Friday, August 11, 2023

Insight: Braking Bad

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My father always enjoyed driving a new car and about every four or five years, he’d spend time at the dealer picking out his new ride. Of course, back then new vehicles were pricey, but nowhere in the league of what they are today, which would have amounted to the equivalent of purchasing several new homes in his day.

Ed Pierce's 1956 Chevy was purchased in 1972
for the amount of $40. COURTESY PHOTO
The first car of his I can remember riding in was a dark brown 1953 Buick and I’m told I was sad and upset when he traded the car in for a blue and white 1957 Ford Fairlane. Before long both of my parents were looking for a new car and I remember sitting with my mother in the dining room when she counted out $500 in silver dollars that she had saved for a down payment on a green 1962 Chevrolet Impala.

The Impala was my favorite of all my father’s cars, and I loved pulling up at the Big Boy Drive-In and having the carhop have my father roll down his window to balance our meal tray on. But as soon as I was in junior high and dreaming about him passing the Impala on to me when I learned how to drive, it was gone, traded in for a white 1966 Ford Galaxy. And before I left for college in 1971, the Galaxy was traded in for a blue 1970 Ford LTD.

When the time came for me to purchase my first automobile in 1972, I was unsure what make or model that I really wanted. A friend attending my college in New Mexico was graduating and leaving to return to Vermont and didn’t want to drive his 1956 Chevy back across the country. He asked if I wanted it and I agreed to purchase it for $40.

The car has 85,000 miles on it in a time when vehicles only reached 100,000 miles before being junked and it had rusted vertically from the left rear tire to the rear door handle. Once while driving on the interstate in New Mexico, I heard a scraping noise and pulled over to find that the left rear tire wheel well had rusted through and was scraping the tire as I drove. I yanked off the flimsy metal piece still holding it to the chassis and discarded the wheel well, leaving a hole in the body between the tire and the back seat. To not get sprayed when driving through puddles, I stuffed a towel in the hole and carried an extra towel for rainy days.

Several years later I sold the Chevy for what I paid for it and bought a brand-new beige 1974 Mercury Capri. The sticker price was $3,200 and I recall not being very happy about having to make a monthly car payment of $74 for three years after trading in a used Honda CVCC.

The Capri was my introduction to the modern age of automobiles after having driven the 1956 Chevy which had a strong steel bumper and a wonderful AM radio. The car’s aluminum paint chipped off in my hand when I scratched the door handle with my fingernail revealing it was plastic underneath. The sun and the angle of the Capri’s rear window quickly faded the brown plastic underneath it, and I bought a small bath rug to prevent further cracking and bubbling in the plastic there.

When I was sent overseas in the U.S. Air Force in 1977, I sold the Capri, which was recently paid off and hoped to get a better car when I returned. After two years in Germany, I was assigned to The Pentagon and bought a used 1968 Volkswagen Beetle to get around in. When that vehicle began to ring up large repair bills, I purchased a new 1981 Datsun pickup truck which I drove for eight years. That was followed in succession by a used 1985 Buick Regal, a used 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix, and a new 1996 stick-shift Pontiac Firebird.

I drove the Firebird long past the five years of monthly payments and until it cost too much to repair the transmission, replace the tires and the electric motor that powered the headlights to pop up. In the end, a spoon from a thrift store jammed in tightly kept one of the headlights propped up to be able to drive at night.

While on vacation in Vermont about 2006, we rented a Hyundai Sonata and both my wife, Nancy, and I liked it. We found a 2004 Sonata at a nearby dealer with only 18,000 miles on it and drove it home. That vehicle went with us when we moved from Florida to New Hampshire and then on to Maine in 2017. By then I had also purchased a 2011 Sonata with 24,000 miles and I’m still driving that car today.

However, the 2004 Sonata, then driven by Nancy, was totaled when a driver clobbered me head-on in 2017. I eventually got Nancy another car to replace the Sonata, a 2009 Kia Rio.

The junkyard is piled high by now with all the vehicles I’ve owned and despite the advances in technology, I still miss my all-steel 1956 Chevy.

No comments:

Post a Comment