I think we all have a special place in our hearts for our first car. When I was in high school, many of my friends received their first car. Those with parents with money might find a brand new one with a giant bow in the driveway for their 16th birthday. Only one of my friends was lucky enough to get a new car, I didn’t run with a well-to-do crowd.
The rest of my friends got part time jobs and bought old clunkers. I know my brothers complained as their car insurance was so much higher than mine. If I remember I paid $98 a year as a 16-year-old girl.
I never really earned enough to have my own car, so I would help pay for gas for my friend’s cars. We would always hang out together, so there was no real need of my own car. When my grandfather died, my grandmother decided I could have his car.
This car had been my grandfather’s dream car. He had always wanted a Mercury. My car was the 1972 Mercury Montego, and had been his pride when it was new. It was slightly older when I got it, but I loved it used as much as my grandfather had loved it new.
I now joined in with my friends, taking my turn driving places. It should be noted those that charge teenagers more for car insurance have their reasons. My friends and I did not always use even the most basic common sense with our cars.
One memory that sticks with me is driving down a street at about 60 mph with two of my friends sitting on the rather large hood of my car. To stay on, they were holding onto the windshield wipers. It was while my friend Lissa was singing loudly along to the Rolling Stones I was blasting, the exact lyrics were “…Puerto Rican girls just dyyyyying to meet ya!” that it occurred to me, that perhaps when I stopped I might want to slow down very gradually. I did, and because of this my two hood passengers only sustained minor “road rash” injuries.
A big moment of “growing up” happened when the next week, on the very same road, a young man riding on the hood of another car fell off and was run over. He died. It was too bad it took the death of another young man to sober me up about what I should and shouldn’t be doing with a car. Everyone rode on the hoods of cars. It was incredible no one had been killed before. It is just a fact of the teen years that teens rarely think speed+stupidity=death.
My favorite memory of crazy car days has to be when Lissa (yes again) was driving her Ford Pinto. This car had a back fuel fill, and the tanks were known to explode when the car was rear ended. Lissa needed gas one cold winter night.
Gas price were up, to almost a dollar a gallon, and there had been a lot of stealing of gas where we lived. So Lissa had a locking gas cap on her tank. The problem was the lock had frozen. Lissa was at the gas pump, while I was in the back seat along with four of her other friends (did I mention we were stupid teenagers, who cared there weren’t enough seat belts as long as we all fit), when Lissa decided to defrost her lock. She used a lighter.
I looked out the back window to see Lissa holding a lighter in her hand, and then she bent down to “warm up” the lock. Now another problem with the car was that the passenger door lock had also frozen shut. For some reason we all had to go in and out the driver side door. Basically, I was crawling over the other three, and even kicked the person in the front passenger seat in my panic to get out of that car. I did remember to yell “get out NOW” as I left but since I didn’t explain no one else moved. I ran away from the car, my feet crunching in the snow saying “Lissa NOT WITH A LIGHTER!!!!”
The gas station attendant heard me and looked to see a Ford Pinto (known for blowing up) filled with confused teenage girls and one girl holding a lighter to a gas tank cap. He is still a hero as instead of running away, he physically picked up my friend and carried her (with the lighter) away from the pumps. He even gave Lissa a small can of stuff that unfroze locks, as long as she promised never to use a lighter near gas pumps. We probably would have been fine as there is some over worked stressed out guardian fairy that watches out for dumb teenagers with cars, but it still ranks as a close call in my book.
My car, which my boyfriend christened “Mr. Car” (after Mr.Bill on Saturday Night Live) had bench seats. Bench seats meant that you could put your arm around your girlfriend while you drove. You could basically have a pretty complete make out session while driving. I’m not saying I have experience of this (in case my daughters are reading this) but sex in cars was way better in the days of bench seats.
My brother joked that my license plate of GSR stood for “Girl Scout Reject.” My favorite thing about Mr. Car was the huge bit of metal just stuck on the front. It had no purpose except to look cool. I considered it a sort of “ramming speed” accessory. My boyfriend’s room mate at the Naval Academy joked that if I mounted machine guns on the front I could sell it to the Marines as an assault vehicle.
My boyfriend spent countless hours with cans of Bondo fixing the rust. At one point the trunk had a hole in it so big that I had to be careful where I loaded groceries. I once lost a bag when it fell through and out onto the highway. The boyfriend soon patched that. Mr. Car did look like he had some sort of leprosy, but he was no longer leaking groceries.
Sadly, the day came when Mr. Car had to go on to a new owner. I had enjoyed him for years, but was moving far away and the car was no longer reliable enough to handle a long move.
I have only happy memories since no one was ever killed (despite our best efforts) while in, or on top of, Mr. Car. I always see the TV shows were people have their dream car fixed up. If I were a rich rapper (which seems a very remote possibility) I would find a 1972 Mercury Montego and have it painted cream with a black interior. I’d take it for a ride to a secluded spot with my husband, and we’d try out those bench seats.