After a less-than-scientific poll that apparently included every human being in possession of a driver’s license, we came to an amazing discovery this week. If you’ve ever owned a car of your own, then you actually had a “first” one. Not only that … drum roll, please … most people remember it! Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Don’t tell the boss, but we fear we almost broke the Internet when we asked our Facebook audience, “What was your first car?” and then instructed you to include a photo of it if you had one. Holy, Horsepower! The responses came in faster than a jet-powered car at Bonneville.
For anyone who doubts the impression that first cars leave on our psyches, let’s begin with Chad Miller, also known as “Exhibit A.” Chad’s first ride was a 1963 Ford F100 unibody shortbox truck. He swapped out the engine, rebuilt the rear end and eventually — reluctantly, we surmise — “sold it to a kid who wound up crashing it because he was mad at his girlfriend.” Chad knew that truck inside and out — so well, in fact, that he can still recite the VIN from memory. Now, that’s love.
In reality, first cars are generally high maintenance. Take Papa Nedz’s 1955 Chevrolet two-door sedan, for instance. “First thing I did was pull the front bumper, primer the whole body and put in a Foxcraft floor shifter (I couldn’t afford a Hurst at the time). It was a 235 six-cylinder, but it was fun.” Chris Allen posted a pic so that we might all share in his pain: “This piece of crap right here — a 1985 AMC Eagle. I still have AMCs, but this one was such a lemon.”
Tony Martin’s first car, a 1960 Ford Thunderbird, broke his teenage heart. More accurately, the authorities did. “The driver’s door had to be tied shut with rope, all the power windows were stuck three inches down, and it had NO mufflers. A 352 V-8 with NO mufflers is very loud! I got busted almost every time I drove it. Long story short: The judge made my mother take it away and junk it. I was crushed.” Technically speaking, it was actually the car that was crushed, but let’s not go there. Tony feels bad enough already.
Chuck Rodgers lightened the mood when he included a list of nicknames for his first chariot, a 1976 AMC Pacer: “Moon Unit, Space Bubble, Chuck Mobile, Rolly Polly, Okra (I was run off road and into an okra patch), Blue Bubble, Time Machine, U-glee Mo-Fro, What da Hail is Dat … and several others that aren’t as G rated. As weird as that car was, I loved it! It was cool looking. No one else had one. It had plenty of room. Handled pretty darn well and was a blast to drive.”
Brian Quinn’s first car, a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, was in need of “new quarter panels, paint, top, carpet, wheels and tires. The owner pulled the diapers out of the glove box and told me the top hadn’t worked in years. I hot-wired the top switch and had it down that afternoon. Super reliable 327 two-barrel — a great riding, go-anywhere car. I even towed my snowmobile behind it a couple times. I’ve owned several, but none compared to how happy I was in that car … Dates, travel, commuting, camping, skiing, DJ-ing dances — it hauled me EVERYWHERE.”
We have to admit, we were impressed with all of the bargains you found. Like Jeff Szirmae, who bought a 1966 Pontiac GTO (389-cid V-8 with four-speed) for $1,000 in 1971. And Brian Wermund, who also paid $1,000 for a 1969 Plymouth GTX in 1979. That’s the same amount that Chris Roush shelled out for a 1968 Camaro RS in 1988. No need to buy a lottery ticket, Chris, you were a winner three decades ago.
Andrew Karayanis scored a 1969 Camaro Indianapolis 500 Pace Car convertible for $800 in 1975. “Boy, I really destroyed that car,” he lamented. Chuck Nauck Sr. put down $500 for a 1972 Ford Gran Torino in 1987 and wrote that it’s “my favorite car to date,” although after 30 years we’re surprised he hasn’t proposed by now. (Wait for it … it’ll make sense in a moment or two.)
Dan Reynolds purchased his dad’s 1964 Ford F100 for $200 in 1973, and he learned how to drive in that truck. After selling it in 1991, Dan got all nostalgic and bought it back; he plans to restore it someday. Chuck Dortenzio also put down two bills for his first car, a 1967 Mercedes-Benz 250S. “I towed it out of a neighbor’s garden, fixed it up and drove it through high school and college.”
While Andrew Fitzherbert proudly paid only $150 for a 1955 Chevy Bel Air four-door sedan, we have to believe that Pete Cimbala was pretty happy — and rightly so — to score a 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza for $50 in 1974. Of course, you can’t do better than free, as Ross Bickerton can attest. His father bought a 1960 Pontiac Strato Chief for $100 and gave it to him as a gift.
