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May 10, 2019

The One That Started It All

The world has changed a lot since I bought my first car, but at least one thing has stayed the same: teenagers want what they want. When I was a teenager, I wanted the ‘Cuda!

Well not really a ‘Cuda; it was a bright red Barracuda with a V8 engine and automatic transmission and I wanted it badly. I was 17 years old and needed a reliable car for college. I saw the Barracuda on the used car lot of our local Plymouth dealership. I was in my last year of high school, attending morning classes and working on the night shift at a local factory. So I had saved money for the down payment but, like most teenagers, would need my parents to co-sign for my first car loan.

I dragged my parents to the dealership and showed them the car of my dreams.  I could see myself cruising the town in that beautiful car and revving that awesome V8.  Maybe having the occasional stoplight-to-stoplight drag race!  Unfortunately, my mother didn’t have the same vision.  Her vision seemed to be more focused on price and gas mileage.

Like a scene out of the first Transformers movie, the observant salesman slowly shifted us to a more practical and affordable sky blue Plymouth Duster with racing stripes down the side.  The salesman swore that “this baby had only been driven by a little old lady to church on Sunday.”  And, to my mother’s glee, it was a six cylinder with a manual transmission, making it cheap and great on gas mileage.

I liked the car, even though it wasn’t a V8, so I signed on the dotted line and financed my first car with my parents.  Like MIDFLORIDA today, our local community bank was happy to help me—as long as I had a little money down, had already established and maintained good credit, held a job, and had adults willing to vouch that I would make the payments.

Even though it wasn’t the car of my dreams (and I still wish I had purchased the Barracuda), it was a good car.  The slant six cylinder engine was bullet-proof and took a lot of teenage abuse.  The manual transmission was fun and started a life-long love of driving a “stick.”  But, the best part was that the car was easy to work on and brought out a passion—that I still have—for tinkering on cars. 

Out of financial necessity and curiosity, I learned to maintain and repair the car.  I also learned how to do bodywork and interior work.  I fixed the brakes, the rust holes and even recovered the seats on my own.  After college I sold the Duster to my cousin and moved on to the next project, a 1972 Gran Torino Sport (think Starkey and Hutch).  I finally got a V8 and then quickly understood the value of good gas mileage.

I kept the Torino until I purchased my first sports car, a 1972 black MGB convertible... But that’s another story.