My first car was going to be quite the chick magnet, I just knew it. Somehow I had managed to save around $800 from mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, and washing dishes despite my penchant for wasting money on baseball cards or record albums. In 1978, $800 was a decent amount of money, enough to purchase a little more than a clunker.. although not much more than a clunker.
I wanted a Dodge Charger or Challenger, a Chevy Camaro or Monte Carlo or Oldsmobile Cutlass, maybe a Ford Mustang. My 16 year old mind didn’t think so much about being able to afford to maintain and insure the car. It needed to be fast and cool, a cruising machine. By 1978, muscle cars were still what most of my high school friends coveted in the small Central Illinois town where I lived. Each Friday or Saturday night we descended on a small strip close to the McDonalds on MacArthur Boulevard in Springfield, Illinois. A stream of shining vehicles with mag wheels and white lettered tires cruised slowly through a parking lot filled with teenagers sitting on cars, girls with big hair and tight Guess jeans strolling from car to car.
My Mom’s Chevy Caprice was not exactly the perfect cruising vehicle, pretty much the equivalent of driving a mini van these days. Diligently I searched for the perfect car, found a few that these days would still turn heads, including a ’68 rag top Camaro that I nearly bought. That same day, I did find the car I wanted and drove it home for my dad to see — a ’71 Dodge Charger with the 440 six pack engine and a vacuum operated hood scoop that popped up when a switch under the dash was turned on. The car was purple with white opera top, white interior. It flat out flew.
Dad took one look at the Charger and simply started shaking his head NO.
“If you don’t kill yourself, this car will spend more time in our driveway than it will on the road. You won’t be able to afford it, especially the insurance and all the speeding tickets you will get.”
I couldn’t argue with him. The first month I had my driver’s license, I had an accident and two traffic tickets.
“Steve, how about this? I have a friend who is selling a nice car, in great shape and we can get it for a good price. As long as you pay for the insurance and don’t ask me to pay for gas, I will chip in half for the car.”
Dad was good about stuff like that. When I started mowing lawns and decided that a lawn tractor would get me more business (and it did), Dad loaned me the money I needed to finish paying for the tractor. He knew what he was doing. For the rest of the time I lived with my parents, he never had to mow the lawn again. Once I had that car, his own car expenses went away and when I went to college, I had my own transportation to/from school.
My first car was the car that Dad found for me, a ’72 Plymouth Duster, red with the slant six engine, no air conditioning and black cloth interior, an AM radio, about as basic of a car as you can get. There was so much room under the hood that I could stand underneath the hood to work on the engine. It wasn’t the ultimate chick magnet cruiser, but it also wasn’t my Mom’s Chevy Caprice either. Dad helped me install a nice under dash eight track stereo along with some heavy duty speakers. I must have waxed that car at least once a week. I had my cruiser. Many a weekend, I cruised with my brother Mark and our friends Bob and Jack.
The Duster also had a large front bench seat, something I really appreciated when I started dating Tami. That car holds some very sweet memories for me. Before I was done with it, the rear body panels rusted so badly that the trunk was almost useless. When the plastic front grille cracked and fell out, Dad and I replaced it with gold aluminum mesh left over from a screen door project Dad had left over.
That car was mine for five years. I let the oil get too low and seized the engine. Dad found a replacement engine at a junkyard, my brother Mark bought the car from me and drove it for a few years until my youngest brother, Paul, was ready for the car.
Eventually I did get the cruiser I wanted, a black ’86 Chevy Cavalier Z24, as well as a ’84 Yamaha Virago motorcycle. They were both vehicles that got a lot of attention, but neither were as special as that first car.