I didn't want to hijack the "What car do you wish was still being made today" thread, so I'm posting this separately.
This was Dad's '51 Mercury, the first car of his that I can remember. _At the time, Mercury's were known for being high-performance cars. _Merc's were the "cool cars" and to this day, they're still sought out by hot-rodders and customizers. _They had their own look, devoid of the fins and other excesses of the era.
Dad's Merc had a standard, manual transmission, with the gear-shift lever on the steering column. _The windshield was split into right and left halves. _The center of the steering wheel was a polished, chrome dome which, as a mirror, made my nose look hysterically large. _As a pre-schooler, I found that very amusing.
Mercurys sort of bridged the gap between the jello-mold cars of the post-war era and the shoe box look pioneered by Chevrolet. _Merc's had a purposeful, no-nonsense look which was at the same time quite stylish. _Note the "tombstone" tail lights. _When my Dad came home from work, my Mom and I would be waiting for him, sitting on the front stoop. _I'd be already dressed in my pajamas. _Each day was capped off with a ride around the block with Daddy and then it was bed time.
My mother wasn't quite comfortable with the Mercury's manual transmission, so Dad traded it in for a '55 Pontiac Star Chief. _This car had voluptious curves and polished chrome everywhere—it was gloriously excessive. _Though powerful, it was also very heavy and not exactly a zippy driver.
The '55 Pontiac had a metal dashboard which was festooned with all manner of knobs, levers and controls, all of which were intended to inflict the maximum amount of injury on the occupants in the event of all but the most minor of fender-benders. _
Even the hood ornamentation on the Pontiac was ridiculously excessive. There were twin, multi-lane chrome tracks down the hood on either side of a 5-pound jet aircraft with a clear Indian head that lit up with the headlights. _
When the '55 Pontiac Starchief wore out, Dad, in a moment of what I have to conclude was insanity, purchased one of the first compact economy cars produced in the United States—at a time when gasoline was 28 cents per gallon! _This was our 1961 Rambler.
Our '61 Rambler was... well, just plain un-cool and ugly. _When you look up "ugly" in the dictionary, there's a picture of this car. _ When the nuns in Catholic school saw my mother dropping me off in this vehicle, they stopped slapping me around. _It was a gesture of pure, unadulterated pity. _The girl in my class with whom I was desperately in love never looked at me the same way again. _Chocolate milk never tasted the same again. _ Indeed, life would never ever be the same again and it was all because of this awful car.
Paint it black and you had a BATMOBILE! _This was our '60 Chrysler Windsor and it was super-cool! _ Dad bought it after the Rambler died when someone accidentally poured iron filings into the crankcase and sugar into the gas tank (Oh well, these things happen).
The Chrysler was low-slung, sleek looking, powerful and fast. _ It featured Chrysler's torsion bar suspension and in spite of its 2-ton weight, handled like a dream.
Dad's Chrysler was a real powerhouse and we'd tune it up every spring with new plugs, points, condenser, cables, etc. _Then Dad would take me for a test-ride and do some things with the car that weren't strictly in keeping with local ordinances.
Kids on my block would be very careful when roller-skating past this car cause they knew they'd be gutted like a fish if they fell on one of those fins. _On the highway, the car made a whistling jet-engine sound as the air was channeled between the fins. _Fins are good.
The Chrysler's interior was futuristic in keeping with its Batmobile mistique. _ The transmission was controlled with push-buttons instead of a gear-shift lever. _The rear-view mirror was mounted on the dash. _For some reason, Chrysler liked to put them there even though visibility wasn't as good from that angle. _When the Chrysler's engine started giving Dad trouble, he sold it to one of his co-workers for a song. _The co-worker invested in a new exhaust crossover pipe which fixed the problem entirely and he operated the car for another ten years. _Oh, well.
We replaced the beloved Chrysler with this '61 Pontiac Bonneville. _I think this car was Dad's favorite. _Whereas Mercury was the high-performance leader of the 1950's, Pontiac took over that mantle in the 1960's. _This one had a big V-8 that guzzled gasoline in vast quantities. _The stuff was still cheap back then, so who cared?
The '61 Pontiac looked okay, I guess. _ It didn't have cool fins or exaggerated styling or anything like that. _ It looked... well, nice. _Nice was about as much credit as it could be given for looks; at least it wasn't ugly. _ This car didn't carry any anti-pollution equipment and everything under the hood was intended to propel its fairly light weight very authoritatively in one direction: Forward.
Pontiacs of the 1960's were known for their wide track and the designer did everything possible to accentuate that characteristic. _The trunk would swallow a half-dozen beach chairs, a couple of beach umbrellas and a cooler with plenty of room to spare. _This car was almost completely trouble-free and I think that's why Dad loved it so much.
