ANN BAILEY: Car lover? Not quite, but no Granny Clampett eitherFor many people, especially guys, calling to mind their first cars is a trip down memory lane. They fondly recall details like “three on the tree” transmissions, tail fins and fold-down tops. I am not nearly as nostalgic for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m much more of an animal person than a “motor head.” I’ve always been more interested in creatures with four legs than things with four wheels. For example, one of my favorite jobs on the farm was checking the cows on horseback. Conversely, one of my least favorite was raking hay.
For many people, especially guys, calling to mind their first cars is a trip down memory lane. They fondly recall details like “three on the tree” transmissions, tail fins and fold-down tops.
I am not nearly as nostalgic for a couple of reasons. One is that I’m much more of an animal person than a “motor head.” I’ve always been more interested in creatures with four legs than things with four wheels. For example, one of my favorite jobs on the farm was checking the cows on horseback. Conversely, one of my least favorite was raking hay.
The other reason I don’t feel any lingering emotional attachment to my first car is because it was just that, a plain old car. The early 1970s-something, teal-colored Chrysler Newport was third-hand by the time I got it at age 20. My grandfather had given the car to my mom, who drove it for a few years and then gave it to me.
I didn’t then, and am not now, complaining about the Chrysler. It got me from Point A to Point B and that’s all I cared about. Meanwhile, it was about 30 feet long — or at least felt like it — so I could pack a lot of my friends into it. That was an important feature for a college student who had friends without cars. I drove the Newport for a few years, and then gave it to my younger sister when I got my next hand-me-down car from my mom.
This one, a blue Newport, was slightly shorter than the first one but still had plenty of room and like the first, didn’t have many break-downs. I drove it for a few years before I got a job decided to buy a new car.
I purchased the car, a red, standard transmission, Toyota Tercel for about $5,000. I was pretty excited to be a new-car owner and for the first time, understood, a little bit of why people can get so keyed up about cars. I’m aware that the fact I felt sporty in a red Toyota will give some readers the giggles, but hey, when you’ve spent your first 10 years behind the wheel herding the family car down the road, anything seems sporty.
While I liked wheeling about in my Toyota, I learned that one thing big family cars had over compact cars was that they withstand accidents better than smaller ones do. My husband and I had a roll-over on the way to Winnipeg to catch a plane for our wedding trip and the little red Tercel crumpled like an accordion.
When we returned from our honeymoon and had sufficiently recovered from our post-accident jitters, we bought a new car, this time a red Chevrolet Nova. We drove the Nova until 1997 when our first child was born and we learned that two-door cars and families with babies weren’t compatible. We traded in the Nova for a gray Jeep Cherokee. As a parent, I was much more concerned about practicality than looks.
Used to used
The Jeep was the last new car we bought for the next 15 years. During those years we drove a variety of sport-utility vehicles, cars and a van, all of them used. We had a few fender-benders with some of them that marred their looks, but I didn’t care. My main concern was that they got me from the farm to work and back again, and I really didn’t think much about the aesthetics. For half of the year, the vehicles were covered with dirt and dust from driving on our gravel roads, so you really couldn’t see what they looked like, anyway.
The past few months, though, I started to feel a little embarrassed about driving a 19-year-old Taurus with a hole in the muffler or a 2000 Venture van with a dent on the rear hatch. I felt like one of the Beverly Hillbillies Clampetts when I stepped out of my dusty, dirty, dented old vehicle and walked down the line of sleek, shiny cars and SUVS.
I joked with Brian and our children that if one of our two vehicles quit, we could put a rocking chair in the back of our ’53 Chevy farm truck and I could be a Granny Clampett look-a-like.
It wasn’t funny, though, last Saturday when I went to start the Taurus and it didn’t respond, except for a barely audible “click-click” noise. Brian tried to jump-start it, and then put on the battery charger, but there was no response to either of his attempts to start it.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and I decided I was going to buy a new vehicle. Not used, but new. The next day, Brian and I went car shopping and returned with two new vehicles. We decided that since the van also was on its last legs, we also had better trade it in before the engine turned over for the last time.
I’m pretty excited about driving a new vehicle. The one I purchased isn’t going to turn any heads, but it’s fun to have a car that has all kinds of gadgets. I have to get used to going from a car with a cassette tape player and an antenna sticking out the top to one with satellite radio and a six-CD changer.
Fortunately, I have tech-savvy children who can figure out how to work things. It took them about 30 seconds to figure out where the Ipod and portable DVD hook-ups were, and one of them already changed the clock for me. Meanwhile, I know how to operate the important stuff like the door locks, window shield wipers and rear and front defrosters.
The best thing about the new car, of course, is that it is dependable and will get me from home to work. I have to admit I’m also pleased that I can pull into the parking lot and hold my head high. On the downside, I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time at the car wash this summer. That’s a small price to pay, though, for not looking like Granny C.