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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Drive

38 comments | November 29th, 2012

(by Mir)

My husband is a car guy. He can tell you about every single car he’s ever owned, and there are a lot of them. He remembers everything about them: when he bought them, who he sold them to, what problems they had, everything. Me, it came time to replace my car and he asked me what I wanted. “One that… runs?” I suggested. I am helpful like that.

The thing is, for me, a car is an appliance. It’s a machine that exists to do what I need it to do—transport me and/or the kids someplace with some safety and efficiency—and beyond that, I don’t care much about it. Does it work? Good. Is it completely generic-looking? Even better. That’s all I require.

And so I like to tease my beloved, sometimes, about the car magazines he reads and the endless hours he spends debating one model vs. another. Every car purchase is a major event for him, and he still has that excitement over every single vehicle he acquires, whether it’s a dinged-up beater or something new. (Just to be clear, we’re not over here buying brand new cars every day. It’s just that when you’re a car guy, you tend to swap your old car for a different old car fairly regularly, it seems.)

I’m not saying everyone has to get all excited about cars; lord knows I don’t see myself worrying about this much, one way or the other. But I started thinking back to when I felt differently… when cars were a symbol of freedom and the autonomy I so badly craved as a young adult.

The first car I ever purchased was a 1978 full-size Ford Bronco that already had close to 100k miles on it. It was 1989, I was 17, and I paid for it with a lifetime’s worth of saved-up babysitting money ($1100, which seemed an impossibly large sum at the time). I bought it from a local farmer, and the first thing I did when I brought it home was spend a few hours cleaning it inside and out—the storage area in the back was full of errant kernels of chicken feed. The red paint was oxidizing; as I washed the exterior, all my tags turned slightly pink. I remember feeling positively elated. My own car! And it was so BIG! It was like driving a tank. (Of course, it also got maybe 10 miles to the gallon, though this was back before you had to sell your kidney to buy gasoline, so it wasn’t too bad.) Some of the guys I knew would holler “tiny girl, giant truck!” when they saw me in it. I felt like Wonder Woman in that thing. The standard joke was that I could be in a 20-car pile-up and chances were Dino would come out absolutely unscathed. Thankfully, that theory was never tested.

I named the Bronco—wait for it—Dino the Broncosaurus. (Those of you too young to have grown up on “The Flintstones” probably don’t get the reference.) Dino got me through college, transporting me and my laundry back home at regular intervals, getting me to and from various jobs, and serving as the obvious choice vehicle for a number of impromptu road trips. I filled Dino with everything I owned on multiple occasions; it all fit (Dino was a monster, and I didn’t have that much stuff) and we traveled together between my childhood home, various apartments, and back again. Dino survived several boyfriends, countless trips, and I only had to call my father sobbing about an expensive repair once. (Blown head gasket. Dad paid for it, and it probably cost more than Dino was worth. I remain deeply grateful for his generosity.)

Shortly before moving 3,000 miles across the country to go to grad school, I sold Dino and replaced him with an unremarkable compact sedan that got better gas mileage. When the guy I sold him to came to hand me a wad of cash and drive off, I felt a distinct pang. My days of being indestructible had come to an end. I now had an unremarkable, sensible car in which to transport myself. I felt like someone had died.

Writing this, I just realized that my current car is a lot like that one I bought right after Dino. It does what it’s supposed to do. It’s not flashy. It’s not big. It goes. And that’s all I really need.

And yet… I dunno. There was something about that truck, and it being the first vehicle I bought, and being so… IN YOUR FACE. It was just what I needed, at that age. It helped me bridge the gap from child to woman, somehow. I don’t know that I could recapture that even if I wanted to, but I’ll always have fond memories of Dino, the one constant during a time of continuous change in my life.

Tell me about your first car? Do you think of it as an important part of your life/development or… just a car?

(for more Mir, go here.)