The interior reflected Pontiac's desire to accentuate the "wide-tracking" aspect of their cars. _It was comfortable and had great visibility. _ Unfortunately, no air-conditioning.
See what I mean? _ It looked nice, but it was no Batmobile. _Somebody else must have liked it, though, cause they stole it. _I felt sorry for Dad when that happened, because he really liked the car.
This was Dad's '63 Caddy, acquired after our '61 Pontiac was stolen. _Like most of his cars, he bought this one used and like most of his cars, it had it's share of things wrong with it that needed to be fixed, but for the first time, we had electric windows. _Sometimes, they actually worked. _Dad taught me how to drive in this car.
The Caddy had lots of room under the hood, but it was filled with all manner of mysterious black boxes and hoses. _Still, we did our own tune-ups.
Not surprisingly, the Caddy's interior was pure luxury. _I think this was the first car we had that was equipped with a soft dashboard. _When the gadgets worked, they worked well, indeed. _Air-conditioning was an arctic blast and the heater could be dialed up to flame-thrower values. _It was neat learning to drive on a Caddy.
The Caddy was your typical, stodgy, businessman's car. _It was silent, powerful and felt like it was riding on whipped cream. _Maintenance was expensive, though and Dad got tired of keeping after all the electric-powered gimmicks. _He eventually sold it to our upstairs tenant.
Dad replaced the '63 Cadillac with this '64 Pontiac Catalina. _This was the same body style that Pontiac used for the GTO, so it scored fairly high on the cool-meter. _It was in this car that I passed my road test. _Then I went right out and got into a fender-bender with it. _Did you know that 1st-year drivers are ten times more likely to have an accident than anyone else?
I guess Pontiac got tired of side-by-side headlights, so they started stacking them vertically. _Cadillac would follow suit with the next model year.
On the '64 Catalina, the "wide-trackin'" Pontiac look was accentuated by arrowhead tail lights that pointed outwards. _Odd that the car was named after an island where no cars are allowed at all—only golf carts are permitted on Catalina Island.
Our Catalina had the typical "wide-trackin'" Pontiac interior, with lots of horizontal accents, including the speedometer. _ Unlike our previous Pontiac, this one had air-conditioning. _Eventually, a crack developed in one of the engine's pistons and it started pumping oil overboard. _It was especially sad to watch the junk man tow the Catalina away because it was in this car that I received my first kiss. _Suddenly, my interest turned from cars to girls. _Just as well, because our '64 Pontiac Catalina was the last of Dad's "cool cars."
By the time Dad bought a '74 Chevy Vega, I had already bought my own first car, a 1961 Volkswagen Microbus. _They were equally horrible. _But this is about Dad's cars, so we'll limit the discussion to that subject.
Legend has it that the Chevy Vega was made of compressed rust. _When car enthusiasts talk about the worst cars ever built, this one usually ranks at or near the top of the list in such illustrious company as Ford's Pinto, Fiat's Strada and Yugo's... well Yugo. _Dad's Vega blew its head gasket one day while towing a trailer. _He fixed it, sold it and replaced it with a Plymouth Volare stationwagon which was subsequently followed up by a Ford Taurus. _
Obviously, the age of Dad's "cool cars" had ended. _Fortunately, Dad himself, who machined the landing gear on the Lunar Module that took Neil Armstrong to the Moon, and who, at the age of 75, single-handedly built a 2-story barn next to his cabin in the Poconos just for the heck of it, always remained decidedly cool.
Bob, this one of the best threads I've read. A wonderful collection of your family cars, well written and illustrated. This should appear in one of our magazines as a feature story.
Thank you for sharing you and your Dad's car experiences.
Very nice description of your dad's cars while you were growing up
Now, what was he driving before you arrived? Did he talk about them or take pictures?
That was cool. I like well written car stories like that. Thank You for sharing.
You busted my bubble. My Dad bought a used '77 Vega with a 4 cyl. I thought it was cool. It had a stick shift! It was MUCH cooler than my '62 Galaxie. Talk about chick repellent.... I would borrow my Dad's Vega to go on a date, so I wasn't embarrassed by the Galaxie.
Back in the early 80's I bought a Vega that someone had shoe-horned a 283 Chevy V-8 engine into. I owned it just long enough to realize it wasn't a good combination. The front end on the Vega wasn't setup to handle that engine.
Hey! Don't disparage the vega.
Our first car car after graduating from college was a Vega Kammback GT with the Cosworth motor.
We traded our Alfa Romeo GTA Jr. and $200 for new one at a Chebby dealer in Watkins Glen NY.
