How could one pass up the opportunity to talk about one’s first car?
Like so many men, particularly in the past, owning and driving a car was an integral part of our very being. That is why the current talk about self-driving vehicles is a non-starter, destined to bring a real revolution to this country.
I couldn’t wait to be 16 years old nor to buy my grandfather’s 1929 Pontiac – one hundred dollars and it was worth every penny! As I remember I was only one of a very few high school students who had a car and drove to school.
It did more than provide transportation – had that been the issue, I could have continued to ride the bus the two miles into town.
The spokes of the Pontiac wheels were wooden. Also, once when I needed to replace the material that covered the top, I found that there were wooden beams from one side to the other – the one over the windshield had rotted.
The windshield could be raised with a crank, allowing good air flow through the interior. The window in the rear was oval shaped with a blind that could be drawn. I always thought it was for privacy, but someone told me it was to protect the rear-view mirror from headlights – I used it for privacy!
It was a two-door vehicle, but to get in the rear seat the front passenger’s seat folded twice to the front. The seats were covered with a material we would consider corduroy.
The body of the car was made of metal, but many times thicker than cars today. When I purchased the vehicle there was a small dent in one of the fenders. I tried to remove it with a hammer, but it was simply too thick to budge. I painted it black with a paint brush!
In no way would I consider myself a mechanic, but a constant issue was the diaphragm in the fuel pump. Since it was a repair-intensive machine, I learned to replace that with little difficulty.
Today’s cars are replacement intensive. Rather than fixing parts, you replace them. When the battery was dead, I could always crank the engine, but that was rare.
On one occasion I took it upon myself to remove the steering gears. To my surprise I could switch the location of the two gears and reverse the turning process – turn to the right and you went to the left and vice versa. I only did that once — it was very similar to learning to drive in England – on the left side of the road rather than the right! Purchasing tires came to be a problem, but I was able to find the 19-inch tires in the Sears & Roebuck Catalog.
On one occasion I purchased a radio and placed it just above my feet – dangling below the dash board. The small (six-volt, I think) battery was simply not strong enough to power all of the accessories. Thus, I had to choose which one I wanted or needed to use.
If I wanted to play the radio, I had to either give up using the headlights or the horn. If I wanted to use the headlights I could not use either the radio or the horn.
My friend had a Jeep and we would often take turns switching drivers. On our way home one of us, I can’t remember which, drove off the road and down the fairway of the nearby country club golf course. We duplicated this several times, but never got caught – we did keep off of the greens!
As far as I can remember I sold the old car when I went in the Army – the price was, of course, one hundred dollars. For some reason I found that the car ended up at the Pontiac dealer in Muncie, Indiana.
That was decades ago. I know it could not have rusted out as the thickness of the body and the thick brush-on paint job would make this virtually impossible.
It seemed that everyone wanted to know how fast their cars would go and I was no exception. I can remember driving to McCormick’s Creek State Park and opening up the old car on a long downhill stretch – 75 miles an hour, WOW!
I was going to talk about my other sacred experiences with automobiles, but this is already too long so I’ll have to again test the patience of editor Tom Barr.
Thanks to Randy Riley for giving me another idea for an article!
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.