38 comments

  • deva

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My very first car was a hand-me-down from my parents: a red Ford Tempo with transmission issues. It would whirrrrrrr up a hill at fifteen and I became very adept in that short year with it at shifting it in and out of neutral to get the transmission to shift gears. The head gasket went on it about a year later and at speeds above 20 I was prone to overheating the engine, so I traded it in for a Cavalier, which was my first car that I bought. It took me three years to pay for it and I was so happy when I finished. I passed that car down to my sister when I outgrew it and it served her well.

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  • Tenessa

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a GEO Tracker. Two doors, hard top, four wheel drive. I drove it all over and carried lots of people around in it. I’m from a small town in Arkansas and the “things to do” there for teens is pretty slim and almost all of them are trouble in some form or other. The biggest, most popular thing was cruising town or “Cruising the Drag” (no this was not 1961 it was 1992). My tracker drove all over Independence County and neighboring counties over all the dirt roads. I liked to find places where four wheel drive was mandatory.

    When I moved off to college it drove me and my friends all over Washington County and neighboring counties until we knew all the secrets there were to know about our part of the world. I drove that Tracker from Arkansas, across the southwestern US to San Francisco, north to Seattle and then home again by way of Utah and Colorado. My friend and I, we camped our way across the US. That Tracker was never the same after that, but I drove it until it was held together with duct tape. When I sold it, I wasn’t too sad. I don’t know why, but maybe because I was looking forward and the Tracker was from a different chapter in my life.

    Maybe no one ever in the history of cars has said this before, but that Tracker was a good car.

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    • Ashley

      Posted on November 30, 2012

      I’m in Cleburne county! My first car (or truck, rather) was a 1977 Chevy Luv which I found out after I paid $300 for it, was my dad’s first truck in 1980. I eventually quit driving it and got a newer SUV, but the Luv is still sitting in one of my grandma’s old chicken houses. Hopefully my son will want to fix it up someday and it can be the first truck of a third generation.

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  • SarraJK

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car (a present from my dad) was a 1977 Ford Granada white with red interior and an 8 track tape deck. This was in 1988. It was awesome having the freedom to get around without using my feet or the bus. I think we nicknamed it Orca the killer whale. It lasted about a year, and several fender benders until the camshaft broke. I got $75 for it from a junk yard.

    The first car I bought was a new red VW Fox just after I turned 18. It was a great little car. It had a manual transmission, but I didn’t know how to drive one when I bought it (I couldn’t even test drive the car). I remember stalling out a lot that summer.

    I remember all my cars pretty fondly. I’m pretty picky about cars, but when I find something I like I hang onto it. My car has another couple of years on it, but I’m already browsing to see if I want to get something new or just the new version of what I have.

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    The first was a red Chevy Vega, dad was teaching me to drive with it. Unfortunately, before I got my license, he needed an operation for kidney stones and we had to sell it for the money. I didn’t have the car long enough for it to mean much, but it’s kinda fun to put on the sad face and say “We had to sell my first car to pay for poppa’s kidney operation.”

    I went through a few junkers, but the one I still miss was a giant brown 2-door ’72 Mercury Monterey. 400cc engine and no front grill, a flaming skull Harley decal in the back window, a CB radio and 8-track player. It was ginormous, powerful, loud, and menacing-looking . . . until you realized all you could see of 5-foot me was my knuckles on the steering wheel!

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  • Em

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a 1985 Ford Tempo (sisterhood, deva!). I had my license less than a month but had dreamed of having my own car since the first time I wanted to run away from home. I didn’t. But it was nice to know I could.

    I brought my uncle, the mechanic, with me to buy it and he talked the seller down from $500 to $450. I didn’t even know you could do that! So impressed! I bought it in March and wrecked it in July. It was totalled to the tune of $1,000 to fix. But since I was in love, I took my minimum wage job and kicked its ass all summer long (or, it kicked mine) so I could fix up my baby. I drove it until it died of old age. It had dementia, the windshield wipers turned on with the headlights. Looking back, I wish I had that $1,000. Seriously, what was I thinking?

