I was a car buff before I hit my teens, although I didn’t know the difference between a 283 and a 327. Or care. But even as a snot nose kid, I could grasp the importance of this mode of transportation. Yes, for the first time, I was looking at the bigger picture. Cars were the means of getting me from one place to another. Didn’t get any better than that. I have enjoyed driving everything from a Nifty-50 (1950 green Chevy with a defrost fan on the dashboard. Cutest thing ever with a 3 speed on the column) to my favorite luxury car, a 1995 El Dorado, that was an absolute dream to drive, and every car in between the 2 green extremes. I love cars!
I learned to drive when I was almost 13. Right on the streets of Rock Valley (think Mom would have been more nervous teaching me on a gravel road) while Mom’s car was at Santema’s Chevy garage for some reason. Mom and Dad never drove automatics and this loaner from the dealer was an automatic. Mom thought it would be easier for me to learn on it. I think it was a ’56 or ’57 Chevy. I did great and loved tooling around on the widest streets in the county. Much like my obsession after I smoked my first cigarette, I couldn’t wait to drive again (legally or otherwise). Soon I would be taking driver’s training and could drive with a parent in the car.
Driver’s training was thorough. Many hours in the classroom and more hours learning to drive in town and on the highway. Stan Negaard taught driver’s training during the summer. At this point I really didn’t give 2 hoots about classes during the school year, but this class was different. Excelling in this would mean I would be driving very soon. During one of Negaard’s classroom sessions (yes, I did study for this one) he was yakking about something to do with transmissions. I raised my hand and piped up, “it’s because the gears are sanforized.” (How embarrassing, sanforizing was a fabric treatment for cottons. How did I ever even hear that word? I’ll never know). Negaard’s eyes glazed over as every boy in the class started laughing and a couple shouted, “synchronized transmission-not sanforized.” Anyway, you can see I had a bubbling enthusiasm for one class in my life.
Soon Mom was brave enough to teach me on our car which was a 1958 Chevy Biscayne (Canyon Coral, somewhere between pink and taupe-hideous) with a 3 speed on the column. (I don’t remember Dad teaching any driving lessons with me, only Mom). I really didn’t care who was with me as long as I could practice driving around town. The true test came when she had me drive across the railroad tracks (past the Lutheran and Methodist churches) to my grandparents house. Their house sat on the crest of a steep hill, right off Highway 18. This highway (very near where my brother Larry was killed when he was hit by a car) had a fair amount of traffic, but that wasn’t the hard part. The tough part was keeping the clutch and brake depressed until traffic cleared long enough for me to scoot out on the highway. Which meant easing the clutch out, giving the car enough gas so I didn’t stall or worse, start rolling backwards. Yikes. My knees were shaking so bad I can’t believe I didn’t stall it. Luckily, there was no one stopped right behind this brand new driver. You can’t believe how many times during my life where someone was literally up my tailpipe on a steep hill. But it’s been very seldom when I stalled a car. That was the only good coordination God ever gave me.
So it makes sense when one loves to drive, there’s nothing more frustrating than getting in a great set of wheels and it won’t start. It’s not a hard concept. I want my car to start and run perfect every time I’m ready to go. Anywhere. Any time. It’s not too much to ask. Everyone says they’re making cars better than ever and they can easily be driven for a couple hundred thousand miles. Right. I get twitchy when my car hits 50,000 miles. I don’t want a fan belt to fly off, an alternator or battery to go kaflooey, the check engine light to shine bright. I just want the car to start and go without issues-ever. Every time. Every. Stinking. Time.
But I know better. Life is messy and things go wrong with inanimate objects. (I have a healthy amount of rage for inanimate objects). A goodly amount of disdain. Just putting it out there, keeping it real. In my life time I have owned and driven some great cars and fair amount of sour lemons. In no particular order, these are some of my more memorable sets of wheels during my life.
1. The first new car we ever bought was a 2 door, shit green 1972 Chevy Vega hatchback. Shannon was 2 and called it, “my Bay-ga.” The payments were around 70 bucks (that was high for us). I had my heart set on a stunning orange Monte Carlo sitting on the dealer’s floor. But in comparing prices, the diarrhea Vega was around $2,400 versus $4,100. for the Monte Carlo (as close as I can recall). No way could we afford that. But I sure coveted the 1972 M-Carlo for a long time.
