In October of 1983 my dad purchased a 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday 88 Hardtop for six-hundred dollars that he found in a corn field near the small town of Crawford, Colorado. Seven months earlier he and my mom had welcomed me into the world, and consequently some of my earliest memories involve that car. When I was learning how to talk, I affectionately patted the rear passenger side door and declared the car to be "big, big!" My dad thought it was funny, and from then on the car would always be known in our family by its name, Big Big.
Our small town in western Colorado still resembled the Wild West in some regards in the early 1980's. The side streets were not paved, the one option for shopping was Gibson's, and the best option for eating out was Wayne's Drive-In. When we got a Kentucky Fried Chicken it was big news, but I still preferred Wayne's. One of the downsides to living in such a small town was that our neighborhood did not have a service to pick up trash. Once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, my dad would pack our previous weeks trash into Big Big's trunk and drive it to the county landfill. This was "dump day," which for a four year old child was the coolest thing ever! My dad would actually drive the car down the steep incline into the dump itself, where he would unload the bags. In later years he would defend his decision to drive his classic Oldsmobile into the dump. It was the only vehicle we had with large enough tires and an engine powerful enough to handle what was a very steep and difficult road.
When I was old enough for a driver’s license I pestered my dad for the keys to Big Big. By that time, Big Big was sitting at the side of our house and hadn't run in years. My dad was always buying and selling cars. We had an AMC Hornet, a Karmann Ghia, a Studebaker Lark, a Fiat X19, and a 1962 Oldsmobile F-85, just to name a few. My dad wouldn't let me have Big Big, first because it needed a lot of work at the time in order to be drivable, and he reasoned that a car with no power steering and a manual transmission was not the best choice for a new driver. I was given the F-85 instead, not my first choice but it turned out to be a great car, and one that I would eventually have many fond memories of as well.
Six years later I was about to graduate college and finally succeeded in getting both the keys and the title to Big Big. By this time Big Big was in dire need of repairs. I bought a new battery and some starter fluid, added some oil and decided to try my luck at starting it. To my surprise it started right up! I still had to have the car towed to a local garage for repairs, owing mainly to the fact that it did not have working brakes. I then drove the car through the mountains and across the continental divide to the Denver area where I was living at the time. Big Big was back!
A few years later I found myself moving to Alabama. I pondered whether or not to attempt driving a 53 year old car 1300 plus miles in July, and eventually decided to gamble and do it. My parents had since moved to eastern Kansas which was right on the way, and I reached their place without incident where I stayed the night.
The next morning Big Big wouldn't start. It turned over, but it wouldn't start. I was eventually forced to go on without it, and I left Big Big sitting in my parent’s driveway. After I left, my dad got the car to start. It turned out to be a minor problem with wet ignition wires, due to the fact it had been raining heavily the day before. The move to Alabama turned out to be an absolute disaster, and I have since suspected that Big Big knew it would be, and was somehow trying to warn me. Not having the time or the financial means to ship the car, I found a space in a barn that I rented for fifty dollars a month, and parked the car. Big Big sat again for the next four years.
Presently I am living in south Texas, and Big Big is still in Kansas. It's not sitting in a barn though, it's up on a lift at a garage where a mechanic has been busy ordering parts and making repairs. This time it's getting all new wheel cylinders, new shocks, the original vacuum windshield wipers are being converted to electric, the previously non-functioning horn and fuel gauge are now operational, and of course it's getting an oil change and general tune-up. When the mechanic is finished making repairs it will go on an auto-hauler and be reunited with me in south Texas. After it gets here I plan to have the seats re-upholstered, and the exterior repainted.
So many times over the years my parents (and later myself) came close to selling Big Big. It frequently wasn't running, was costly to store, inconvenient to move, and at times we really needed the money. When I was five years old my dad had placed a "For Sale" sign inside the windshield because we needed money for a down-payment on a house. I knew what the sign meant and I started sobbing uncontrollably. Big Big was like a member of the family, even if it was just a car! My dad saw my tears, walked over to the car and took the sign out of the window. He gave me a hug and promised me he wouldn't sell the car.
Now that I'm an adult in my thirties, I'm so happy that I still have Big Big. It may just be a car, but it's been around as long as I can remember and it holds so many happy memories for me. It's fun to drive with its "three on the tree" transmission, an unusual option for a 1956 Oldsmobile. It has no power steering or power brakes, and when I drive it I feel like I'm doing the work, forced to flex some muscles that are rarely used when driving a modern car.
Whatever you drive, be advised that some of your fondest memories (as well as those of your children) may take place inside that car. Don't be surprised if you find yourself becoming "attached." Just make sure it's something fun to drive and that it has lots of chrome.