I got my driver's permit at age 14. That was in 1979. That same year my parents bought a brand new 1979 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon. The old one was the one pictured to the left. It became my first car when I turned 16. Wow! Lucky me! Actually, I was lucky. Many of my friends didn't even have a car, let alone have one given to them at 16 years old. I was finally free from having to ride the school bus every morning. I was free to leave the school during my study halls and lunch breaks. Free to go out with my friends on Friday nights. Free to haul around my younger sister and two younger brothers to all of the places they needed to go. Looking back, it was the least I could do for my parents. After all, they DID give me a car.
The big brown boat of a car sat for the 2 years between the time they bought the new car till I got my license. In that time the fuel gauge quit working so every time I went somewhere I had to poke a long stick into the gas tank to see how much gas was in it. I could only fill the tank with enough gas to read about 6 inches on the stick, otherwise it would leak out onto the ground because of the rusted hole about half way up on the side of the tank. The memory of that car that stands out most in my mind is the smell of the inside. Gasoline mixed with the smell of raw pizza toppings. I got my first job at Happy Joe's Pizza when I turned 16. After getting off work in the evening, I'd toss my sausage and pizza sauce smeared apron into the back seat and didn't take it out till my next shift several days later. Funny how you never forget things like that.
My next car was this one. A 1966 Plymouth Fury III. I was DONE with driving that stupid station wagon. My Grandparents had bought the Plymouth from some friends of theirs who had bought it new in 1966. I'd made a deal with my Grandfather. I'd pay him fifty dollars every two weeks on payday until I had the entire $600.00 paid off. A sweet deal! This car had only 66,000 original miles on it and was in near perfect condition. It even still had the original spare tire in the trunk! Luckily, I never had to use that spare tire. After sitting in the trunk for the better part of 17 years, I doubt it would have gotten me far if I'd needed it. That car was dripping with chrome inside and out. I was so proud of that car. It was the first car I'd bought and I bought it on my own. I remember polishing till I could see myself in every square inch of the paint and chrome.
No matter what car I own at any point throughout the rest of my life, this one will always be my favorite. My 1969 Camaro. (Yeah, I may have been a bit of a motor head back then) I will never forget the day I got it. It was May 16th, 1983. Graduation day from high school. School had always been a challenge for me. I hated it. Getting good grades required a real effort on my part mostly due to my non-interest in school. My parents tried everything to help me including promising me a car if I would just graduate high school on time. That promise was made to me when I was in 6th grade and was never mentioned again. I'd completely forgotten all about it. Fast forward to that day in 1983. We were back home from the ceremonies where I'd received my diploma. My parents had invited the entire extended family for a graduation party. I was standing in the front yard with my parents greeting people as they arrived when I noticed this car turn into the driveway and park. I noticed for two reasons, obviously the car was AWESOME and I'd recognized every person who had arrived so far except this middle aged woman driving this totally rad car that looked like it should have been driven by someone much younger and likely male. I watched with my parents as she walked up the driveway toward us. My eyes must have grown to the size of dinner plates when she reached her hand toward my Dad and dropped the keys into his. I was in shock and all I can remember saying was "No, no, no way!" The memory of that promise made to me so many years before came back to me and hit me like a tidal wave. Any other 17 year old guy would have been paralyzed with embarrassment, standing there in front of everyone in his huge, extended family crying and hugging his parents, but I didn't care.
I drove that car for several years. That car caused me more trouble, mechanically, than any other car I've owned, but I didn't care. I loved it. When it finally had reached the point where driving it daily just got to be financially to much, it was time to get a more reliable and efficient car. I still couldn't bear to let it go. My grandfather owned a farm with several outbuildings. He agreed to let me store it there until I had the time and money to get it out again and restore it. That was my plan. 4 or 5 years later I was buying my first house. I really needed to come up with some money to help out with closing costs and the one thing I owned that was worth anything was my Camaro. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to bring myself to do. I had to resign myself to the fact that life goes on and it was really unlikely that I would ever find the time and extra money to put into that car. It was time to let it go. I sold it for $3000.00. Even after being stored for so many years and in less than desirable condition at that point. It helped a little knowing that the car went to a guy who loved old Camaros as much as I loved that one. He picked it up and hauled it home to begin the restoration process that I'd always imagined I would do.
Today those cars are very popular with car enthusiasts and very rare. It makes me cringe with regret when I see them for sale for anywhere from $15,000-$25,000 today.
My memories, however, of that car and that day will remain priceless to me.