2 in A Series
& THE COLUMNISTS
CARS ARE FOREVER
Chuck in a 1936 Chevrolet coupe, steering with his fingers crossed.
The $35 Chevy
that started it all for him
By CHUCK McFADDEN
of THE COLUMNISTS.COM
You remember your
first car, right? Sure you do. During the 50s, it
was a rite of passage: learners permit, regular license,
borrowing the folks car, and, finally, getting your own
car. Independence! Maturity! Gas at 35 cents a gallon!
For someone growing up back then, as I did, your first car was
likely to be old, and, well, experienced. My first was a 1936
Chevrolet business coupe with the time-tested Chevrolet six,
the original upholstery, and the original paint. Which was sort
of a brownish-mustard color for the most part. Actually, the
color sort of varied. I sanded it and painted the car an elegant
blue. The car cost me $35, not including the paint.
The Chevrolet had a carefree attitude toward
steering. You turned the wheel for a while, and eventually you
would head in the direction you wished to go. There was no such
thing as electric turn indicators. You indicated your hoped-for
future course of action by hand signals. Never mind if it was
That first car was a beloved vehicle and I still have fond memories
of it. For one thing, it was really sturdy. I think it would
have taken me to Siam if Id wanted to go there.
Ah, but car Number Two. That one was the stuff of legend. It,
too, was a Chevrolet coupe. It was a 1941 model, with probably
a slightly modified version of the same old six-cylinder engine.
It had a COLUMN SHIFT! Wow! What a modern advance over the old-fashioned
Coupe Number Two burned two kinds of fuel: gasoline, and oil.
Whenever I drove to school, the east end of the Santa Cruz High
School campus was briefly enveloped in a haze of blue smoke.
Were I driving the Blue Ghost today, I would have to file an
environmental impact statement to pull away from a stoplight.
As I recall, I got about 15 miles per gallon of gas, and about
15 miles per gallon of oil. I had moved up in the world, however.
Car Number Two cost $75.
Then there was the Anglia. British car. Not one of Blightys
proudest achievements. One of the worst cars ever made, as a
matter of fact. You recall the old joke about why the Brits never
manufactured many computers? They couldnt figure out a
way to make them leak oil?
The Anglia broke down all the time, and
the starter motor frequently tangled with the flywheel, meaning
you had to get out and rock the car backwards and forwards to
break them loose from one another.
Then there was the ashtray. It was made
of plastic. Yep, plastic. When you ground out a cigarette, you
left a little crater in the bottom. Eventually, you achieved
a hole. England is a chilly island, but the Anglias heater
was feeble beyond belief. Maybe it had to do with the British
notion that one should have a stiff upper lip. Frozen stiff.
The Datsun roadster ran the Anglia a close second in the Awful
Car Sweeps. It broke down a lot, had seats designed by a sadist,
and carefully collected rainwater on its convertible top in order
to sluice it down onto my crotch.
And then there was the Volvo. Be practical, my wife and I told
ourselves. Buy a Volvo. Solid. Sensible. Safe car. It damned
near killed us. The Volvo had a nasty habit of shutting down
at the most inopportune moments. Such as the time we were on
a bridge, with an 18-wheeler right behind us. The Volvos
engine quit. There we were. Nowhere to go. The 18-wheeler filling
the rear-view mirror. Fortunately, we had enough momentum to
make it to the other end of the bridge and I was able to glide
us to a safe place to park. The Volvo broke down so many times
the Auto Club wanted to kick us out for poor car maintenance.
Barbara and I had great hopes for the Ford Galaxie. It had been
owned by a state senator, we were told. He never changed the
oil, we found out later. We were on our way to pick up our new
Mustang convertible when the Galaxie, in a fit of jealousy, abolished
its main bearing. We stopped at a gas station, picked up a crate
of quart cans of oil, and made the trip to the new car dealership
by pouring in quart after quart of oil. We left a thin trail
of oil on 120 miles of highway that was probably there for weeks
There were lots of other cars. Many more Chevrolets, a Studebaker,
a Nissan 240 and the current BMW. But none of them came close
to the thrill of those first two. May their spirits chug on forever.
©2005 by Charles M.
McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
The illustration is of a 1936 Chevy with McFadden's teenage image
This column first posted
on Aug. 15, 2005.
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