Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Cars of my Life

Automobiles were a big part of many peoples lives in the 20th century. I have my grandfather's daily journal from 1920 to about 1950, and automobile expenses were a major factor. It seems like tires always blew out, radiators gave up the ghost, and things just didn't work well in the 1920s. When roads improved, they started taking vacations by car throughout Southern California.

The only car I remember they had before 1960 was a Hudson with running boards. I don't recall the year - perhaps the late 1940's. Later, they had smaller cars because they had a small garage.

My first car is shown below, a picture from about 1949. I tooled this baby around the block for months, I think. I set up stop signs on the grass parking strips, and center stripes on the sidewalks. I had my younger brother drive it and I played safety patrol on the corners. Pretty soon I graduated to bicycles.



My parents cars were utilitarian. My dad was an insurance agent and drove daily probably 50 to 100 miles. The first car I remember was a new 1954 Mercury (I can't recall the colors, though - perhaps white over blue?). We took our first summer vacation in 1954 - a week's stay at Bass Lake near Yosemite. Stan and I had the back seat (no seat belts, of course) and we played games all the way up and back (about 450 miles each way). My father was in state bowling tournaments in 1955 through 1959, so we visited Stockton, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles over the years, staying in motels.

In 1958, my father traded in the sporty Mercury for a pink 1958 Oldsmobile (yep, pink!). Our family had grown with Scott arriving in 1955, so they needed a bigger back seat for the three of us (still no seat belts, no car seat either). Here he is with his pride and joy.


We stopped taking vacations because of family finances and Little League baseball - Stan and Scott played and the season went into July and playoffs into August. Dad coached and managed from about 1957 to 1973. They had the Olds for a long time - I think until the mid-1970's when he got the Cadillac he always wanted.

The only memorable trip I recall is the Sunday drive that we took in the early 1960's - my mother wanted to go out to the back country to get some manzanita branches for her art projects. We all got in the car and as we cruised up 32nd Street a car ran the stop light at Lincoln Avenue and passed right in front of us - we boys ended up on the floor behind the front seats, and my dad was still shaking 30 minutes later when we pulled up in front of the house. He was a very careful driver. My mother never learned to drive after experiencing a traffic accident when she was in college.

My own cars have been relatively few in number. I am not a mechanical wizard, have never mastered a stick shift, and was fearful of driving until I finally got my license at age 23.

In early 1967, My father found a used white 1962 Chevrolet sedan for me from a client. I paid for it on installments through the bank, and now I had my freedom from the folks. In mid-1967, I moved out and the first night I parked at my apartment building, I ran up against a pole on the passenger side of the car - damaging the door. My dad was pretty upset, and so was I.

Within a year, I had traded the Chevy in for a 1967 gold Thunderbird - very snazzy and impressive. Lots of power too, and a gas guzzler. I loved that car and drove fairly recklessly - one night after bowling and drinking, I careened home to Pacific Beach in the rain and spun it 270 degrees, went over the curb and stopped about 3 feet from the corner house. Oops... I backed off, drove it the three blocks home, and took it to the dealer the next day to get the tire rim fixed. I was lucky - one of my favorite sayings is "there are things that happen in a second that take a lifetime to explain."

I had the Thunderbird when I met and wooed my Angel Linda. She had a sporty 1968 light blue Mustang. Here she is on our wedding day in March 1970 with her pride and joy.


The gas crisis hit in 1973, and we had Lori in 1974, so we decided that we needed a more economical car with four doors, so we traded in the T-Bird and bought a 1974 orange Datsun 510. We had Tami in 1976, and the Datsun was filled up when we went out as a family. I drove the Mustang to work. The Datsun served us well and was pretty economical, but it wasn't very comfortable and had no real thrust, and we were driving to San Francisco once or twice a year - I always had to get in the truck lane going up a long grade.

By 1983, the Mustang was on its last legs, and our neighbors' father from Texas collected them and refurbished them, so we sold it to him and went out and bought a more comfortable slightly used 1983 light blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. This became our travel car and I ran the Datsun back and forth to work.

We took this car in 1984 on our one long trip - up the coast to Victoria BC and back - via San Francisco (Linda's family), Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, Mount Hood, Portland, Seattle (friends), Victoria (friends), Seaside, Oregon, Florence, Oregon, Eureka CA, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and home in three weeks. We did a bit of camping with our girl scout daughters.

The girls became teenagers, and we needed to haul more than just our family to softball games and tournaments, and to Girl Scout outings. We traded (yeah, right, we almost had to pay them to take it) the Datsun in for a 1986 Plymouth Voyager van. It was tan with wood-grain decal sides. Linda ran this around town for years! I drove the Olds to work for years, but we used the van to go out of town.

The girls learned to drive in the 1983 Oldsmobile (yep - their father's Oldsmobile) and soon had their own starter cars - Lori got a red Nissan Sentra in 1991 and Tami a champagne Toyota Tercel in 1993.

Linda and I traveled in 1995 to Yellowstone Park and back in the van - stopping in Las Vegas, St. George UT (friends), Salt Lake City (yep, genealogy!), Jackson WY, Yellowstone Park, Twin Falls ID (friends), Boise ID (friends), Reno NV, San Francisco (family) and home in three weeks. This was a really great trip.

The Oldsmobile engine was failing in early 1998, so we donated it to a high school auto shop and bought a 1996 silver Lincoln Continental. This was a great car - plenty of power, plenty of room for our widening bodies, and it just felt classy.

Here is a picture of me with my Lincoln in 2005.


The Voyager van's engine failed in May 1998, so we sold it to a fellow at the car repair shop (many used cars in San Diego get repaired and sold in Tijuana). We bought a 1997 dark green Mercury Sable and Linda still uses this car, although we need to replace it soon.

The 1996 Lincoln had mechanical engine problems in 2005, so we donated it to a charity (and got a $2000 tax deduction!) and bought a new silver 2005 Lincoln Town Car. I drive this car now and it is very comfortable, rides smooth, lots of power, but big and a gas guzzler around town. We take it to the Bay area and on Southern California trips.

So that's our car history - we tend to drive them into the ground, so to speak - we get our money's worth! We can't live without them in Southern California, can we?

3 comments:

becky said...

The cars musings brought back old memories and prejudices! Back in 1964-5 when I was tooling around in my boyfriend's red GTO, one of my favorite sports was pulling up next to some rich kid in his Mustang. I would stall the car a couple of times (to play dumb) and then challenge him. No contest!!!! Mustangs always seemed to belong to rich kids who thought they were really hot cars. To this day, I still really, really hate Mustangs! But Thunderbirds - a whole 'nother ball of wax. My menopause car was a lovely teal '90 Thunderbird. My 3 teen-aged sons were enchanted when I bought it. When 1 of them was stopped for speeding and asked, "Did he know how fast he was going?", his reply was "Couldn't have been under 100." I learned that tidbit during his court appearance. But revenge is sweet - he is now a parent. Sorry for rambling, but it was fun remembering.

Apple said...

I loved our Cutlass but they could never fix the oil leak that the 82's were known for. Yours outlasted ours by many years! I also went through 2 Voyagers and another Cutlass in the time you had yours.

car hire new zealand said...

I miss those cars in the 60s with fenders looking like a fish and everybody driving in style. Nowadays, people are no longer after the look of the car but they are more focused now on the speed and performance on the road. Hey thanks for the wonderful account on your car history. :)