, not that many cars had them back then) and a Muncie 4 speed manual trans. Spent some time and money on that SS, and lord, it's amazing I didn't die in it. Won a few bucks street racing with it though, as long as we agreed to leave on the roll; had an odd-ratio rear in it that wouldn't do a standing start launch very well, but would allow the car to pull hard up to an indicated 150 mph (in reality, who knows how accurate that was? I don't). All the guys with automatic 3 speeds and 4.10 or 4.11 rears would run out of steam at 120 mph or so.

I'm lucky to have lived through that.


Anonymous said...

Great story! Funny about seeing your car on the road after that. I traded in my beloved Civic "Phil" (yes, named by a girlfriend after Phil Collins) when it got really bad and a few days later saw an old guy driving it away from the dealer. It was actually kind of cool.

Error Flynn

Impetua said...

I didn't get my first car until I was 27, so this was 1995, and it was a 1966 Chevy BelAir. Four doors, a 5-dead-body trunk, enameled dashboard a mile wide, old-car smell... it was magnificent. I drove it home with the biggest, stupidest grin on my face.

It was originally white but had been painted a deep sapphire blue at some point in its checkered past. The exterior had oxidized to a very satisfyingly even matte finish but the dash was still glossy and perfect. It could carry six people in total comfort. I transported an enormous Christmas tree in the trunk more than once, and my formica-and-chrome dinette set could fit in the trunk, three chairs and all, if I took the legs off the table.

I was very broke and it was a very old car so many times friends helped me repair or replace the various parts that fell off or broke: starter, radiator, transmission, engine...

I eventually sold it to an acquaintance who told me he intended to move to Texas in it with his girlfriend. I have no idea if he did because he was not a close friend, but I get the occasional mental image of my old car tearing down some old highway in Texas with all the windows down.

Anonymous said...

The first car I ever owned (though far from the first I drove) was a mid-Eighties vintage silver Toyota Tercel hatchback with a red interior that I inherited from my grandmother. I was perpetually broke in those days and never gave that car any kind of care. New tire when one blew out, a new muffler when I had to get one, the rare oil change when I had a little cash. That was it.

But that baby took me everywhere in SoCal (nobody walks in LA), through rush hour jams and shots down the coast to San Diego, and a number of straight through drives from Pasadena to the central Willammette valley in Oregon any number of times.

It finally gave up the ghost after almost 11 years of neglect and hard use. I was sitting at a drive-up ATM cashing my paycheck, when a cloud of steam came pouring out from under the hood. I was able to limp home with the heater going full blast. Towed it to the mechanic, but one of the heads had warped. $1,000 to fix, so I sold it to the mechanic for $150 and bought what turned out to be a POS Olds (I think, it might have been a Pontiac) that was built in South Korea and apparently the model had a terrible reputation. When I moved to Germany after a year and a half or so, I literally couldn't sell it to anyone, not even for parts. I wound up signing it over to an acquaintance for nothing.

But the way that Toyota put up with anything is one of the reasons I prefer them to this day.

Thumper said...

My first was a '67 Mustang, handed down from my grandfather. I drove it for a little over a year; my sister's car broke down and could not be repaired, so it was "suggested" that I let her use mine until she could afford another car of her own.

After she trashed it--there were maggots breeding under the back seat--she sold it for $700. the hubcaps were worth more than that. I'm still ticked about that...

2fs said...

1973 Chevy Impala, some sort of green color that had been very faded indeed. (This was around 1979, I think.) Rear bumper nearly falling off; it had been in an accident, which is why it cost only $300 or so.) It came with a sticker above that rear bumper made of that sparkly reflective rainbow stuff that, in a very '70s font, informed all and sundry that this vehicle was a "CHEVY" (in case folks weren't already aware. Side note: that sort of thing mystifies me, in that anyone who cares would know already, and anyone who wouldn't know what kind of car it is would be unlikely to care...). It proved unremovable by mortal hands, so I covered it up with a series of hardware-store purchased stick-on letters (the slanty kind) spelling out MILLENNIUM FALCON.

Kept it for a couple of years; sold it when I transferred to UW Madison, knowing parking it there would be sheer hell. I believe it was sold to someone who, a month or two later, caused a cop to show up at our door, inquiring as to my whereabouts at a particular day and hour. It had been involved in a minor hit and run; apparently the buyer hadn't bothered to register it.

