My car lust began when an older buddy let me drive his father’s army surplus jeep in circles in a hayfield. I was like Toad in The Wind in the Willows. I was twelve.
My car lust died a few decades ago when I had to be surgically removed, like a bad hemorrhoid, from a friend’s Mazda Miata. At 71, my automotive criteria are much simpler. Do I fit? Will it start? Is it inspectable? Will it make it?
As a kid, I had to wait five years to consummate my budding car lust. At my high school graduation, my parents gave me the keys to a well-used 1958 VW. It had no gas gauge, an auxiliary fuel tank, and its former owner had installed a gas heater where the glove box had been. The recalcitrant heater could broil a camel and dripped gasoline onto my passenger’s knees. I removed it and froze for the winter months, as the heater box had rusted out.
I thought about replacing the passenger seat with a Jotul 602 woodstove rusting in the shed and the passenger window with a small flue. I could then stack Lincoln Logs on the rear seat. My father talked me out of it, since the interior still smelled badly of gasoline. This practical beauty was followed by a succession of $300 used Bugs. They were like tractors. I could go anywhere and usually lift the front end out of a ditch.
One winter night, I was headed to a wedding in Warren and had made it almost to the top of the McCullough Turnpike from Hanksville. I could just see the small parking lot at the top, as my rear tires spun in place. Leaving the car in second, I got out, went around back and pushed hard enough to finally regain traction. My car drove itself on up to the top and nosed into a snowbank with me running along behind it. I got in, switched from second to reverse, backed out of the snow bank and went on my way.
My next flirt with car lust was largely hormonal. I needed to impress. My worst friend called it my “pimpmobile period.” I went through a Sunbeam Alpine with a rusted-out floor, a 1966 Lincoln Continental w suicide doors, one of which I left on the Maine turnpike when it flew off at 70 miles an hour, and a fabled Saab Sonnet with a plastic body. The Sonnet was several millimeters off the ground and was constantly re-grading the pebbles on our dirt road. I was a man of substantial girth and, to get in, had to sit on the ground and pull myself in with knobs on the dashboard, of which few remained after a few months. I had already badly bent the steering wheel pulling myself in sideways. I let go of this beauty when the electrical system failed for good. It also cost me my best babysitter.
Returning home late from a dubious watering hole called the Quonset Hut, the headlights flickered and died. It was a waxing moon so I could see the road pretty well when not in the woods. Once home, I explained to the babysitter what we’d need to do to get her home. She bravely clambered up onto the plastic hood of the Sonnet with two flashlights in hand and lay back on the windshield aiming the flashlights on the road ahead. Mindful of her safety, I drove slowly through the woods to her house four miles away. Her over-anxious parents didn’t share her enthusiasm for our adventure and my calls for her help were never answered.
My last flirtation with car lust was a rust-dappled 1969 blue and white Bill Blass Lincoln Continental Mark III with opera lights and a chrome grill large enough to barbecue a steer on. My personal car maven – call him Chris – had noticed I was somewhat down of late and left the car on my front lawn with “$1500” daubed on the driver side windshield with white shoe polish. It was the fountain of youth.
I hired my enterprising neighbor who lived in a cellar hole to paint the car for $75. I supplied the paint and brushes. I bought a gallon of exterior blue and one of white and a bag of various size brushes for $.99. I budgeted the project at under a $100. My neighbor did the job in a day, but expressed some concern about the quality of the brushes. The car looked like a painted porcupine with flattened bristles.
I called the only unattached woman I knew and invited her for dinner. Having heard nothing from her about my new car, except that it could use a little heat, I asked her how she liked it? “Brings back ugly memories of my grandfather from Queens,” she offered, without looking at me.
I’m cured. But I still get a frisson when a glam car from the 60’s smokes by my Volvo with its 170,000 miles and one headlight.