One of our cars–a red 1993 Honda Civic hatchback–was stolen earlier this week in Oakland. The police there called today to tell us it had been found and towed to an impound yard. The only word on its condition was the note that an officer read from the report: “damaged and stripped.” We’ll go see what’s left tomorrow. The incident made me think of the family cars I have known, from birth to today. Here goes (not listing my siblings’ vehicles; just ones that I remember having ridden in as a kid ones that I’ve owned):
Early ’50s Plymouth sedan. A big ugly gray thing. Mom and Dad owned this when we still lived in Hyde Park, and it came out to the south suburbs with us in 1956. In my dad’s life, it was preceded by a couple of earlier Plymouths, a Hudson, and a Studebaker. For whatever reason, he seemed to really detest this car.
1958 Ford station wagon. A two-toned red-and-white job. It had a three-speed manual transmission. I remember Dad taking Mom (and assorted toddlers and post-toddlers) out to a remote-seeming stretch of gravel road to try to teach her to drive it. I remember she let up on the clutch when Dad was walking in front of the car. Mom never learned to drive that car.
1963 Ford station wagon. A pale metallic green number that Dad bought used at Van Drunen in Homewood. It had an automatic, and this is the car Mom learned to drive and got her license in (November 1965 at the age of 36). Eventually the reverse gear failed and my parents managed for awhile without it–which required some planning when they were parking, etc.
1967 Chevy Impala wagon. It was gold and had a 327-cubic-inch V8 with dual carburetors. My dad still speaks fondly of this car, which sometime later wound up driven into a tree at the end of our driveway.
1970 (?) Chevy Kingswood Estate wagon. An unwieldy metallic blue beast with faux wood trim and a 450-cubic-inch gas-guzzling power plant. My brother John, newly licensed and driving in the snow for one of the first times, slid it into a light pole in Park Forest. Then a few months later he was at the wheel after school when another kid plowed into the rear end. The Kingswood was so heavy and sturdy that the other car took nearly all the damage. I think that accident marked its end as a family member, though.
1972 (?) Chrysler wagon. Metallic brown. All I remember about it was that it had very efficient air conditioning that my dad liked to keep on whenever the outside temperature was above about 62. Also, I got the car stuck in a bottomless mudhole on a local in the middle of the night and managed to ruin the transmission.
1966 Ford Custom 500 sedan. I’ll defer to my brothers about the exact model. This was a tan sedan with Ford’s small-block 289 V8. It was our first “second car” and the three of us drove it hard. Or maybe “into the ground” is more accurate. I totaled the car on Governor’s Highway in Homewood on a slushy day when I was cut off by a van with a “Hear the Reverend Moon” bumper sticker; I skidded into a car stopped to make a left turn into a high school parking lot, a collision which prevented me from drifting into two lanes of fast oncoming traffic or into groups of kids lined up to catch their school buses.
1960-something Oldsmobile sedan. Or maybe it was a Buick. It was horrible and dark green. It was the second card that replaced the wrecked Ford. It should have been vaporized by the Death Star instead of Princess Leia’s beloved Alderaan.
1974 (?) Volkswagen Dasher. A nifty, nimble little navy-blue thing that acquainted us (but especially Dad, who paid the bills) with the manifold mechanical frailties of the VW products of the era.
1975 (?) Volkswagen Beetle. A clumsy, loud little Miami-blue thing that further acquainted us with VW’s shoddy approach to assembling vehicles. The Fuehrer would never have tolerated such goings on.
1970-something Volkswagen Rabbit. Another light blue car, but actually much sturdier and more reliable than its stablemates. I really shouldn’t count this one because it came along after I moved away to California.
Next time: Cars–The Berkeley Years