A couple of my fearless peerless writers have shared stories about important cars in their lives lately. Thought I’d share mine!
In the summer of 1985 I inherited a car. I’m sure it will always be the car I loved most — my 1965 Plymouth Valiant.
I first met that car when she was brand new in 1965. I remember the day –my Aunt Flosh picking me up at the Muncie bus station, a 9-year-old on a fun sleepover with my favorite aunt. I can still call to mind the view, just able to see over the acqua blue dashboard from my 9-year-old height.
Flosh had just moved back to the midwest that year, retired from her glamorous New York publishing career. She did considerable research picking out the first car she would own. I know this because, among her papers when she moved to the nursing home, I found the brochures. She looked at the Valiant and its top competitor, the Dodge Dart.
Both were designed for the new market of women drivers; the brochure copy spoke of short wheelbases that make parking a breeze. The photos showed sweater girls hopping in and out, the close-ups of the gas pedal and the dash showed high-heels and gloved hands. No wonder these were the cars my stylish aunt wanted.Tucked into one of the brochures was the window sticker of the car she finally chose, my Valiant. She paid $2,465. The $65 was for the optional safety feature: seat belts.
Flosh succumbed to Alzheimers’ not too many years after she bought the car. For years it sat forgotten in her garage, the odometer reading 23,000 miles. When my parents moved into Flosh’s home, they discovered both the brochures and the car. They offered the car to me if I would fetch it from Indiana. I was thrilled.
That first drive from Muncie Indiana through Chicago to Madison was a gas. People love a good-looking vintage car, and a young redheaded girl at the wheel doesn’t hurt. The smiles, the waves – it was all new to me and really, really fun.
Of course a car that has sat a long while has problems, and there were some big repair bills that first year. But overall, that car was a pinnacle of automotive engineering. I got a high school auto shop text from the library and studied her systems. Her Slant 6 engine is still nostalgically remembered by car buffs.
I lavished care on that car; I kept her looking and running like my aunt would have, and she repaid me a thousand ways.
Here are my top three reasons I loved that car.
One: That car started conversations. People would come up to me in parking lots, or leave notes under my windshield – “let me buy this car if you ever decide to sell.” One just said, “Let me be your mechanic.” I called the fellow and he got his wish.
Which leads me to Reason Two: she was good about breakdowns. That car never left me on the roadside in a bad neighborhood, late at night. She had her breakdowns but they were all magically easy. My favorite was the time we were headed to the Lake of the Woods in Canada. Suddenly I saw telltale steam billowing from under the hood — the water hose had blown. But we were right outside a supper club on a Friday Fish Fry night. While we had our dinner a mechanic came out, fixed the car, and seemed embarrassed when we offered a $20 tip. Whenever that car did develop mechanical trouble, it was with a good story like that.
And the third reason I loved that car, the deepest and most irrational reason, was that she reminded me of my aunt. Flosh took an interest in me from earliest memory and often whisked me away from my brothers for special fun. She took me to tea parties with her lady friends, taught me the white-glove manners of her day. The Valiant connected me to my aunt at her best.
I parted with the Valiant in 1995. It was a terribly hard decision. By that time I had inherited another, more modern car, and I knew it was impractical to keep both. Still I clung to the Valiant, until one thing made the decision for me.
The cotton thread that held her upholstery together gave out. I swear she was 30 to the day when the upholstery suddenly went “sproing”, every thread rotten. The seats bulging up like damaged sofas. And I knew my aunt would never drive a car that looked like that! This condition couldn’t be allowed. But when I priced new uphostery, the cost was so high… logic told me it would be foolish to put that kind of money into a 30-year-old car. And emotion wouldn’t let me drive her around looking like that.
So I put an ad in the paper and I sold her, to a young artist named Sarah. She loved the Valiant from first sight. She paid me my asking price: $2,465.