September 28, 2002

30 years of personal transport

THINK I can safely say personal transportation has been and will be a huge industry forever in this country. Just for my own interest, I decided to try to find photos of the motorized vehicles I've used since my first driver's license was issued (on the 2nd try; I couldn't parallel-park well enough the first time out).

In 1967 I was a junior in high school with a paper route. 50 or so newspapers were hard to balance on a two-wheel bicycle, so when the opportunity arose (I think it was a going-out-of-business sale) to buy a 50cc motorbike with a Harley-Davidson nameplate on it for $150, I persuaded my parents to let me buy the thing. As it turned out, it was the product of an Italian company called Aermacchi, and Harley owned a half-interest in the firm, but what did that matter? It said H-D on it, right? Anyway, I bought it, rode it for about six months while delivering my papers, and then it was stolen from my carport. Imagine my heartbreak! The amusing thing was, it had been insured for $175, so I actually made money on the theft (and no, I did not and still do not know who the thief was!). The photo shows a bike very similar in appearance, but with a 250cc engine. That?s as close as I could get; the color and styling are very close.

The next vehicle was a 1961 Ford Falcon 2-door, bought in 1970 for a transportation car to get to my construction jobs around the island of Oahu, where the family had moved. I was there for the summer, and got a job with Del Webb & Co., which was building housing units at various military bases. Scroll down a little to see the 1961 model. Believe me, my white one never looked this slick. Some previous owner had, however, installed hood locks on it; since it was a 170 cubic inch engine, that gesture showed either a good sense of humor or delusions of grandeur. Due to the construction work, that poor thing had so much red clay embedded in the upholstery by the end of the summer the kindest thing to do would have been replace both seats. Instead, I sold it for about 100 bucks.

I am not going to try to find a picture of the little Daihatsu I owned in Japan while in the Navy; I have no idea what year the car was. I learned how to drive and shift on the "wrong" side in that dependable little thing, so it done me well while I owned it. It was from that car that an entire seabag full of dirty laundry was stolen the day before a month-long leave, meaning I had a single change of underwear in my bag when I arrived in Honolulu for a vacation.

On Kwajalein there were no privately-owned vehicles; everyone used a bike, so the next car wasn't necessary till I moved back to Hawaii to finish the undergraduate degree. Some of that Kwajalein money went towards a '74 MG Midget; there are several here which are dead ringers, particularly the orange one in the driveway about 15 photos down.

My first job after finishing college (so it took 11 years from start to finish; there were some interesting places in between!) afforded me the chance to borrow money and buy a car with the prospect of paying the loan off. Being a 30-year-old single guy, and the MG beginning to require more care than I wanted to keep up with, I bought a 1979 Triumph Spitfire; mine was the classic British Racing Green. It displayed a remarkable tendency to wear out master brake cylinders, and after the second replacement, I said enough and traded it in for a brand-new 1986 Ford Thunderbird. I had driven one on vacation through the Sierra Nevada Mountains the previous summer, and I fell in love with it.

Alas, along about 1993, all manner of things began to happen. My Dad became too ill to drive, and my Mom never did drive, so I quit my job and became a full-time caregiver till he passed away that summer. The vaunted 1990's economic expansion never moved West from California, so finding a job was difficult, and, as you may know, the longer you're without, the harder it becomes. The T-Bird began to need routine repairs, then serious repairs, then to die from neglect. I had to start driving my Dad's old Chrysler LeBaron (no pictures; I hated that car!). I drove it all through the next job, until 1998, when I traded it in for the current little "roller-skate on wheels," a 1997 Geo Metro sedan. Obviously, this one lives in a colder climate than mine! I bought it off the Budget Rent-A-Car lot; the salesman (this is where you nod your head knowingly) assured me it had not been previously owned by a rental firm. Now, when you open the driver-side door to get in, you're probably assured of seeing the door jamb, right? Smack-dab on the inside of the center post is a National Car sticker. However, since he was fool enough to take that awful Chrysler off my hands for $100, I bought it with 13,000 miles on it in May of 1998. Four years later, the odometer has made it all the way to 36,500 miles. That's island living for you!

There it is; pure self-indulgence. There's no reason anyone might be interested in that little tale, but what the hell; it was fun to look up the pictures.

Posted by Linkmeister at September 28, 2002 02:45 PM

Hey! My first car was a 1963 Ford Falcon (4 door). The radio was held on with C-clamps, and the steering wheel had a disconcerting habit of working its way off the column, so that, at any given time, you might turn the wheel right, only to find the wheel off the column and the car going straight rather than turning. That unnerved my parents enough to buy me a Chevette. Heh.

Posted by: Jen at September 29, 2002 04:45 AM

Erm. The only trouble I had with the steering column was that it was 3-speed stick on the column, which was my first experience with the standard "H" pattern for transmissions.

Posted by: Linkmeister at September 29, 2002 10:32 AM

Mine was actually an automatic. No shifting for Jen. Not until I got a nice '63 Beetle, anyway. And just about every car thereafter.

The steering wheel problem was eventually solved by my dad's mechanic -- someone had used a metric nut on a standard screw. Hence, slow but steady slippage. Eeeek.

Posted by: Jen at September 29, 2002 11:49 AM

Hey, we call parallel parking "K turns" here in toxic New Jersey land...(cough, cough)

Posted by: toxiclabrat at October 1, 2002 05:39 AM

I learned to drive (the first time) in an '86 Thunderbird. The driver's ed teacher/owner of the driving school used it for his own personal car -- it was definitely the cool car around town, even with the magnetic sign on the side with the Driving School number on it! thanks for the memories.

Posted by: Skatemom at October 1, 2002 07:11 AM