Friday, March 11, 2016

My First Car

While not Corvair-related, it does give you, the reader, a sense of why I bleed 30 weight Rotella.

The local AACA club has been asking for “first car” stories to put in their monthly bulletin. Just finished the following. Enjoy.

I’ve had a couple first cars. The first first car was not really mine. It was purchased by my dad in response to my trying to buy a sixty-something Dodge Polara. I was a junior in high school back in ’78 and had been working as a bag-boy at the nearby grocery store for a few months. Even though the store was an easy walk from school and a doable walk from home and most work days my mom would let me take the family car, I still felt I needed a car of my own. I scoured the classifieds for few weeks and settled upon the aforementioned Mopar. I shared this decision with my dad, and he immediately started talking me out of it.

At this point, a little background is in order. Back in the day (prior to marriage and children and a need for a backseat), my dad’s daily-driver was a Triumph TR-3. He loved that car and has the stories to prove it. Along came the TR-4 and he had to upgrade. He bought one of the first to come to Maryland back in late-1960. He and my mom made this decision even though, at that time, she was a few months pregnant with me, their first child. I was brought home from the hospital in a bassinette that sat, untethered, behind the bucket seats of that awesome automobile. There’s a photo somewhere of me, at about two, standing behind the steering wheel with a huge smile on my face. They kept that car until my sister’s impending birth in early-’63 forced them to get a real, family car– a VW Beetle. From then on it was just normal, non-fun cars, but the fire within my dad for fun driving never burned out.

Back to my story. To appease my persistent, perceived need for a set of wheels to call my own, my dad proposed something that would make me the envy of most high school boys who’d just gotten their license. He’d buy a used sports car, and it would be mine to drive as long as I do all the maintenance. Of course, it had to be a Triumph. At that time, the only used Triumphs that were feasible choices were the TR-6 and the Spitfire. The former was out of his price range, so the hunt for the right Spitfire began that day.

It was a few weeks before the first viable candidate showed up in the newspaper. We went and checked it out. There were a few issues, and our mechanic (a very close friend of the family), advised us to pass on it. The second one, a ’74, popped up a few days later and the phone conversation with the young woman selling it was favorable, so we drove to the next town over to have a look and take a test drive. It needed a muffler, but, other than that, appeared to be in great shape and ran nicely. We had our mechanic check it out, and, once he gave us the thumbs up, a deal was struck. A usable used muffler was purchased from an all-British junkyard in nearby San Jose, and, after its installation, I was good-to-go.

My new daily-driver came equipped with a smog-choked 1500 cc engine, a four speed manual transmission with electric overdrive, a Blaupunkt AM/FM radio, a tape-wrapped roll bar, and lapbelts that looked like they’d come out of WWII bomber. The first accoutrement I installed was a windshield decal with TRIUMPH emblazoned in big, black letters. That was followed by cassette deck that we hooked to cheap Radio Shack speakers that lay on the floor behind the seats.

Just like my dad had done with his Triumphs, I drove this car everywhere. Back and forth to school and work, of course, Friday night cruising, dates, etc., but the best drives were the top-down summer excursions up over the Coastal Range on highway 17 for days at the Santa Cruz beach. Another noteworthy trip was when my girlfriend (now wife of 34 years) packed the Spitfire to the hilt with camping gear and drove out to Yosemite National Park. Some of the roads we drove on were quite the challenge for a car so low-slung and the heat taxed the cooling system designed for mild UK summers.

While I never got a speeding ticket in the car, there were a couple brushes with the law. First, a city cop pulled me over and lectured me on the danger of driving with one of my buddies sitting on the folded down roof holding onto the top of the rollbar – he had to endure the last few blocks of the ride to school sitting in the space behind the seats (my other buddy and I did slide our seats forward so he wasn’t too squished). The other time I was late for work and was moving (weaving) through traffic at an excessive rate. As I pulled into my parking spot, a Sheriff’s car pulled up right behind me. I got another lecture, and was told if he’d been able to write me a ticket, it would’ve been a big one.

This photo of my dad behind the wheel of his Spitfire was taken a few years back. Recently he decided to sell the car since the demands of caring for my mom don’t leave him any time for the demands of maintaining a British car.

My second first car, the one I can truly call MY first car, was a ’65 Buick Skylark, but I’ll leave that tale for another time.


  1. My goodness, this takes me back to my high school days! After I got my learner's permit, I begged my parents for a car. I felt very mature and thought that my parent's should trust me with wheels. After all, I really needed a car to drive to school. Well, my dear old dad surprised me with a candy apple red Triumph on my 16th birthday.

  2. Funny that I just came across this before checking in to see how the 'vairs are doing...if I had extra cash, I could buy myself some problems...heh.