In addition to all of the bargains, it was great to see how many of your first cars actually turned into family restoration projects or were handed down from generation to generation. Like Robert Lee Davis, who bought a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 with 390-cid big-block from a salvage yard and restored it with his dad. And Ben Davis, whose vintage pickup has been passed from father to son to grandson. And Sidney Hart’s 1969 Camaro, once his father’s daily driver, which was handed down when he turned 16.
Some of you are fortunate enough to not only remember your first car but still own it. Steve Johanson still drives his numero uno, a 1952 Chevrolet Styleline two-door sedan. Don Hollis also owns his first car, a 1965 Ford Mustang. The same goes for Robin Ellis, who bought a 1964 Chevy Impala SS in 1970 and never let it go. Gordon Rinschler bought his first, a 1930 Ford Model A, in 1966 at age 20. In an amazing coincidence (especially considering the difference in their ages), Joshua Rubin’s first car was also a 1930 Model A. He bought his eight years ago at age 17, restored it himself and has no plans to sell it.
Speaking of youth, some of you owned your first car before you were able to legally drive it. Nate Drobish, for example, became the proud owner of a 1960 Chevrolet Apache 10 in 2012 at the age of 12. He restored the truck with a body/paint mentor and completed the work last year as a high school freshman. Jacob Smith was once a 12-year-old truck owner, too. Now a high school sophomore, he continues to work on his ’61 Chevy.
Alan Joksch bought a ’67 Mustang at age 14, the same age that Paul Masson bought a 1977 Ford Maverick. “That’s me in the driver’s seat, my best friend hanging off the door and my little brother posing with the tire iron,” Paul wrote, describing one of five photos he posted. Paul doesn’t own the car anymore (he now has a 1971 Maverick Grabber), but recently he saw his first love again … tired and alone, stripped of its parts and nearly forgotten … but not by Paul.
Some of you have particularly warm memories of your first car because of a certain young lady who rode shotgun. Eric Haveman bought his first automobile — a 1973 AMC Javelin AMX — on June 18, 1995, the same day he started dating his wife, Dawn. “I still have both.” The same can’t be said for William Abernathy, who posted a photo of “My first car, a 1962 Chevy Impala, and my first and only wife. I still have the wife” … but not the car. Dawn Campbell can top that sad tale. Her No. 1 was a 1976 Camaro, but “it didn’t stick around long. Daddy said if I didn’t quit chasing boys, he’d take it away. He took it away.”
A couple of former Navy men spoke of fondly of their first cars. Danny O’Neal bought a new 1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 through the Navy Exchange Program while he was stationed in the Philippines. And Paul Austin posted a photo of himself in uniform, standing in front of the 1963 Chevrolet Impala SS that he purchased from his aunt and uncle in 1971. “I ran the wheels off it,” he wrote.
Figuratively speaking, you never know where your first car will take you. Rick Armentrout’s first, a 1971 Plymouth Duster, sparked a career. “It was the first car my brother and I ever painted, and now we’ve been painting professionally for 30 years.”
Doug Rutan’ first car was a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle, and he bought five more in the 50 years that followed. Tom Van Pelt’s first car was a Beetle too, sort of. In 1968, he built an open-top Meyers Manx from a wrecked ’65. Steve Gillie’s first car was even smaller than that — a diminutive 1951 Crosley Hot Shot. And how ’bout little Tony Lucas, who posted a photo of himself as a child sitting behind the wheel of a toy car? “Who would have known when this picture was taken in England I would end up as an American Motors fanatic living in Canada with an AMX,” Tony asked. “No. 6 was (Mark) Donohue’s number on the Trans-Am winning Javelins!”
Tony’s photo was one of literally dozens that touched our vintage-loving hearts. Like Steve Pietrangelo and his 1969 Camaro, Sue Anderson and her 1969 Chevy Impala 327, Bill Beames and his 1946 Ford Busniess Coupe, Warren Westbo and his 1971 Triumph TR6, and Ken Wentworth Jr. and his 1964 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.
Whew, you took us on one heck of a ride this week, folks. For that, we thank you. We’re also thankful for any diehards still reading at this point — definitive proof that we didn’t break the Internet.