First CarMay 28, 2010 at 10:40 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
Tags: 1980s, cars, hometown, my childhood
I actually had three first cars, so it’s hard to remember which was the "first" first. My parents had lots of cars sitting around–none of them on blocks, oddly enough. My first three were the 70 GMC pickup, the 74 Ford Galaxy, and the 73 Ford Maverick.
But the first one that was mine-mine, my dad got for me. It was the Maverick. It was two-tone: sky blue on top, and rust below the trim line. Dad bought it from an old man down the road that was a friend of his, old man Heberer. He wanted to give it to Dad for free, but dad gave him a hundred dollars for it, out of friendship.
It was a three on the tree–a three speed manual with the shifter on the column, with a 250 straight-six engine. It had a vinyl interior, of course. It was a two-door with a bench seat, so the whole bench-back leaned forward to get in the backseat.
It was my first car that was mine, so I wanted to customize it, and fix it up. The dream of the car was much more shiny and sparkly than the reality of the car. I bought bucket seats from some dude I knew at school. They were dirty and a little torn, but they were in better shape than the bench was.
After that Dad found me a floor shifter kit. It was used, so it looked like someone handed me a piece of rusted metallic intestines. My friend’s dad put it in for me. Of course, it wasn’t made for that car, so it didn’t line up correctly. Instead, it did this:
A three speed shift pattern is an H. With the shift kit, it translated differently on the floor. It was…distorted. It was a tall, skinny H. Reverse has the shifter knob all the way up to the dash, grazing the left knob on the AM/FM in-dash stereo.
For first gear, simply drop the shifter straight back, and it traveled in a wide arc almost all the way to the floor, or the hump. It stopped near the driver’s side seat belt buckle. If it weren’t for the bucket seats, you couldn’t shift into first.
Now for second. Pull it straight up, and somewhere in the middle of the path–near your knee–push it an inch to your right, and continue to raise it. Second gear has the knob grazing the stereo knob on the right, the one for tuning in stations.
For third gear, just drop it straight down, where it stops near the passenger seat belt buckle. Shifting through the gears was much like operating a rowing machine, and anytime I happened to experience some traffic I got a real workout, similar to being on a rowing machine.
I had my first experience being stranded with a break down in that car. It was on a very hot day in July or August, back in 81 or 82. I got on the highway and drove to the mall, 20 miles away. On the way back, I was only a few minutes out when the car mysteriously died on me.
I say "Mysteriously" because I was 17 and didn’t know jack shit about cars. It had something to do with the engine, I know that. I pulled over, popped the hood, and looked at, wondering what the hell I was looking at and what the hell I was going to do.
Lordy, it was hot. It was really hot. This was 1982, so it was before Al Gore invented Global Warming, yet it was close to 100 degrees that day.
I stood there waiting and hoping for a car to give me a ride. I wasn’t ready to walk, not yet. After about twenty minutes, a car pull over.
I wish I could say that the person who pulled over was a hot chick and this was the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter, but it wasn’t. It was a guy, a middle aged guy.
Luckily, this wasn’t the start of some other kind of letter, either. The man was a project manager at Chrysler–from the Chrysler plant in the St Louis area, in Fenton. He was on his way to a family reunion in Kentucky, or something like that. And–what he was driving was the very First Chrysler Lazer off the assembly line.
Back in 82, this thing was modern. It was cool as hell, very sleek. He showed it off to me briefly before we got in. I wasn’t a prospective sale; he just wanted to brag about his baby. This was one of the first talking cars: the origination off the ol’ "The door is ajar" thing.
He gave me a ride to an exit of my choosing. In retrospect, I should have chosen a different exit. But since I was new to driving, I didn’t get the distortion of space-time between driving distance and walking distance. I was picked up near the 14 mile marker, heading west. I should have had him let me off at exit 41, which would have put me a few hundred yards from the truck stop that my brother worked.
Instead I did the very brilliant thing of having him drop me at the 27 marker, which is the New Baden exit.
It’s the New Baden exit, but New Baden isn’t right there at the exit. There, in a heatwave the likes of which we would not see again until Al Gore sets the planet on fire, I walked a good three or four miles. I walked the distance to town. I continued, and walked all the way through town. Then, once I was on the other side of town, I continued to walk towards the tracks, and near there was a house that belonged to a friend of my dad’s.
They took my pathetic ass in, and from there I was able to get some water, cool off, and finally get a ride. The guy towed my car–and charged my dad. What are friends for? It ended up just needing a thermostat. I didn’t do the work; I didn’t know anything about it. It just magically came back to me fixed, and I have no idea how that happened. I just continued to drive it.
One day–sometime after that–I started having the oddest problem with the car. Whenever I would give it some gas and try to take off, it would start to go, but then it would suddenly slow down, almost like it wasn’t getting any gas.
We looked a couple of different possibilities, Dad and I did. Finally he decided that it must be the fuel filter or something like that. We trace the line from the gas tank to the fuel filter, but we never made it to the filter. The gas line came from the gas tank and went under the trunk. It was pinched between the leaf spring and the rusted body of the trunk that the leaf spring had broken through. The forward momentum of acceleration pushes the back end of the car down and pinches the rusted opening against the line and cut off the fuel. Well, at least we know what the problem is.
Now, how to fix it?
This is what we did: We jacked up the back of the car, pried the leaf spring back through the hole where it belonged, and then got a piece of wood and put it between the hole and the spring, and the got the drill and some screws, and screwed the piece of wood to the floor of the trunk, and put some screws from the spring into the wood, to hold it all together. It worked for as long as we had the car, until we finally sold it at an auction for 225 dollars.
We actually made money on it.