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was just a car. It was a 1994 Maxima I bought in 1996 (I was a late driver, having just gotten my license at 23). What was more memorable was my boyfriend (now husband) and his excellent car purchasing skills. He’s proven to be what I’ve needed at negotiations every time (I am always ready to just say fine, fine, whatever, where do I sign so I can leave?) whereas he goes in with a set price and will leave the minute someone tries to add in floor mats. Since then, though, we’ve had our share of cars (seeing how the Maxima was destroyed one fine evening after I fell asleep while driving). There’ve only been two I absolutely adored: a VW Touareg back in ’07 and a Jeep Commander in ’09. The Touareg I was attached to because it made me feel sophisticated (I didn’t know anyone else who’d opted for that instead of the Jetta or Passat) and the Commander WHOOOOOOO LAWD I sat up high and I snarled at those low in their…low cars.

    Memories.

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  • Frank

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    Mine was a 1980 Toyota Corona (yes, with an “N”) hatchback (that would not stay up). So many people at the time (I was 17 back in 1989) were in awe. I think I met my parents half way on the cost. I called it ‘Yota (the obvious reference the the small green Jedi Master intended). I had to rig a number of things on it… it took specific directions to do things (for instance, I needed to turn on the heat, change the fan speed, change the location from floor to defrost and back, and change the temp dial from hot, to cold, back to hot, to make hot air come out. no joke.) The best thing about cars like that is that they all have character, style, and personality that new and unremarkable cars just dont have. I think that is what makes the fond memories. I have a newer model Camry now; of which there are exactly 1 billion of on the road. It is a good car… but doesnt feel special in any way. And I bet I wont remember it 20 years after parting ways without thinking really hard.

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  • Corey

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    The first car I bought myself was a Geo Tracker (kinda like a Barbie-sized jeep, but I insisted on monochromatic black, not any of the girly magenta or sunshine yellow models). I had just left my ex, and when I went out to celebrate my new car with my parents, they asked me what I would name this new car. My first thought: Not His. Then it was so obvious: Nacho car, MY car. I think both Nacho and my dog were instrumental in my introduction to my now-husband several months later. Now I have a stinkin’ minivan. It doesn’t have a name at all. ~sigh~

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  • Therese

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first vehicle was a 1973 Olds Cutlass. Sweet, sweet ride! I still miss it! I bought it from my godmother in 1979 for $825 and sold it three years later for $1650. With that $1650, I bought a 4WD International Scout and a washer and dryer for my new hubby and me. The washer and dryer lasted a lot longer than the Scout. Today, I drive a fancy red 2012 two-door Jeep Wrangler that I have wanted since I was 16 years old. Only took me 34 years to finally get the exact car I wanted!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    I bought my Mom’s 1969 Pontiac Catalina, a HUGE boat of a car with a prominent nose. She had bought it from her boss, and I finally forked over the $150 for it in 1981. It was luxe and ginormous – had electric windows and power brakes that could stand it on a dime. I drove it for my first job at the local community theatre where it could hold all the actors and all the stuff for our shows in town. Her name was Baby. Had to fling myself across the front bench seat to unlock the passenger door. I drove it to Galveston TX for summer stock work and nearly ran it out of oil. It also floated me safely 14 miles during a tropical depression. Very cool car. I traded it in on a Honda Civic. I still miss Baby.

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  • Amy

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first vehicle, that I bought in 1994 when I was 18, was a 1970 VW bus with full camping equipment. It did lack a functioning engine and inspectable body, though, so I got it for $400 and then my boyfriend and I restored the body and paid this nutty VW guy not very much money to put a 1974 Beetle engine in it. It was the BEST CAR EVER. I named her Cassidy. My dad HATED it. I think he was kicking himself through the whole process of restoring it because it was his requirement for me to get my own car and insurance if I ever wanted to drive again (I was already a wee bit of a liability to my parents by that point).

    I drove Cassidy through college, but when I moved to Boston after that I was terrified to drive her in the city, so I parked her at a friend’s house in Maine for a while. Then I moved her to my newly purchased land on the coast of Maine in 1999 and lived in her with my husband (yes, the same person that restored her with me) while we built an outhouse and cabin. We eventually lived in the cabin while we built our house. Casssidy is still parked in the same spot we put her in almost 13 years ago. The earth is taking her back as she sinks into the ground and she is home to many lichens, spiders, and probably squirrels.

