Friday, November 14, 2008

My 'Stang, 1982-1998, RIP

I bought my very first car in the late fall of 1982. I bought it from my step-mom's brother-in-law, who had a business restoring and selling Ford Mustangs. It was a 1965 Mustang 2-door sedan, royal blue with a white vinyl top and a black interior, and a completely rebuilt, good-as-new, shiny blue and black 289 V-8 engine.

It was fun to drive. Great pick up and power, and it had those awesome "butterfly windows" -- the little triangle ones in the front corner of the door that you could angle in so the wind blew right on your face while you drove... sheer bliss! It had no power steering, so parking in tight quarters could sometimes be tough -- a fact that merely increased my "street cred" with anyone who ever drove my car. Truth be told, that car had much more engine power than any teenage driver should have -- I drove it too fast too much of the time, and ended up with too many speeding tickets and lost my car insurance, which (happily) didn't prevent me from being hired for the best job ever: driving buses at the University (see this post).

I proudly drove my car to school. I happily drove it to the grocery to do the family shopping. I volunteered to drive anytime my step-siblings or friends or acquaintances needed a ride anywhere at all. I drove it to my second job (my first job, with which I earned most of the money to purchase the car, was delivering newspapers on foot in my neighborhood), and I got my first speeding ticket on the way home the day I got fired from that job (another story, another day...). I drove it off to college -- second semester, anyway, when we were finally allowed to bring our cars to school -- and got another speeding ticket along the way. I drove it to my first Grateful Dead show (and thereafter covered it with Grateful Dead window stickers). I drove it back and forth to Alabama to visit my mom, windows open, singing loudly with the music blaring on the cheap aftermarket stereo I kept in the glove box (the car came standard with only an AM radio, can you imagine?), and nearly got a speeding ticket but slipped across the state line before the officer even got his car turned around, and he gave up (or gave me a gift by letting me go, one of those).

In short, I drove that car anywhere and everywhere, even when it would have been faster to walk or ride a bike, because I loved to drive that car. (Of course, that was back when they still sold gas with lead in it for less than $1 per gallon -- I remember being outraged in college when gas jumped up to the $1.20s). I guess it is politically incorrect to reminisce about such a polluting waste of gasoline these days, but wow it felt good at the time.

Sadly, just before I moved out west, I was in a wreck. No one was injured, and the accident was ruled "no fault" so my insurance rates did not increase, but the front of my beloved 'Stang was smashed, the hood would not close, and it needed substantial body work which would not be completed in time for the move, so I could not drive it out west. I was crushed. Thankfully, my good friend (a fellow student bus driver and car enthusiast who owned a 1950's Studebaker -- awesome car) volunteered to supervise the body-shop work, pick it up and inspect it when it was finished, keep the car for me until Christmas break, and drive it across the country for me. Good friends like that are hard to come by. If you have one, you should keep him around.

My car and I were reunited a few months later, in December 1988. My friend had brought other friends with him on the cross-country drive, and the three of them complained that it had been cold, the heat didn't work well, the seats were splitting at the seams, the car had no seatbelts in the back and only lap belts in the front, and they couldn't believe I didn't just dump it and buy a new one in Arizona. But a few tequila shots later, my friend was trying to buy the car from me so he could drive it home again, since that would be so much more fun than flying. "Ha!" I said, "the truth comes out! You love the car, too, don't you? Too bad it's not for sale."

I got a good deal on that car. It was fun to drive and fun to own and it ran, reliably, for many years. Well, it ran hot in the summer sometimes, and one time the radiator literally exploded on the way to a Grateful Dead show (bummer!), and of course I had my share of dead batteries, broken engine belts and hoses, tire replacements, and so forth, but for almost 15 years, I never had to invest in a major engine repair. Or a car payment, for that matter!

I was faithful about engine maintenance -- oil changes and such -- but I have to confess that, as time passed, the car did not look like the polished gems at the auto shows. Not even close. I was a not-wealthy high school student, then a starving college student, and then a moderately poor law student, so I did not have a lot of money to put into cosmetic issues on the car, and time took its toll. The car had been around since 1965, after all, and so by 1985 it was starting to look a little, well, worn. Even more so by 1995.

