The last thing you’d probably see me do is spend a blog post on the cars I’ve owned over the years but I’m very nostalgic as most of you probably already know. And since it has been a quarter century since I really came into my own as a solo driver I’ve decided to take some time out to tell you a little bit about two of the first automobiles that I’ve owned.
One of the most surreal experiences you ever have is the first time you go used-car shopping as a new driver. There are aisles and aisles of horsepower as far as the eye can see and having a say as to what car you’ll be showing off at school is one of the most important social decisions any new conqueror of the K-turn can have.
My very first car, a gray 1973 Toyota Corona wagon was purchased for $500 by Mom and Dad in 1986 from Nick’s Value Auto Sales. I didn’t even worry about what was under the hood. Four, six or eight cylinders it didn’t matter to me. For all I cared it could’ve had hamsters running in those wheel thingys for power (and if you must know, sometimes it really did seem to drive that way).
As most new drivers do, I drove my gray Corona everywhere. I was always looking for any excuse to drive it on some errand either up the street or across town. Considering gasoline was around 89 cents a gallon at the time it only made sense. Walking and bicycle riding went the same route as the dinosaur as far as I was concerned.
I still remember the first day I took it to school. With my neighbor riding shotgun we drove the back roads of Easton, Pennsylvania in the early morning hours. With windows rolled down and the radio blasting Ozzy we made our way into the upper parking lot of Easton High School. Once parked we gathered our grocery store paper bag covered text books and made our way towards the entrance. I made sure to give a salute to the poor unfortunates who had just arrived via the school bus. It was the least I could do to let them know I still cared a bit for their plight.
Sadly, my beloved Corona began to deteriorate over the course of the school year. In December the headlights just stopped working. In March, the right front fender was rusting off and peeling away. Fortunately, duct tape was the same color as my car and worked well to hold things together but rust would continue to become my Corona’s worst enemy. At one point the passenger side door would not open at all due to rust. In order to get in you had to pull a Dukes of Hazzard and climb through the window. Although annoying at times, looking back I guess it was also kind of cool.
Sadly it was time to say good-bye to my friend. I felt a bit betrayed for only getting $50 for it. I know cars depreciate but sheesh, 90% of its value lost in only a year? It just didn’t seem right.
Fortunately though my Aunt, who lived right next door to us had a very well maintained 1974 Ford Torino that she had recently sold to my brother. He had since moved on to Mach 1 Mustangs and pick-up trucks so now this car was going to be passed down to me. This would be the machine that would replace my beloved Toyota Corona.
What was even better was that my brother had promised to supe it up for me and put mag wheels on the rear tires. He even had this neat-looking feather clip hanging off of the rear view mirror. I thought that might come in handy if you needed to clip some single dollar bills on there or maybe a reminder note. Although I wasn’t exactly sure what that decoration was for it was pretty cool.
This car provided me quality transportation for many months. There were youthful excursions to get (ahem) beer, nights at the Starlite Drive-Inn watching movies and even long trips to the mall.
On one such occasion while driving home from the mall on the highway with a bunch of friends I heard a loud pop and the engine light came on. The car was slowing down rapidly as if I had just run over a huge piece of metal. It felt like the bottom of the car was falling off. I had just made it to the shoulder of the busy highway when the engine suddenly shut off and would not re-fire. All of the love I once had for this car immediately turned into rage.
A day later after it had been towed back to my house my brother freaked out on me. He couldn’t understand how his well maintained 14 year old car had now suddenly blown up without warning. He did some quick checking of things and then asked the one question that to this day I still don’t have an answer for:
“WHY DIDN’T YOU EVER CHECK THE OIL??”
Oil? Oil? The thought never occurred to me to check the oil level. This was 1988 and I was always under the impression that technology had improved on cars so at the very least a light would come on and alert me that the engine was almost out of oil, right? Nope. Not a drop of oil was found in the engine and it had seized. A piston had flown off and into the crankshaft. The car was dead.
The well-maintained Ford Torino would now sit in silence on the hill outside of our home for the longest time until I could afford the $300 to put a replacement engine into it. But even then it never ran quite the same and eventually had to go to junk car heaven.
Change oil: Lesson learned.