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  • Andie

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was given to me in 1977 by my older sister who had just bought herself seriously cool Charger. It was a 1967 Mustang, blue with a black hardtop. I wish I could say I understood at the time what an awesome car it could and should be; I might not have driven it as a new driver. I was a terrible driver and promptly ran into something that smashed the front end. After that, my car wore its crumpled hood until I (stupidly) sent it to the junk yard to buy a newer car. What was I thinking?

    I have never had a car I really felt was anything but reliable. That says a lot about me…good old reliable me. I’m depressed now…

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  • Nelson's Mama

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a 1976 Caprice Classic that my Mom had driven untold miles on her rural mail route! It required oil at every gas fill up and was permanently aligned to the right – it wanted to stop at mailboxes even at 80 mph!

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  • Wendy

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a 1989 baby blue honda accord. It had a sunroof that leaked BUCKETS so was duct taped shut or the passenger would end up with a 2″ puddle at their feet when it rained. The gear shift had issues so if the temp dropped below 50 degrees, once you shifted it out of park, you couldn’t get it back INTO park and therefore turn it off OR get the key out. So it would sit running with the keys in the ignition in parking lots at grocery stores and such. I wasn’t worried. you can’t steal it if you can’t get it out of park! Plus, then it would be nice and toasty inside when I came back with a college-student size load of groceries 15 minutes later (ramen and kraft parm got me through college!). Of course, I had to sit in the parking lot forever still waiting for the car to heat up enough so the gear shift would work. It had a cassette player with a Blondie cassette stuck in it. I know EVERY DAMN WORD to Side A of the Autoamerican album. And it had a broken engine mount bracket so it vibrated like crazy. you’d get out of it feeling like you were still buzzing.

    However, it cost me $5. Five whole dollars. I was in heaven. I didn’t care about all of that stuff. I drove it for 5 years until my then-father-in-law decided that it wasn’t good for his image to have his new DIL driving a car that appeared to be held together with duct tape and he put down the down payment on a new Honda Civic.

    I cried. The accord had it’s issues, but it was essentially free and that new civic was $238 every month.

    We paid that thing off just in time for my divorce, so I once again had a free car. It ran way better though.

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  • Susie

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    I fall into the lucky bastard category of first cars- I got my grandmother’s hand-me-down candy apple red Mazda Miata ragtop. The Little Red Golf Ball lived a good, if initially hail damaged life, up until my brother- who also claimed her as his first car- was t-boned and sideswiped all in one go in her a few years ago. My brother, surprisingly, both was not at fault and walked away unscathed. My sister was in the car too- she also walked away. The Miata was totaled two short years before becoming officially a vintage car- 20 years old.

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  • dad

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    Your readers are all so young!

    The first car I identified as mine (I didn’t buy it but my parents got it for me because that way I wouldn’t always be borrowing theirs) was an early 1950’s vintage bile colored Hudson. You got it, a Green Hornet. It was my senior year in high school. Ugly but memorable for the short time I had it. It went to the scrap yard after it dropped it’s transmission one warm spring night in 1958 as I dropped off my date at her house. I had to drive it all the way home, about 5 miles, in reverse.

    Hard to forget.

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  • Katy

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    I still have my first car (I didn’t get my license until I was 20). It’s a 95 Oldsmobile, bought (for $500 plus repairs!) off of my grandparent’s next door neighbor as she transitioned into a hospice home. She wasn’t on good terms with her own family and my mother was sort of a favorite of hers, so I got dibs.

    The speedometer is slightly high, the gas gauge is off by about a quarter of an inch, and you have to drive it in “neutral.” The back doors don’t unlock unless you’re inside, and I’m not really sure which windows are supposed to open. The trunk space, though – oh, the trunk space. I can fit soooo many dead bodies in that car.

