The Historic Vehicle Association is collecting stories and creating an oral history of the automobile…
Money matters: For better or worse, here are our first car purchases
The first car we ever drove, the first car we ever owned, and the first car we ever purchased ourselves are rarely one in the same. Which is probably a good thing.
We asked members of Hagerty’s Media Team to tell us about the first time they put down their own hard-earned cash to buy a car. Here are their first purchases:
Ben Woodworth, 1991 Honda Civic sedan—Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I bought a 1991 Honda Civic sedan with a manual transmission for $4,500. When I moved from Philly to Denver in 2007, I packed everything I owned into that car and drove across the country by myself. Over the next couple years I drove the same route three more times and also took a trip from Denver to Vermont, and back. My sister and I did the Colorado-to-Vermont trip in about 32 hours. It’s 1,900 miles and we only stopped for gas and food. I lived in three states while I owned that car: Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Utah. It went on a lot of adventures with me, including some super-hairy winter drives over Vail Pass to see my girlfriend (now wife). I sold it in Utah for $1,000 after the timing belt broke for the second time.
Chris Lambiase, 1970 BMW 2002—My first car was a hand-me-down from my dad, a 1967 Pontiac Catalina convertible in dark gold over black that he bought new. It had a 389 V-8 and a three on the tree, which I converted to the floor. It started me down the rabbit hole of mods because the bench seat no longer fit …. and on and on. My first purchase? A 1970 BMW 2002 that I raced a little bit.
Cody Wilson, 1966 Dodge Charger—My first car purchase was a ’66 Dodge Charger with a 318 V-8 in red with a white interior. It was a perfect balance of awesome and wild impracticality for a 16-year-old kid. It got 8 mpg and wasn’t particularly fast. I had a group of friends who drove a ’69 Mustang, ’68 Camaro, and a ’69 Dart. It was fun to park next to each other in high school, where everyone else had Civics and Integras. I would love to own another Charger sometime in my life.
Jeff Peek, 1967 Pontiac Catalina—There was a time when both my parents and grandparents owned Pontiac Catalinas. Maybe there was a 2-for-1 sale or something. When I started looking to buy my first car, Grandpa Peek was ready to part ways with his pea green (puke green?) ’67 four-door sedan, which I purchased for $100. I’m guessing he and my dad agreed I would take better care of it if I had some skin in the game. They were right. I babied that oxidized beast right through my first year of college. And then one winter morning, a passing snow plow caused a white out, and I came out the other side to find another car stopped sideways in the road. Thankfully no one was hurt, but in the collision the skin of my front passenger door was literally peeled off. The Catalina still ran fine, but the ol’ girl began turning heads for all the wrong reasons. (“No, I’m not driving a see-through cutaway model, sir. Sorry you have to look at those nasty door guts, ma’am.”) Our partnership lasted two more years before the Catalina finally called it quits.
Joe DeMatio, 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate Wagon—I bought a 1977 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate Wagon—tan and cream with brown woodgrain panels—for $400 in 1986. The 1977 model year was the first of the downsized Chevys, but the Caprice was still a big car. Mine had the optional 350 V-8 and, after driving my mother’s castoff 1978 Chevette, I was drunk with power. My pals would throw their stuff into the huge cargo hold, and we’d hit westbound I-94 for a weekend of partying in Chicago, secure in the knowledge that, should our free lodging with friends of friends fall through, we could always park the Caprice on Halsted and sleep in the back. After about a year, I sold it for the same price I’d paid, and I upgraded (or so I thought) to a 1984 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. Even with its optional V-6, that thing was utterly gutless, although it did have a power antenna. The Cutlass soon gave way to my first German car, a 1984 Audi 4000S—a decided improvement, despite being a maintenance nightmare.
Jonathan Stein, 1959 MGA coupe—In 1975, I found my 1959 MGA coupe in the New York Times Sunday auto section. A grad student in Kansas named Rocky Marziano—no relationship to the fighter—owned the car, which was in Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York City. We were going to flat tow the car behind my mom’s Capri V-6. We dragged it out of the garage and made sure the doors were closed and wouldn’t fly open. The hubcaps were secure, and off we went for the two-hour drive home to central New Jersey. We made it to the first intersection and there was a huge crash as a wheel dropped off and went rolling down the street. I had to chase after it, only to discover that someone had mounted the wheel with the lug nuts loose in the hubcap. Being a drum-brake car, there was no real damage, but we checked all other wheels before continuing home. I restored that car and, combined with a poetry independent subject, it was my senior project in high school.
