The folks at HotRodder.Com invite anyone to submit memories about their first car.
My first car was a lemon. It was given to me as a gift by my best friend, and it was a good-looking car. A 1974 Volvo 242 DL sedan, dark blue, inside and out. My friend had never had any problems with the car, so strictly speaking it wasn’t a lemon. But it was sour on me.
I took the car to Maine for my senior year in college, and before spring came I had sunk $2000 into it: alternator, hoses, belts, gaskets, tires, exhaust. There existed a curse, no doubt; what my friends and family could not decide is whether it lay on me or on the car. In one instance, a winter storm was forecast for the coast, where I lived. Since my driveway was under a canopy of thin pines, I moved the car to a nearby open field, to avoid falling trees and having to climb the steep driveway in deep snow. What I saw the next morning knocked the wind out of me. A tree top had been blown across the field onto the roof of my car. The impact exploded the rear windows and a foot of snow had drifted into the backseat. Some months later, my father and I were taking a short drive in the car, and he was generous enough to pay for a fill-up. Three miles later, the car had leaked the entire tank. I paid a mechanic for a fuel-line patch and then drove the car to my best friend’s house. I parked the car in his driveway, took a cab to the airport, and left the country.
I like to hear about other people’s car problems, because I can be sympathetic about them and because I hate getting screwed in uncommon ways. A great collection of first-car stories, good and bad, has been collected by some unlikely anthologists. The folks at HotRodder.Com (www.hotrodder.com) invite anyone to submit memories about their first car, stories that they then post for browser perusal. Most of the remembrances are about hot rods and are spiced with an auto patois — 550s, stalls, barrels, “jet-hot zoomies.” On occasion, a real sad-ass will pipe up, like Danny from Tooele, Utah: “My first car sucked!” Or Bob, from Woodstock, Illinois, who writes, “I was 15 and got a ’72 Olds Cutlass for $500; it ran fine, so I thought it was a good buy.... It took me a 1/2 year to get it working good. I had plans for this car. On 11 /25/98, the day after I got my license, some teenager pulled in front of me when I was going 55 mph. I slammed on the brakes, but it was no use; the Cutlass was gone. The little Mazda that I hit did a 180.”
At least the Mazda took a good hit. My second car ended in similar fashion, though not quite as badly for the other guy, I’m afraid. It was a sensible car, a 1993 Subaru Impreza sedan, but my girlfriend at the time drove a Ford Explorer, and, well, she expected bigger things from me. A woman wanted to hustle over and see the car right away, so I sped off to the pump to fill her up, to make a good impression. At the station, Dodge’s version of a scud missile — a delivery Caravan with a two-by-four bolted on its front bumper — zeroed in on the middle of my passenger-side door.
To this day, the only piece of good luck I’ve had with a car was that the woman bought my cheapened Impreza for more than it was worth without the dent.
Cars bring out the worst in people. The assumption that most of us bring to the table when buying or selling a car, new or used, is that we will be defrauded, which is usually the case. One unrepentant contributor to HotRodder.Com’s pages remembers his first car this way: “I bought an ’81 Cutlass for $75 with a ’69 350 Rocket motor in it from a girl that I work with in Rapid City. All that was wrong with it was a fan belt. She’s still pissed.” And the car? “It roars like a demon from hell.”
Speaking of demons, the Most Disturbing Car Story Award goes to a nameless Watsonville, California, man who has been haunted by a 1998 Dodge Dakota Club Cab SLT 4X2, which he bought for $23,000 as a Christmas present to himself. The sad history of this truck, which the owner narrates for us on-line (watsonville.com/dakota/), makes the Book of Job look like a Judy Blume parable. He noticed some little peculiarities right after purchasing the truck — “the speedometer would sometimes fall to zero then jump back up.” By January 29,1998, things had deteriorated: “All gauges malfunctioning. Could not duplicate problem for dealer. Over the next few days it gets worse.” Five days later, with under 1500 miles on the truck, “The gauges are totally dead now. Took the Dakota to the dealer and verified problem. Parts ordered from Dodge.” One week later, “Notice noise at 45 mph, droning sound.” From here, the site becomes a mad litany, an annotated descent into auto mania. March 24, 1998: “Noticed squeaking from engine cooling fan. What’s the deal with this truck, it’s brand new!” March 30,1998: “Surprise #3 — Check Engine Light comes on. OHHH MAAAN, NOW WHAT?”
July 5, 1998: “Headlight switch comes off in my hand again. Try getting this back on in the dark. THIS CRAP IS DRIVING ME NUTS.”
I’m picking up my new car tomorrow. I hope I never write about it.