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  • Megan

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    I learned to drive on a VW bus which meant that for the first two years of my driving life I never parked in a parking lot unless I could pull all the way through. Seriously, reversing that thing was nerve-wracking because the rear-view window was so far away it felt like you were looking across state lines. I’ve had SO many vehicles since – the most memorable being the HMS Indefatigable which was a slug-grey conversion van that happily swallowed up three kids, two adults and five mountain bikes and which only smelled like fish when it rained.

    Now? Now I am celebrating the freedom of being entirelywithout a car and it is a wonderful thing.

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  • Jan in Norman, OK

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    A 1970 Gremlin…with racing stripes…and Mag wheels…and AM radio

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  • Chris

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    I present the following as a tribute to my first car, the Grandpa, later renamed the Leper (you can only imagine).

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  • BKC

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    You never forget your first, huh? My first car was a 1991 Mercury Tracer in a dull gold-ish color. I called her TLC which officially stood for The Little Car, because my other choice for driving was a white Mercury Villager. “Ewww, Mom, I don’t wanna drive a VAAAAAAN.”

    She could have used some TLC though. My gosh, that poor car. I was a TERRIBLE driver. I must have popped the curb a hundred times trying to parallel park. I used it for doing a paper route, accidently left it running for twelve hours when I left it in the school parking lot while I was on a ski trip, fell asleep on the freeway and slid along a guardrail for 100 yards. I got the engine rebuilt when a certain popular mechanics chain (rhymes with Spiffy Tube) gave me 1/2 an oil change: drained the old, forgot to put in the new. Eventually the heat stopped working, so I’d put on gloves, a hat, a coat, and scarf over my mouth and nose, and drive it with all the windows down in every kind of Oregon weather.

    But she took me to the beach for bonfires, and to the mountains, and on my first date with my daughter’s father. She held ten people once. She drove me to college tours and square dances and prenatal appointments, and camping trips, and down to the courthouse to pay speeding tickets. She didn’t get the sendoff she deserved, but I think about her sometimes when I’m driving my current practical, sturdy, utterly boring car.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    The year was 1982 and my first car was a 1968 bright orange VW Beetle nicknamed “Pumpkin”. It had an 8 track player and wood running boards the previous owner had for some reason installed. The gas gauge didn’t work so I had to track my mileage to know when to fill the tank (amazingly that only backfired once)and you had to be going at least 45 mph for about 15 minutes before the heater would kick in (in the snowy, cold mid-west this was an issue). I remember wrapping blankets around myself to keep warm on the short trip to/from school. Loved that car but it had repeated engine problems that got too expensive to repair. My next car was inherited from my parents and was a ’76 Oldsmobile 98 2-door, 2-tone beast nicknamed “the yacht”. I could fit ALOT of people in that car. It got me through 4 years of college and then was handed down to my sister who drove it another couple of years. If my parents only knew the stories that go along with that car. Memories!

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  • Lucinda

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    1976 Dodge Dart. Baby blue with a white leather top. V-8 380 engine. I had no idea what that meant at the time but quickly learned it accelerated a lot better than it stopped. Drum brakes man. Scary stuff. It smelled like old people and had less than 70 k on it when I bought it in 1990 so it hadn’t been driven much.

    I ended up spending twice as much on repairs that first year than I did to buy it but it held 6 people easy so it was always the car of choice for road trips. I have a lot of fond memories of that old car and I’m amazed I didn’t kill myself in it.
    Now I drive a generic Toyota Corolla but I dream of a mini-Cooper some day. When the kids are gone.

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  • Becky

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a 1955 Chevy and as I drove up to my first STOP sign I realized the brakes only worked if you pumped them a whole bunch! I was 17 and learned lots about cars with that one.

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  • KayDeeGee

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a ’66 Mustang. ‘Nuff said!!