2. During some of our leaner years we drove a 1965 International Harvester pickup. The clutch went out, but before we could replace it, we’d park on the top of a slight incline, then push in the clutch and start rolling downhill, then “pop” the clutch with the gear shifter already in second or third. Talk about jerking and grinding! But the worst part was the passenger door kept flying open when we turned a corner. Shannon would be standing in between us and we’d each throw out an arm to keep her in place while I grabbed the fly-away door which was trying to swing me right out of the truck. Fun.
3. I was a stay-at-home-mom (meaning we only had one car through our first 18 years). Soon after we moved to Michigan in 1987, we bought a 1987 Chevy Astro Van (and my first automatic) with 12,000 miles-the first time there would be a car at home for me. Wow. Hubs was driving a 1983 Chevy S-10, meaning we had 2 reliable means of transportation-AT THE SAME TIME. I babied that mini-van as though it was worth millions! It was the answer to our prayers. We were 750 miles from family in Iowa, John’s Dad was critically ill and there was ample room for the 3 kids to stretch out a bit. Shannon got the back seat to herself so she wasn’t required to breathe the same air as her 2 gnarly, younger brothers. Best thing we ever did was purchase 2 Game Boys, which kept them happy and occupied.
4. The most luxurious car I ever owned was a 1995 2-door Cadillac El Dorado. The doors each weighed as much as a Volkswagen. No outside noise, Bose speakers, heated seats. It was luscious. This was after the Astro Van and 2 of the nerds had graduated and were in college and Adam wasn’t driving yet. (We got him a car when he turned 16, no way was he driving my Caddy). If I could find another El Dorado with low, low miles, I swear I’d sell my Jeep.
5. My first SUV and only Buick was a 2005 Rainier. Loved it but it was one size too big because most of my driving was now solo. Kids were grown up, Hubs kept getting new Chevy pickups so we took the truck if we were antiquing or hauling anything. I sold it to Shannon, who was now a mom to 3. She drove and loved it until she hit a deer which totaled it.
6. When my Dad moved from Iowa to Michigan at the young age of 88 after Mom passed away, he was driving their 4th Ford Escort (I think, after they moved up from the no-longer produced Chevette). The Escort had seen better days and Dad wanted something new-and different. He bought a 2006 PT Cruiser. (We searched for days because he would not even test drive one with an automatic transmission). When Dad passed away in 2008 I drove the PT for a couple years. It’s doors weighed as much as a newborn-preemie. But I had fun shifting a 5 speed for a couple years.
7. The coolest, hottest, neatest car we ever owned was a 1964 Chevy Stingray Corvette, 327- 365 HP, 4-speed on the floor. Hubs bought in 1992 and we it kept for more than 20 years. What a beast! We drove it a lot. Parades, car shows, Friday afternoon movies, church on summer Sundays, ice cream cones after supper. He spent most of those years dinking around with it. Lots of new parts, carburetor, tires, paint job back to its original Tuxedo black. It was a fun project for him-like a savings account that just kept gaining interest. Very cool muscle car.
8. Oh the irony. The name of my story implies a Ford Mustang is somehow involved (or maybe just because I love Wilson Pickett’s version of the song-Mustang Sally, Guess you’d better slow that Mustang down). But no, that’s not it. I still feel bad about our Mustang. I bought it by taking over payments from this young couple from South Sioux City, Nebraska. In those days I didn’t have to refinance, they just signed the car over to me. I gave them a small amount of cash and they handed me the remainder of their payment book, taking themselves off the hook. They were about to lose the car so it benefited both parties. The car was a year old with hardly any miles. They had one child and were expecting another so their family of 4 would have been crowded. Tragedy struck a few months later when their whole family was killed in a car accident. Mom called me after she recognized their names in the Sioux City Journal. That 1968 Mustang however, was the biggest lemon we ever owned (and the only Ford). Should have been a couple of recalls but neither issue was ever addressed. The bucket seats were junk. The passenger seat broke almost every time someone sat in it. Half of you would end up in the small backseat, unable to get it (or you) back upright. Even more frustrating was a starting problem. If the weather was damp-between the temperatures of 28-40, it refused to start. Would not start. New battery, new starter, nothing worked or helped. When we traded it in, it had 38,000 miles on it. John told the dealer to ship it to Florida because it and Iowa weather definitely didn’t mix…