One thing that was important to young people in my day and age was getting their first car. It appears this has become less important in today’s electronic age, but for me, getting my first car was memorable. I suspect other senior readers shared that sentiment and will have their own related stories.
My Dad had a food market in Cleveland. After I got my license at age 16, I drove his car to deliver grocery orders. He also let me use his car during high school for dates and school events, so I didn’t need my own car. But during the summer of 1955, it seemed important that I have a car to commute to college.
I followed up on a newspaper ad and bought a 1951 Ford coupe that had been owned by a salesman. It had some dents and rust, but ran well and I could afford the $425 price tag. My auto-related knowledge was minimal, but in addition to working for Dad, I also worked at a gas station and people there would help me with car repairs.
One of the station staff was nicknamed “Mike the Jeep,” and he was a mechanic who drove a former military Jeep. He could do mechanical work as well as body repair and painting. I had lofty ideas about customizing the body of my Ford. However, my mother laid down the law, only allowing me to spend my time and money on limited repairs. I learned to work with Bondo body repair cement and completed the preparatory work to spruce up the Ford. Mike did the spray painting.
While the car started well during warm weather, as cold mornings set in it became difficult to start. My corrective efforts didn’t resolve the problem, and absent available help at the gas station, I took the car to the local Ford dealer. Naively I told them to do whatever was needed. When I read the resulting repair bill, I almost had a heart attack. Fortunately, I had enough money to cover the bill and learned a hard lesson related to extending an open-ended authorization to a professional shop.
I mostly used my first car to commute to college during my freshman year, when I had two fellow students as “riders” to contribute toward gasoline costs. School demanded my full-time attention and I had little other use for the car. Then I got a summer job as a salesman at the end of the first school year and used the car extensively for that.
That old Ford came with two extra demounted snow tires. When one of the standard tires failed, I had one of the snow tires mounted and installed it on a front wheel (for reasons I now can’t recall). I drove much of the summer with that snow tire in place.
By the start of my second year of college, my former “riders” had left school and I was faced with the prospect of driving alone – and paying for the gas by myself. I decided I could save money by relying on public transportation. Fortunately, at about that time I was approached by a friend who needed an inexpensive car, and he bought my Ford. I recovered most of my investment, and when I needed it, Dad kindly let me borrow his car.
I successfully went through my second year of college without my own car. However, my second summer job required a long daily commute. I bought a red and white two-door 1954 Chevrolet beauty, again with the aid of the newspaper. I was a Navy Reservist, and in the year and a half since buying the Ford, my mechanical skills had grown – in part through the Navy training I received. I was able to tackle the rejuvenation of the Chevrolet with confidence.
These cars were the objects of much pride and received a lot of loving care. In the years that followed, competing demands in my life kept me from investing the same level of attention to the cars that came along later. But I’ll never forget these firsts.