So often we tie our cars to the great events in our lives. This is my story.
I’m a child of the ‘50s. Sock hops, hot rods and Archie Andrews comics. Three stations on the TV and not too much to do after school. I had dreamed about owning a car since I was 13. But there was no way I could afford to buy one.
(Welcome to Jalopnik Father’s Day, where we are celebrating the wonderful dads of the Jalopnik staff. This is a story from Victor Milt, father of Jalopnik video producer, Adam Milt.)
So, at age 15 I took a visit to the local junk yard. There she was—a 1929 Dodge four-door sedan. Twenty-five bucks. It didn’t run, but the body was in perfect shape and the price was right. My first car.
We towed her over to my buddy’s house. He had a three-car garage and parents who didn’t care. Over the next year—armed only with a book on “Hot Rodding,” we tore that Dodge apart and put her back together in a way that would have made Detroit shudder. Together, my friend Sass and I taught each other about points and plugs, gas lines and welding, grinders and motors and a host of other things. It took us a year, but she was done.
Frame chopped and channeled. A used ‘50 Olds engine. A Ford truck rear end. A LaSalle transmission. We took her out on the road for the first test, and immediately were pulled over by a cop. Hot rodding was over. It was simply impossible for a boy of 16 to register and insure a home-built automobile. We sold her to an enthusiast and moved on.
My next car was a Triumph TR-3. I bought a coughing sputtering old car and went to work. All that building and fixing put me in a good place to do simple repairs. That TR-3 only needed a points, plugs, new wires, a new fuel filter and some loving care. I kept her for a few months and sold her for a $500 profit. For the balance of my high school years, I continued on this path. Seeking out abused cars, fluffing them up and reselling them. Finally my mom helped me buy a used Morris Minor. The top went down. We discovered girls. Life was good.
I lived on Long Island and commuted to school in NYC. I started with a Ducati motorcycle and then went onto a very fast affair with a Harley chopper. I did something wrong the second day I had her, and when I jumped on the kickstarter, she backfired and threw me over the handlebars. I wasn’t badly injured, but I got the message.
I moved into a loft in NYC and providentially fell into my next purchase It was another Triumph, the tiny Spitfire, and I loved it. At the time (early ‘60s) you could still get around NYC in a car and park it for free on most streets, if you looked around.
I met a girl, fell in love, and when she got pregnant, I knew the Spitfire had to go. In what was a clear overreaction, I bought a used Opel station wagon. We named her Ethel. She was awful. No AC. No pep. And certainly no style.
One week before the baby was born, I broke tradition and bought my first NEW car—the sleek 1975 Toyota Celica. Oh, we loved that car and she served us well.
When we moved to the country to raise our new baby, we needed two cars. I got the HUGE Chevy K5 four-wheel drive. My thinking was (and is) if my wife and family got into an accident, I wanted them surrounded by steel. That K5 was a tank. It was actually in three different accidents, and no one (of us) was ever injured at all. But the other cars? Yikes!
Business got better and I treated myself to a 1981 Corvette. With a racing clutch. And stainless steel brakes. I loved it—and grew to hate it. Every day, I’d drive from our house in the mountains to the city. Vroom —tearing along the Taconic at speeds of up to—well, let’s say it was a brief romance with danger that I got over quickly—without any harm. But the Corvette was NOT a commuter’s car. It was so loud. And waiting for stoplights to change in NY made my left foot tremble and then cramp.
I traded it for my first Cadillac—and that was true love. The Caddy was a Brougham and it was huge. I was into my fifties by this time and she was a dream to drive. Smooth and easy. Sometimes I had an assistant drive me and I could sit in the back seat with my new laptop and actually get work done on the 90-minute commute. Amazing.
As my kids grew into driving age, I would buy them old, used Caddies. They would hate them for the first couple of weeks and then realize they could carry the whole gang. Gas was still cheap and those Caddies had muscle. Again, my kids were surrounded by a big, easy to see, cage of solid steel.
So, I continued to buy Caddies for the family and myself. My favorite of the bunch was the CTS which was comfortable and peppy. I put over 100,000 miles on every car we owned.
In the late nineties, I found the car of my dreams. It was the Cadillac Allante, two-seater sports car. It was everything I ever wanted in a car. Caddy size and comfort. Body by Pininfarina. And a huge engine by GM. The convertible top was at least two layers thick and the interior was super quiet.
Well, I drove that car for years, summer and winter. Finally, the salted streets of New York did me in. The entire car was made from aluminum and it all just rotted away. She still looked good, but her structure was gone.
So we moved to Florida and I bought a neato Mustang convertible. Great car, but... don’t ever buy leather seats or a convertible in Florida. The leather seats would heat up to 2,000 degrees and you just couldn’t sit down with shorts on. And the convertible? Well, for a tourist it was a delight. But day by day, the sun in Florida would simply roast you to a crisp.
So, now I’m all growed up. I’ll just shortcut you to my latest car—which I also love very much. The Toyota Prius Hybrid. Not much to tell other than she has more backseat room than my old CTS ever had in the back seat—and she gets 60 miles per gallon on the highway.
I’m just an American boy with a typical American’s love of cars.
But soon, they will all be all electric and self-driving.
I can’t wait.