My love for driving began at an early age, and I’d drive anything with wheels—the problem was, it began at an age too early for me to drive legally. But at 14 years old, I had a boyfriend with a manual ‘63 (or some model year near that one) Volkswagen Beetle and a legal driver’s license.
And so begins just one of my many stories about doing irresponsible things in cars.
[Welcome to Jalopnik Mother’s Day, where we celebrate the wonderful moms of the Jalopnik staff whose automotive choices led, no doubt, to the band of miscreants whose words you read here every day.]
The boyfriend, Jim, shared that Beetle with his two step-brothers, which was weird, because you just didn’t see blended families at that time. None of them liked each other anyway. You probably also think it’s weird that I needed my boyfriend’s car to be able to drive, but let me explain.
I used to drive my dad’s Chevrolet Corvette on the backroads when I was a kid. He died when I was a teenager, and I lost not only my driving freedom, but also a big influence on my love for cars in the first place.
But at 14, in the summer of 1970, Jim gave me the ability to drive again. Well, his parents didn’t, but he did. You see, Jim had a curfew, and sharing the car with his step-brothers didn’t help our driving time. Having a curfew meant his parents took the car keys away at a certain time, but as you all know, driving doesn’t really have a curfew.
So, we had a way around that “curfew” thing of his: Rolling the Beetle down a giant Missouri hill. We had a lot of hills in Missouri.
I would say, “If we get it rolling down that big-ass hill by your house, we can pop the clutch and get it going.” I, of course, did most of the work.
We needed to get it going about 30 or 35 mph to pop that clutch and have it start, which, when I think about it, was pretty scary. I was the one who popped the clutch, and I can still see him running after the car. I can still hear that engine firing when I popped the clutch out, because it was exciting. It started!
We had to push the car down the driveway, which was a little hill, and then we pushed it out on the big one and got it going. We did that a lot—pushing the car down the driveway, rolling it down the hill, my 14-year-old self popping the clutch and Jim hopping in the passenger seat while it was rolling.
It all went pretty smoothly, until we ran out of gas once.
The gas gauge didn’t work very well, if I remember correctly. Either that, or we just didn’t notice. It was after midnight, and we didn’t know it was out until it was out. Nothing was open that at time of night. The world wasn’t 24/7 back then.
We had to coast into a parking lot of a closed shopping center, and walked to a nearby payphone, which was what you had back then, to call Jim’s father—the doctor. Jim’s father drove up in his Lincoln Continental, getting out in his silk bathrobe and house shoes. He didn’t say one word to us.
I had to ride back in the car with Jim’s father and step-mother in silence, while he drove back. They dropped me right off at my house, but didn’t say anything to my mother. She was asleep and she was clueless, but I didn’t really care either way—my mother was pretty cool, as long as you came home eventually.
Jim got grounded, while I, the illegal driver and ringleader of it all, got off with my parent not even knowing about it. Nobody got to drive the car for a while.
Once the car ban lifted, we still took it out. But we had to take the car out with permission from Jim’s parents, who never seemed to learn that I was driving it illegally. And I still got to drive it without a license.
Then I wrecked it.
This story was dictated (well, zigzaggedly summarized) by Jodi and written by her daughter, Alanis King, because Jodi “failed out of typing class and doesn’t need that stress in her life.” Jodi’s mother wouldn’t let her buy a manual when she did turn 16, so her first Ford Mustang was an automatic.
This has been updated to reflect that Jodi didn’t remember the particulars about the keys, and they might have rolled it just to keep her boyfriend’s parents from hearing it start in the driveway.