My daughter is on the cusp of getting behind the wheel for the first time. It occurred to me that another car would make all of our lives much easier with all the logistics we face on a daily basis. I kicked around the idea of letting my kids drive the Dodge Magnum sitting in the garage, but having a 16-year-old behind the wheel of a RWD Hemi might not be the best idea. Not to mention I have a son who is only a year away form driving as well. As much as I would have loved to have that power back when I was 16, I also remember how impulsive and downright stupid I was. Being a dad first and gear head second is hard at times. I am in the early stages of formulating plan B.
Being a responsible father, I have started to scour ads and the internet looking for something that was safe, large, cheap, and last but not least, somewhat cool. The last part might be the biggest obstacle. Let’s face it, I was happy to be able to even drive a car when I was that age, let alone look stylish doing so.
I began to reminisce about the cars I drove at their age and can’t believe my parents let me get behind the wheel of some of them. I was not fortunate enough to drive anything that would remotely be considered cool or even noteworthy when it came to performance. Oddly enough, that experience made me appreciate and gravitate toward larger American V-8s. There is nothing wrong with smaller foreign cars; they just were not for me. I am a large man who simply does not fit comfortably in the smaller makes.
I remember my first car, a 1980 Honda Civic with a four-speed manual. With a 6’-5 frame and friends of the same size, it must have been quite a sight watching us tool around town in that minuscule car. Picture clown car! I remember one time we fit five of us in it somehow. We could not make it up a hill, and I had to employ the parking brake (which luckily was working that day) to let three passengers out to make it up the incline. The car burned more oil than gas and would never win any points for speed or style. I did, however, learn to drive a stick in that car. It was far from a short-throw and took some doing to get it into third, but it got me through. Plus, as a bonus, if you were parked in, with the help of another larger friend, you could simply pick up and re-position the car and be on your merry way.
The second car I owned was a Datsun 210. I am not going to lie - I loved that car. It owned me nothing and introduced me to body work, albeit mostly pop-rivets, Bondo and elbow grease. I thought I was a master builder back in the day slathering Kitty Hair and Bondo on like there was no tomorrow. With a free gallon of one-stage Corvette Yellow paint given to me from my dad’s co-worker, I also learned how to hose down color on a car. Aside from the worn-out clutch, it never gave me any issues. Unfortunately, my parents sold it on me when I went away to college. I still begrudgingly bring that up to them from time to time.
Then there was the deathtrap ’81 Ford Escort I purchased with 90,000 hard earned miles on it. It was as rusty as it was cheap. Having no money and a questionable car turned me into a young MacGyver. I learned that a well-placed stab of a screwdriver into a cracked starter solenoid would do the trick getting you rolling on cold mornings. I often joked that I only rented parts from the salvage yard with that car. I eventually retired it to the yard that most of the replacement parts came from. At one time it had a hive of bees living in the door. I also utilized a well-positioned cooler behind the front bucket seat to keep it upright due to the rusted out mounting bolts. Not the best solution but effective. Ralph Nader would not have approved. Towards the end I ran straight 40-weight industrial crane oil in the crankcase to keep it alive. This was not a safe or glamorous car.
There was a Chevy Citation in the mix at one time as well, but it fell prey to a cracked block. None of these cars were stellar by any means, yet they were special nonetheless.
Were these my dream cars? Not by a long shot! But they were crucial parts of my youth and served as learning experiences. They fueled my love of cars and started a fire that still burns today. I would never have learned how to work on cars or gained the courage and confidence to do so. I learned how to be resourceful and take initiative. Come to think of it, I would love my kids to strengthen these traits as well. Maybe a clunker isn’t all that bad.
Would I have loved to have had trendy Monte Carlos or Camaros (I was in high school in the late ‘80s)? I would be a liar if I said no. The moral to the story is that first cars are special no matter what make, model or shape they were in.
Perhaps I should not be so concerned about the “cool” factor of the car I find for my kids. Sure, a Hemi would up the swagger quotient in the high school parking lot, but the time-honored “beater” might be the winner in the long run.