For me, first car was my parents’ car, a 1958 Hilman Lynx. This thing was a squat, 35-horsepower English import the size of a VW bug, except square. It had the aerodynamics of a grocery store. Four months after I slid behind the wheel, roaring down Mt. Helix, I ran that bastard child off the road and rode it to its grave: totaled.
Question: What do you do when you wreck your parents’ car?
Answer: You ask for another one.
It is an indelible occasion, hacking out your parents’ driveway for the first time, realizing the moment is yours and you can go any damn place you like. First car is the end of direct supervision, the first saddle-up onto life’s increasingly bucking horse. More than sex, more than a job, more than college, our first car is the preeminent ticket to the big show, to life as an adult.
Bob Dale, Channel 7/39 weatherman
“I was bom in 1925. It was very difficult to own a car when I was a teenager because nobody had any money. I didn’t get my first car until after WWII. One of my favorite cars was a 1940 Ford because that was the first time that Ford put a gearshift on the steering wheel. The ’40 Ford had hydraulic brakes for the first time, and it was a real pretty little car. I was able to buy one in 1947.I paid a thousand dollars for it because they were so hard to get. That was big money then, I hope to tell you it was.
“I was in Cleveland, Ohio, when I bought it. I was working in television at that time. We went on the air December of ’47. I bought the car from the sales manager who worked in this brand-new thing called television. I thought he was an honorable man, and I want to tell you I’ve never trusted a television salesperson since.
“He had driven it all the way through the war and hadn't taken care of it, but it was my dream car, although everything in the world went wrong with it. I really got took on that car, wound up burning 60-weight tractor oil in it.
“When I first got it, I tried to get it into a shop, because to me, a shiny car is the only thing that’s important. I couldn't afford to take it to a shop so I fixed it up, patched the rust holes. I was so proud of it, put a radio in, I even painted it myself.
“They sold big round tins of paint in those days that you put on with a powder puff. So I wiped the car down with this paint, and from a distance it looked pretty good. Then I repaired the lights because I’d be driving down a two-lane road to my hometown in Canton, Ohio, and all the lights would go out. And then I found a little spot where the paint bubbled and I poked my finger in it and my finger went through the whole damn fender. So I learned how to patch metal. I had to, I didn’t have any money. I was tending bar and working in television on weekends. It took me until April of '48 to go full-time in television.
“The car was a mess: the wheels were loose, the front end was shot, all the bushings were gone. I didn't know anything about mechanics, I just had to keep saving my money and gluing that Ford back together. I kept it until early 1950. By that time they made me television spokesman for DeSoto-Plymouth cars in northeast Ohio. I started advertising their cars.
“I had my Ford pretty well fixed up except for using a lot of oil. The advertisers insisted that I buy a new Plymouth car. I said, ’I can’t afford it,’ so they said, ’Well, we’ll charge you $350.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I can do that.’
“I don’t want to say what I did with the Ford; I’ll tell you, but you’ll think I’m a terrible person. I had it all fixed up. I had a radio put in it and I went to sell it, but my mother objected. See, when I was in the service I sent money to my mother. She’d saved everything I sent her, she never used it. She was taking in washing, cooking in a restaurant, and never used the money I sent. So I borrowed it back from her when I bought the Ford.
“Now, when I got ready to sell the car, my kid brother — who is nine years younger than I am — was looking for a car. My mom felt bad because she helped me buy that car, and she knew I’d got this Ford pretty well fixed up, so she bought it back from me. And I took the money. For years I tried to give her the money back, she’d always say, ‘BOB-BEEE. ’
“My younger brother just wore the crap out of that thing. I went back down to Canton one night, and I saw him driving around shifting gears without using the clutch. It broke my heart. He just wore it into the ground. Nothing left but hot, quivering metal.
“I have so many beautiful memories of that car. I was so proud of it, the first car I ever owned. It was probably a piece of junk, but I thought it was so peppy, it started right away. I saw one a couple of years ago, and it is not a sleek, racy-looking car. It was tall, antiquated, had tiny windows. I was horrified when I saw it. I said to myself, ‘It couldn’t have changed that much.’ At the same moment I happened to look up in the rearview mirror and saw my own face, and I thought, 'Well, yeah, I guess you can change that much.’ "
Patrick Madrid, La Mesa
“I’m vice president of Catholic Answers. We’re a lay Catholic organization with a staff of 13 full-time people. We conduct seminars, publish our monthly magazine on apologetic issues. Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the faith. I’m 33 years old, married, have seven kids.