It was a stitch when we picked it up because the Ferrari team used the dealership as a staging area before going up the hill to the track and some of the mechanics were there.
They could not believe what we were doing.
The first thing I did was put some real shocks on it and beefed up the sway bars.
I remember my Vega! When I bought it I liked the "look" and must have put at least 3 cans of turtle wax on the thing in the first year, didn't help the rain drain under the wipers was the first to go then the wheel wells by the second year I swore I would never buy another Chevy!
The problem is, those aren't old cars enough!
Put me down for one Vega vote too! I bought a 76 Vega with a fancy custom paint job and a blown motor for $100.00 in the early 80's. Local wrecking yard sold me a rebuilt motor from another wreck for $100.00. I contacted the firm that did the rebuild and found out they steel sleeved the block, had Chevrolet done that I think the Vega would have a totally different reputation today. I was young and this was cheap transportation. It had air conditioning and a two speed powerglide so in my young hands it spent about 1/4 of the time redlined and I mean about as tight as you can wind a motor as I didn't care if I blew it up. It took three years of this treatment and never gave me a minute of trouble. Probably one of the most abused and reliable cars I've ever owned!
My old man could turn gold bars into turds. His car purchases were a directly
reflection of this talent.
Let's start with a 1931 Auburn speedster, which he traded off for a Model A.
The Model A lasted until he went in the service. The years between the Model A
and the brand new fuel injected 57 Chevy coupe are a mystery, but in his brilliance,
took the F/I system off the car before trading it in on a 57 Bel Air wagon.
In an uptick of choices, the wagon was replaced with a 66 Mustang. This would
be his last good move. The next was the first and only time I was involved. He and
I took the Mustang down to Dick's Cascade Ford, in Bellevue (Metke was gone by
then), and came home with a #@! Pinto !
It was about this time I realized this man was toxic and as my own driving legalities
were about to become reality, I began looking around critically for a car I wanted to
own. My first choice was something like Dad's Auburn, but those were a bit out of
my league at 16. I landed upon a bright turquoise 1960 Buick Invicta convertible,
but ultimately defected to the 1958 DeSoto Fireflite convertible I have now. Dad's
ugly car choices put a permanent damper on my outlook for transient ownership and
Dad would continue his penchant for crap cars with a slew of dandies until he
croaked out, always toady little boxes and ALWAYS traded off in short order. He
would rant and rave about "those big, ugly" cars my brother and I had. Yeah ....
My dad's first car was a 1930 Plymouth Roadster, maroon with black fenders, that he named "Bonnie Jean." There is a picture of him with the car in an album somewhere, but I'm not sure where. In 1935, he was commander of a CCC camp in Arkansas and went to Little Rock to buy a brand-new 1935 Pontiac. This is a photo of him and his fiancée (later wife and my mother) on the way back from Little Rock.
He didn't like the Pontiac very much, but kept it until 1941, when he bought a Dodge. This is a stock shot, but it's the same as his 2-door sedan. His was maroon.
Dick: Great story, now complete
Burger: Maybe your fathers removal of the '57 Chevy fuel injection system wasn't such a bad idea if he kept it on a shelf in his basement for his heirs to find - it would be worth quite a bunch of $$ today
You got the wording all wrong Bob.
The Rambler American is beautiful. They were good cars, a little more engine than needed though.
The Chrysler is butt ugly, especially the front and side views.
"Built from Compressed rust." I like that, never heard it before.
My dad wore out alot of cars and parts in his youth but really misses his 39 Ford.
He drag raced alot back years ago and not on the track either.Spent most of his time with blue lights behind him in dust.
No problem being the buddy he was racing had a good connection. His dad owned the high way patrols office building and tickets somehow always made it to the trash can.
But the WORST vehicle I can remember my dad buying was a brand new,off the show room floor,Volkswagon beetle Magran "spelling"? 1975. I can remember standing in the show room beside of it.It was a pretty blue color and that was the only good thing about it. Spelling. It had the sun roof and factory am-fm radio.
That was the weakest no self pulling car I have ever known. And cramped even for me in the back seat with 5 bags of gocerys.
He traded it 2 years later for a pickup that is still in the back yard with 350,000 miles on it.
My dad's first car was one of those very early models. It had two ears, four legs, a tail and usually had a buggy behind it.
My dad's second car was a 1924 model T touring that got sold when I was very young. (I remember it)
My dad's third car was a 1933 Ford four door sedan. This car I got to drive in my high school days as dad had his car number four for family use.
My dad's fourth car was a 1950 Mercury that was also his last car as he passed away in 1965.
My mother drove the car for about a year and than it was placed in a storage shed.
His two grandsons just pulled it out of the storage shed and started restoration.
