You told us about your first Oldsmobiles. Our turn now: before becoming smitten with Lamborghinis and Zondas, our crazy Euro car boy did something very un-European—he spent his formative years in an Oldsmobile.
In January of 1981, my parents packed up their possessions—which included a 5-month-old kid yet to become a car boy—and set out west from the Hungarian city of Szeged to fly all the way to Washington, D.C. We were people from the satellite of an evil empire yet welcomed kindly, in spite of the total sum of 25 American dollars burning a hole in my parents’ pockets, the maximum amount allowed for export by the Communist state when you left the country.
I have no memories. We settled in the Maryland suburb of Rockville, I was sent to a municipal pool to float with American neonates and my dad went to work at the National Cancer Institute to probe the secret life of bacteria.
Then we got a car.
It was a first generation Oldsmobile Omega, as identified by Murilee over iChat, a compact car which has transformed into a proper land yacht in the recollection of my parents. I have no memories of the car. It was a sickly shade of yellow and judging by the only photographic evidence which remains, I rather liked it. So did my dad, who hates cars with a vengeance.
The leviathan Oldsmobile took us scrappy Hungarians all the way up and down the East Coast, it took us to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina where I saw the ocean for the first time in my life. I have no memories of this event, only my mom’s story—usually told with a grin—that the muscular Atlantic waves knocked my dad clear off his knees with me sitting on his neck, sending us both into the surf. We survived.
There are no Oldsmobiles in Hungary, save for a few derelict 88’s slowly melting into the tarmac. In fact, most people with no knowledge of American cars tend to think that oldsmobile is simply an English term for a veteran automobile. I know it’s not.
We came back to Hungary in the summer of ‘82, the Oldsmobile was sold off to a friend, and my first memories would not stick for another year: a single image, lying delirious from a stomach bug in a tent by a swollen, raging river. I have no idea what my furiously developing toddler brain made of the Omega. I don’t even know if it had a V8. Although I guess it did. What else would explain the love affair with the lazy rumble of crossplane V8’s, alien to the European continent.
My family would acquire other Oldsmobiles on later stays in the US. My dad still has an Oldsmobile badge on his keyfob. I recall Oldsmobile’s death from a few years back. And now General Motors has gone bankrupt.
You all have clear memories of American cars. I do not. I can only point your way to P. J. O’Rourke’s elegy in the Wall Street Journal:
In 1970 a Pontiac GTO (may the brand name rest in peace) had horsepower to the number of 370. In the time of one minute, for the space of one foot, it could move 12,210,000 pounds. And it could move those pounds down every foot of every mile of all the roads to the ends of the earth for every minute of every hour until the driver nodded off at the wheel. Forty years ago the pimply kid down the block, using $3,500 in saved-up soda-jerking money, procured might and main beyond the wildest dreams of Genghis Khan, whose hordes went forth to pillage mounted upon less oomph than is in a modern leaf blower.
Goodbye then, Oldsmobile Omega, goodbye.
Photo Credit: László Orosz