Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The "My First Car" meme

Because everyone else is doing it...

My first car was a 1964 VW Beetle that had been rather amateurishly hacked into a "Baja" dune buggy by some former owner. I used to see it sitting on a side street near our house and thought it was so cool, so when a "for sale" sign popped up in in it's window, I jumped at it. realistically, it was a beat-to-death wreck, and my father told me that it was a waste of money at $300 when we went to look at it together--but I just had to have it so I bought it...and promptly wound up putting $450 more into a new front end.

But it was mine, so I loved it in spite of it's faults. And I treated it nicer than I'd been treating my father's much more expensive cars to date, because this was mine.

(Sorry about blowing the engine on your Skylark, Pop...and cracking up your Aries...and putting your Bonneville into that pond. But honestly, it wasn't until I got my own car I learned to appreciate and take care of automobiles.)

Anyway, this bug was my car, with it's white paint job that had been done by someone with a brush, and it's rabbit fur interior. (PETA folks, worry was fake rabbit fur. Real rabbits aren't big enough to make a Bettle headliner out of.) It also sported a wicker pair of yellow fuzzy dice that just made the car complete.

It had a 4-speed transmission, but third gear never worked, so you just had to drive the RPM's up and jump from second to fourth. But it worked and it worked well considering.

Now the rest of the car...not so much. For one, none of the gauges had any glass on them, and one time, our neighbor's little brat kid was in it playing and he apparently moved my gas gauge needle much closer to the "full" mark than was at all accurate. This caused me to run out of gas at 2AM one night way out in the middle of nowhere (with the gauge still reading "half". And as I trudged along in the dark towards a distant gas station, I was surprised that not a single car would stop to help me. In fact, many of them swung wide into the other land to avoid me by as much distance as possible, and one even did a u-turn and went back the other way . Finally I figured out why when I encountered the sign that said: "Warning. Prison area. Do not pick up hitch-hikers." Yeah, that was helpful. But my old man came out again--with a gas can--and we got my bug running and back home again.

Eventually the 1600cc motor that was in the car gave out, so, being a dumbass kid with money, I bought a 2150cc racing engine and we installed that in the bug. Twin Webber carbs and an oil cooler that mounted on the roof reall gave it a bit more performance, to the point where it would beat much more expensive muscle cars off the line, which was funny because it looked like total hell but would lift it's front wheels off the ground on take-off. Man, I had that little deathtrap well up into the triple-digits speed-wise many times just running it up and down the highway late at light and it's a wonder that I'm still alive, because that thing was literally held together with baling wire and duct tape. And it had a straight-pipe exhaust with nothing but a spark arrestor on it so you could hear this car coming blocks away. Yeah, my parents' neighbors were loving me, let me tell you.

But that new engine was nothing but trouble, as it was really a racing engine, and keeping the carbs synced and doing the other fine-tuning needed to keep it running right got to be a pain, as did dealing with ice on the intake manifolds every time it got much below 50 degrees out. Still, it was my car and I loved it, no matter how many times it wound up getting towed to some garage, usually behind my father's car on the end of a tow rope with me sitting behind it's steering wheel to brake. (Hey, tow trucks cost money that I'd rather spend on Volkswagen bling!) I finally got rid of it after one demonstration of speed ended badly with the hood latches popping loose and the hood flying up and smashing my windshield, causing me to go off the road and mess up the front end again big time. So I sold it, basically as an engine with the remains of a dune buggy included.

And looking back, if just I'd taken the thousands of dollars that I put into that car for repairs, body work and flashy JC Whitney stuff and put it into the bank instead... sigh.

But it was mine, and I loved it.


  1. Ah yes, the 'infamous' Baja Bug... :-) At least you had somebody willing to drag your butt home, and you actually got out pretty light on the prices to fix that thing! Good story and thanks for jumping into the mix!

  2. Ahh, first car memories! Mine was an immaculate 1958 Olds 98 Convertible. White with red leather interior and massive Tri-Power V-8. All the bells and whistles known to automotive engineering. Used and purchased in 1963.

    Found out quickly that the three carbs were vacuum advance, not mechanical linkage. Kick in took about three seconds then zooooom. Problem was shut-down also took three seconds or more, so when you needed to get off the power it took planning ahead or a lot of brakes.

    Within weeks I had to get a three-carb full rebuild and tune-up. Then I blew the transmission (three times!). Next was a sheared tie-rod doin a U-turn in a parking lot. Front wheels now facing each other.

    Finally blew a valve and blasted massive blue oil clouds out the back. All within three months.

    Traded it in on a new 1963 Chevy Impala coupe. Three years of payments of $58/month!

    Those were the days!

  3. Have you noticed a recurring theme in these stories? So many of us, who would later become successful and financially secure in later life, started out with a car we bought and that was...let's just say mechanically intensive. I think the lessons we learned, both about the value of money and hard work, have left their mark on all of us.

  4. Enjoyed reading about your first car. Had to laugh when no one would pick you up because of the signs.:)


  5. My son is going through that life lesson right now. He now wants to sell his Nissan Frontier pickup truck (which is actually in my name, and on my insurance policy) because it is biting into his budget a bit more than he had planned.

    My wife wants to help him out, but so far, I have prevailed with the policy of letting the kid learn a lesson now so he has it under his belt when he is older.