Gee, my writing skills are not as good but I think it is a great thread. Thanks Bob C for starting it. Just might be fun to offer our own icons growing up...I can't write like Bob so here goes....
Dad's first car was a 1939 Packard 1708 12 cylinder that he treated like an investment and I'm told put on blocks during WW2 since he could use grand-pop LaSalle and Grandpop's unlimited gas ration book for gas. (Dad was originally the instrumentation guy for Brewster Aircraft and found himself nationalized as a somewhat mad scientist for the Naval Air Development Center complete with a deferment to reserves for the duration ). He got rid of the Packard when I was still a 'memorable' kid...
Dad dumped it when he needed a new battery and it was something like almost a whole weeks salary to buy the right one if I recall right. We lived in the city then and Dad was fine taking public transportation to work over an hour away. When we needed 'wheels' on the weekend, my Uncle Bob had a 50 Pontiac Fastback Coupe and he lived right across the street! Dad liked borrowing it so much we found ourselves with a 51 Pontiac Fastback Coupe...(and Uncle Bob trunk lock actually fit our ignition!)
That died in 1956 pulling a hill in Wilkes Barre PA coal country visiting family. I think it blew a ring if I had to guess. No problem, Dad bought a 56 Chevy 4-door pillarless off the show room floor and drove back to Phila. It had this thing called PRNDL!
When that got tired he bought (sigh) a 1963 Dodge 330 two door (Like Bob C must have been a dose of conservatism) but...we now lived in the country and the commute to work was an hour and a half...this pup was even 6 cyl if I recall correctly...
Replaced in 1966 with a Dodge Polara 500...gold with red stripe tire and black vinyl top! At 56, Dad was getting sporty...again...and I learned to drive in this one.
1968 Dad really surprised everyone and came home one day with a Dodge Charger 383, black vinyl top...turn signal indicators in the hood...black cherry red at that! To me it was about the most gorgeous car in the world!
I was off in Vietnam and was going to save all of my combat pay and per diem (yes, certain enlisted men got a buck or two a day per-diem...after all, I was actually in the ARVN's once I got to country...groan...but that's another story) and planning on using the cash stash as a big down-payment on a h-u-g-e new Impala convertible priced at $3775 on my return to the states (I was driving a lowered '64 Impala SS that was silver coupe roof over maroon lower body)
Half way through my tour, I cut Dad a deal...instead of me buying the new Chevy convertible...if he took my money stash in exchange for the Charger pink slip we had a deal! He said made sense to him...woo hoo...
So Charger was mine and paid for, and he went and bought a 70 Mercury Marquis two door coupe pillarless....that thing was huge in itself and there were days he use to just sit there and stare at it, proud of himself I guess...one day it got scratched and he stayed in a tizzy for days!
Never got to see what Dad would do next...think it would have been a Linc but just guessing. He retired in October 72, passed in January 73.
Great post, and loved your story!
BUT. . . .don't disparage the 1961 Volkswagon microbus. My first car also. My grandmother won it in a raffle at the Grand Opening of a new "mall", didn't drive, so she gave it to me. Turned out it was wired completely backwards, but drove it until it caught fire (like most of them did) on the freeway and burned up. Still wish I had it though!
Let's hear more about your VW!
The coolest car my father had when I was growing up was a 51 Merc Coupe. I absolutely loved that car. My father wasnt brand loyal. He would buy anything for the right price. He swapped it in on a 54 Chebby station wagon. We went from having the coolest car on the block to the ugliest dog on the block. To get it started in the winter months, he would have to have to leave a lead light on next to the carburetor all night. I told him more than once he never had to do that with the Merc. That thing shook and rattled way more than any Model T I have owned. Every November you could could count on replacing the starter motor. Unfortunately when he got rid of the Merc I wasn't old enough to have it. Now I have made up for it for I own a 51 Merc Convertible. This car is a pleasure to drive.
On Vegas:I taught auto body for a trade school. When they were a couple years old, people would bring them in and want us to fix where they rotted out under the windshield. You could look through the hole and see their feet. I never would allow the students to get involved in that. They didn't hold up very well in the rust belt of North East.
When we arrived in the USA in April 1967 and I bought my first NEW car. Prior to that I had a 1935 Ford 8 (933 cc and no suspension), then an 1936 Austin 7 (rusty) Saloon, then a 1947 VW (crash gearbox and cable brakes) then a 1955 Porsche 356A. So here we are with real money, we had sold our house in the UK, and we bought a brand new VW bug. We still have it today.....
Over 330,000 miles with the original engine and gearbox. We replaced the front suspension about 30 years ago. Repainted it in the 80s and new upholstery about the same time. Wonderful vehicle.