Justin Warnes, 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport—The first car I purchased was a ’99 Jeep Cherokee Sport. I got it for $3,000. It had a salvage title, and at some point the carpet started smelling and I had to replace it. I think it was in a flood, but I was never able to figure out why it had a salvage title. I sold it to my uncle, who turned it into a rural mail truck and drove it into the ground. I always wished I hadn’t sold it.
Larry Webster, 1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z—The first car I bought was a 1984 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. It was red and silver, and I paid $4,100 for it in 1987, three months before I got my license. My dad had one that he totaled on his way to work (the only reason he survived the head-on collision was the newly enacted seat belt law and the tollbooth operators at the Lincoln Tunnel who checked for compliance. Before that, he never wore a belt).
I drove it sans license whenever when my parents were out of the house. Man I loved the whistle of that turbo as it spooled. I fried the clutch within two months of my 17th birthday, because even FWD cars can do burnouts. That cost me $1,500, and soon after, it needed new injectors for $650, which was money neither I nor my parents had. I left the car at home for my first year at college but brought it for my sophomore year. I had to leave it outside in a crummy lot, and the long front overhang meant the car scraped on several of Lehigh’s steep hills. I fretted over it constantly and couldn’t stand how it was getting abused. So I took it back home and sold it.
Six months later I bought an ’83 Rabbit GTI, because all the car magazines said that car was fantastic. That car changed my life…
Matt Lewis, 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe—In 1998, I bought a 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Coupe for $500. It was a 2.2-liter inline-four with a five-speed manual. It was the first manual I had ever driven, and the owner was a bit concerned to learn that on our test drive. No damage done, but it was a bit more stressful than we were both ready for.
Mike Austin, 1988 Toyota Camry—I bought a 1988 Toyota Camry from a friend for $500, and the fuel tank promptly sprung a leak. After that, it ran great for a 200,000-mile car. One of the cylinders had a ton of oil blow-by, so eventually I could tell when it needed oil by how the engine sounded. Working on the car was incredibly easy—one time I put in a new alternator in about 15 minutes. Like all Camrys of the era, at least in the Midwest, my car had plenty of rust in the rear bodywork. A great car for grad school, but I was fine with moving on (to a Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon). I did, however, keep the INXS “Listen Like Thieves” cassette that came with the Camry.
Nick Gravlin, 2013 Subaru Impreza Sport—The first and only car I’ve ever purchased is my current 2013 Subaru Impreza Sport. Living in northern Michigan, I knew I’d need an AWD vehicle, and after attending the North American International Auto Show in January 2012, my heart was set on the Impreza. It hasn’t let me down yet and I hope to have it for years to come.
Stefan Lombard, 1980 Volvo 242 DL—I bought my first car in 1999, just before I turned 24. It was a 1980 Volvo 242 DL with 250,000 miles on it, brown on brown and sun-faded all over from life on the streets of San Diego. It had been my uncle’s car for two decades, and I paid around $1,100 for it, which was really just the cost to have his guy do all the stuff that my uncle had been deferring for years. I wired my uncle the money, then began shipping packages to him from my folks’ place in suburban Chicago. When the 242 was ready, I flew to San Diego, masterfully applied sweet duct-tape racing stripes, loaded myself and those boxes into the car, then moved to Montana to start the next part of my life. It was a blast in the snow on studded tires, and I J-turned it down my twisty driveway every day when I came home from work. A few years later, just outside of Cleveland, at 290,000 miles, I said goodbye to it when the hood flew up at 45 mph. The hinges bent, the windshield cracked even more than it was already, and when I finally got the car safely to a stop in some lady’s driveway, it died. I gathered up the trinkets it had accumulated over the years, phoned a wrecker, and that was that. Like everyone else, I wish I still had it.