Thursday, February 28, 2008

My first cars

My first car was a 1955 Cadillac 4-door sedan with a light tan body and a reddish brown roof. It had a forward pointing hood ornament that was a streamlined person, and its front bumper had two huge protrusions on either side of the grill, like rocket nose cones, pointing straight out. On the back, it had stubby fins with wraparound tail lights. This was probably back in 1970 or 1971, and it was a car my father had been using for business. It was kind of an informal gift, and he still ended up using it for business sometimes.

The car was very tall and had a musty smell inside. When driving down the road, sometimes it seemed to bob on all four corners, and it felt very isolated. It felt very stable on dirt roads, though, even when driven fast. It had a bad quirk, in that it sometimes died when idling when the engine was only partially warmed up. The engine ran so quietly, though, that it was difficult to tell when it died, and I sometimes ended up trying to pull into traffic with the engine dead.

An interesting feature was the gas cap hidden under the driver's side tail light. To access the gas cap, you had to push in the small round reflector under the tail light. The tail light would then pop up on a hinge, revealing the gas cap. I remember one young man at a gas station who was going to put gas in the car (this was before self-serve was common) who looked up and down both sides of the car, along the back, behind the license plate, and everywhere he could think of before finally giving up and asking where it was. I got out and demonstrated for him.

I only had that car for a year or two, though it stayed in the family for a long time. It finally ended up sitting for a long time in the carport of my grandmother's house. She didn't mind, because it looked more like someone was home if a car was there. The mailman got in the habit, though, of scraping his bicycle against the car when he delivered the mail, and over time he left a huge scraped area along the side of the car. When my father found out he was really mad, and got the post office to pay for fixing it, though I don't remember now if the money was ever used for that purpose.

I got my next car, and the first one that was really mine, in 1972 or thereabouts. My father knew someone who was trying to sell a 1964 Cadillac Coupe DeVille with a light blue body and white top, and I ended up buying it. It had an internal combustion leak, and had to have water added to the radiator every week or so, sometimes sooner. We eventually put new head gaskets on it, but not for several months, maybe longer.

I really liked the design of the '69 and '70 models, though. They were still fairly new at the time, and I figured it would be quite a while before I could afford one. Then, late in the summer of 1973, my father took me to the local Cadillac dealer to look over what they had. I didn't intend to buy anything, just look.

The used car section had a lot of bright, shiny cars of various colors and ages (though all were fairly new). None of them seemed to be quite right, though, being either the wrong color or wrong model or wrong year. They were all kind of expensive, too, probably being somewhere around $4500 to $5000 even for a 1970 model (new Cadillacs at the time probably went for $8000 or $9000 or so).

My eye kept being drawn back to one car parked at the back, a 1970 Sedan DeVille with gold paint and a white vinyl roof. Unlike the other cars, its paint was already a little faded in some areas, and it didn't seem to have any information posted on it. I wasn't sure if they were trying to sell it or if someone had parked there.

My father went and checked, and they told him that they had just taken the car in and hadn't checked it out yet. They were wanting a little less than $4000 for it, but my father managed to get them down to $3350 or something like that. Thinking back on it, besides them having not checked the car out, the already fading paint and the relatively high mileage (almost 40,000) may also have factored into them lowering the price that much.

I bought the car that night. It was a car I ended up keeping for a long time.

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