Anonymous said...

The first car I owned, I got from my grandmother. It was a 1973 Chrysler Newport. The thing was HUGE. It was like trying to steer a Borg cube. The car had little lights on the corners of the front fenders that would flash in time with the turn signals, and there were definitely times when you needed them so you could tell, at night, where the car ended. It finally died at a major intersection on Long Island with (the mechanic later told me) all of its valves jammed in the open position. It cost fifty bucks to tow it to the shop that was on the corner, less than a hundred feet away.

But the car that has all the cool memories attached to it was the next one, a 1969 Dodge Dart. That's the one where I learned to repair cars; by the time I finally gave it to my brother about half of it was a '73.

Bonvallet said...

1972 (I think) red Chevy Nova. It wouldn't die for the longest time. Finally going up a steep mountain hill it started sputtering. We turned around, it got us home but didn't want to run after that. We sold it to punk kids, who got it fixed and kept it running for another number of years. They lived about five miles from us.

Got a kick out of my then boyfriend who saw the Nova pass by and said, "Now that's the good car to own." I said, "Yeah, that one used to be mine." He thought I was joking. Then he kept bringing it up telling me how I shouldn't have sold it. yeah, yeah, yeah.

Your Mother said...

Don't laugh: 1978 Ford Pinto. Lemon yellow. I was broke. Worked part time at 7/11 so I painted it with grey primer paint. Myself. It was a beaut!

I got it for my 18th birthday. I think my parents must have hated me or wanted me dead or something.

I drove it into the ground until I was 24 and bought a Bronco II. Drove that until I had my first daughter.

Ah. Memories.

HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

Oh, my first car, the "Weird Load". So named from the bumper sticker a friend gave me to christen it. A 1984 Chevy Celebrity. I bought it for a dollar from family friends and drove it into the ground. By the time I was forced to give it up, I had to keep two two-liter bottles of water and a bottle of antifreeze in my trunk at all times, just to keep filling the radiator. They sat next to the wrench I used to bang on the alternator to occassionally get it to start. I LOVED that car. I still miss that car.

Elizabeth said...

In 1988 I got my first car which was a 1974 AMC Hornet, orange with the original pointy hubcaps. I loved that car! Sold it 5 years later for $500 to move up to Alaska.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

My first was a '57 Chevy pickup that I bought from a farmer for $50 when I was still 15. It had 1 working brake and no working lights. I spent a summer bringing it back to life with my dad and had a real-life learning experience doing it. And when it was all done, I had something to drive to!

walt said...

Okay, VERY spooky. MY first car was a 1972 Pumpkin Orange Super VW. Stick, naturally. I never drove a stick until I showed up at the guy's house to look over the car to purchase. He suspected I had never driven a stick before, but that car and me were destined for each other. Ate points like most people wouldn't believe. I got to be an expert at changing the points in the thing. I could almost do it at a long stop light. I took it out to Geology Field Camp, but one of the heads cracked, and the poor thing wouldn't start without a lot of help. Luckily, the parking lot of the place we stayed in was on quite a slope, and starting it up meant coasting downhill and popping the clutch. Two cylinders would fire... then three, then four. It had a custom exhaust pipe, but it was cracked a bit, so after revving it up, on the deceleration, it would powpowpowPOW -POW!! with flames. Impressive at night.

But it finally died some years later, even after the engine overhaul, and I ended up getting...

a 1979 Silver Toyota Corolla Deluxe. Those of you who don't know, silver paint of that vintage went bad, and flaked off from the outside. And yes, that thing lasted for a couple of decades, and even through some very bad times for me. I kept it around, almost for a giant rusty good luck charm. (Overnights on the sand of Galveston beach will rust a car faster than will salt on Northern roads will) Both the driver and passenger in the front could put their feet on the road like Fred Flinstone, should the need arise. Yes, that kind of rust. I ended up selling that thing just last year. And yes, someone bought it just for the engine. The odometer broke sometime around 1991 at 05,000 miles. (105K - they didn't have the sixth digit on there)

yellojkt said...

As great as those cars were mechanically, that silver paint was truly awful.