But even after the car started showing signs of wear -- faded paint, rust on the fenders, vinyl top peeling, Grateful Dead stickers torn and scratched -- it still would get envious looks from real car enthusiasts. In fact, I learned to tell the real car enthusiasts from the fakers by the comments they would make as I was filling up the tank. "Nice car!" said with a genuine smile meant the person could see beyond the cosmetics and appreciate the fine engine and "inner beauty" of my car. The exact same words said with a sneer (usually by someone driving the equivalent of a shiny new Yugo) meant the person had no clue.... Regardless, I always simply smiled and said, "Thanks. I like it too."

After almost 15 years (the car was 32 at the time), my 'Stang developed major engine trouble -- it needed transmission work and most days the fly wheel would not even align so that you could start it. That, coupled with the body work it needed, meant that it would take at least $4000 (perhaps as much as $10,000) to restore it to its former glory, and at least $1500 just to make it functional. And although I was now a lawyer, I was also paying off school loans and planning a (rather too expensive) wedding. Later, I was busy (and broke) starting a family and buying (rather too expensive) nursery furniture and baby equipment.

I had also purchased a second car when I started working as a lawyer, because the 'Stang lacked air conditioning -- a necessity if one is to wear a suit to work in the summer in Arizona. So I was no longer driving my 'Stang on a daily basis and did not really need to repair it. Other items always seemed to take priority and, even though I missed being able to drive my 'Stang, I could never seem to find the time or the cash to fix it up again.

So the car sat, unused, in my driveway, until the City began to hassle me for not having a registration sticker on the car. To get a registration sticker, one had to have insurance for the car. I couldn't justify spending money to insure a car that I couldn't drive and didn't plan to drive soon. But the City threatened fines and continuing hassles if I kept the vehicle in my driveway without registering it. So I had to let go of my beloved 'Stang and embrace my status as just another Honda owner. Oy, that hurt. (Not that I didn't love my Prelude, too, but that's a different story).

I still miss that car. If I am ever rich, I'll buy another one -- although maybe this time I'll get the convertible. But for now, the memory of driving that awesome machine on the open road, windows down and wind blowing through my hair, stereo blaring and singing at full volume, will have to be enough.

I'd love to hear your stories about your first car. Did you love it, or was it merely an old heap of a car that got you where you needed to go? If you had it to do over again, would you buy the same car, or a different one?



Fancy Schmancy said...

My first car was a big old 1978 Lincoln Continental. I paid 100 bucks for it, and beat it into the ground. When I drove it wheezing and jerking into the junk yard, I had gotten every penny's worth from it.

I love your 'stang story. Sounds like you had a true relationship with it. Did you name it? My most favorite cars always had a name.

Ms. Florida Transplant said...

My first car was an '88 Honda Accord. The paint was coming off, so I referred to it as "redish." My parents bought me a new one after I kept stalling out every time I had to stop. I do NOT miss it! :)

That damn expat said...

My first car was an old Honda that my dad bought for me at a police auction. It belonged to a junkie and looked it. It was the ugliest brown color, the color of turd. And the interior was even worse. I was so grossed out by it that I spent all my money on industrial cleaning. Twice. I sold it before going away to college and never looked back.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Great love story legal! I could almost feel the wind while driving around with you in the Stang!

Coincientally, my first car was a Stang too. Nothing like your beautie, a Stang from the eighties that tried awfully hard to be a bad sedan. It was a family hand me down and not in the greatest of shape, but I loved it because it didn't matter about bumps and scratches. I tooled aound in that thing in college and when a friend of mine borrowed it to go to the "store" and didn't come back for 2 days it was no big deal.
Then I graduated and the rents bought me a shiny new black with white interior and a convertible top Volkswagen Cabriolet. Complete chick car. THAT car was love at first sight. Good times.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Ooops...I meant to say "coincidentially".

Green said...

Fixed Or Repaired Daily? Not my used Ford Escort! It was a hatchback, it was white, and it was a perfect first car for me. Bought it when I was 18, and I loved having a small car that could fit anywhere.