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  • Brigid

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    Mt parents bought me a 2-door stick shift black Grand Am when I was in college to get me to and fro. (I insisted on tick since no one in my family could drive stick thereby always guaranteeing it would be available.) A year after college was over, I moved to Tennessee on a whim and decided that I needed a Jeep Sahara, to which my parents politely said “No.” The dealer tried to sell me a much less expensive Jeep, but I had my mind made up. I got the Jeep, paid monthly payments on it for years and drove it for the next 7 years until I traded it in for a minivan. Ouch.
    I loved that Jeep and yet, can absolutely see not wanting my own daughter to have one. As they said on CSI – girls in convertibles are low hanging fruit.
    But my husband has a Jeep now, so I still get to feel 23 when I’m driving that around town.

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  • Amy-Go

    Posted on November 29, 2012

    My first car was a total snooze. My husband’s, on the other hand, is the reason we are married. Because did I say “yes” when the skinny kid asked me to the movies because he was funny? He was, sure – but he also had a ’68 Ford Mustang with a convertible top and a v8 engine. And you know Amy-Go liked to go FAST. Hottest. Car. Ever. Still miss it. Sigh.

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  • Varda (Squashedmom)

    Posted on November 30, 2012

    What a wonderful question! I am so loving reading everyone’s car stories.

    Mine was a silver ’78 Toyota Corolla wagon with manual transmission & 120,000 miles on it already in 1984 when I bought it.
    Sexy, right? But hey it had room for a lot of equipment and I was a film student at that point, so all good. The previous owner had worn some sort of heavy perfume, obviously daily, as the scent permeated the car, even after a thorough interior cleaning.

    It wasn’t an unpleasant scent, sort of earthy and “oriental” and I didn’t mind it really but it was odd for my car to have its own scent that was different than mine. I was also studying Japanese at the time, and as my car was a Toyota I decided it MUST have a Japanese name. I called it “Susumu Ginsha” which roughly translates to “Silver car that goes fast” and Susumu is a not uncommon Japanese first name, so I felt very clever about that.

    Being an old car, it also had its quirks, not the least of which was old leaky wheel rims which resulted in my becoming REALLY good at changing tires by myself, 3 times in the first month I owned the thing. Buying a full set of new, non rusty rims was the best investment I made in that car. Because coming out to the car at midnight on a freezing night in January in New England to find a deflated tire got old fast.

    I still miss that car and its special smell. It was stolen in Park Slope Brooklyn by joyriding teens who totaled it.

    Reading over all these stories I think kids who get new cars from the get-go are really missing out on something. These first, cherished, old cars had so much character.

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  • laura

    Posted on November 30, 2012

    I am a pretty good car namer. Daughter #2’s not very exciting Lumina was transformed when the name was pronounced backwards. How cool to drive a car dubbed “Animal”? Daughter #3 had the bad luck of driving a Dodge Neon. It was soon nicknamed the Toad. It really was a toad. Sorry kiddo.

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  • KristenM

    Posted on November 30, 2012

    I was about 2 years away from inheriting my grandma’s ’65 red mustang (yes, I said grandma); she sold it when I was 14. My first car was a 1972 Duster that I bought in 1984. It had the little tornado on the side and was metallic gold with a black hood. I paid $1000 for it. It had a bench front seat, no seat belts and an AM radio. It lasted a year and I sold it for $100 when the transmission went out as I was driving down the highway.

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  • Ali

    Posted on December 2, 2012

    1986 Ford Tempo, blue with peeling paint and a luggage rack. My dad bought it for me for 500$ and a driver from a golf buddy. It squealed because of belt issues and I never had the money to fix it; i think my parents wouldn’t help since it kept me from sneaking out! It was just a car.

    I’m married to a “car guy” and am constantly sneaking around and recycling the stacks of car magazines that he hoards everywhere. The sum total of my contribution to the last two car purchases are “blue” and “seashell”.

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  • Pamela L

    Posted on December 3, 2012

    I’m with Dad – you guys are all younguns! My first car was bought my allowances and babysitting money for $500 with my dad’s help – 1972 Ford Pinto Hatchback. (It was “puke” green which certainly allowed for much conversation openers)

    I learned to drive stick on it. It had 100k miles on it when I bought it and I had until after I was marrired, about 5 years. The engine block blew when it had almost 400k miles on it.

    It was a great car for all the driving my teenage self did all over the Carolinas. I miss that car terribly.

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