Cars I Have Known and Loved

All that I know about cars could probably fit into a thimble. Considering my father and his father before him devoted their lives to Detroit’s automobile industry, this really tells you something.

I remember that the biggest curiosity I had about automobiles had to do with how many and what kind of insects I could find in the grill of my dad’s four-door Dodge sedan whenever he returned from a road trip across the Midwest.

My own first car is worth writing about in that it provided a surplus amount of lessons for the naive, young woman I once was. It was a 1965 Dodge Dart and I bought it in 1978 on the recommendation of a good friend who adored Dodge Darts. And my dad was a Dodge man himself, having given The Company 25 solid years of his life. Maybe I had a love-hate relationship with the Dodge even before I bought one because I certainly resented the lack of a father, as mine was always at work or on a sales trip. When he did come home, my mom admonished us to “leave your father alone” and let him read his paper while sipping his two nightly martinis.

The Brown Dart certainly caused its share of anguish in my early twenties at which time all I needed was a reliable mode of transportation to get me to work and back home. Prior to owning the car, I had ridden a series of buses, and before that I had hitchhiked. My friend, the one who adored Dodge Darts, frowned on the hitchhiking, disdained the busing, found me the Brown Dart, and I went along with it. He checked it out and everything seemed A-OK, so I signed on the dotted line, and the car was mine.

A few months after purchasing this “Sepia Lemon” I was on the way to the beach with my sister, Jeanne. Remember, I was 23 years old and so I found it appropriate to be driving around in my bikini. So when a cop pulled me over because the car was belching smoke out of its tailpipe (I was oblivious until he mentioned it), I stepped out of the car to ask, “Is there anything wrong, officer?” He let me off with a warning – I mean, what else could he do, right?

I took the car to a mechanic suggested by my friend (who I hope is not reading this!). Now that it is defunct, and because it is 30 years later, I think I can now tell the world that Ken over at the auto repair shop saw me coming (I had clothes on by then) and informed me that I would need an entirely new engine because there was a crack in the block. You know, $ 800 in 1978 was huge for a secretary like me. But I swallowed this news, and wrote him the first check of several installations, and let him and his crew go to work. It took them longer than they said it would, and I had to hitchhike and ride the bus around a lot more than I wanted to, but finally the Dart was ready.

Wouldn’t you know it, but just a few months later the car was again spewing smoke. And when I took it back to Ken, he told me that it needed ANOTHER new engine, and that there was no warranty on his prior work. It was somehow my fault that this recently-installed engine had another crack or the pistons were crooked or whatever.

23-year-old clueless-about-automobiles girl + conniving schemer named Ken = major fallout

That afternoon I was so perturbed about the whole series of events, I drove the Dart over to a collision shop that paid me $ 100 on the spot for the thing and I just walked away.

Thirty years later, I could write you a book on what to do and what not to do if faced with the same scenario. Instead, I will now relate the story of the first car I owned that I truly cared about, and that reciprocated in kind…. All who knew it called it the “Love Bug.”

I found it myself through a classified ad in Pacific Beach where I was living at the time. It was a 1968 VW bug that had been owned by only one other person. It had been built in Panama and it was red, and it was adorable. The only thing was, I did not know how to drive a stick shift. So the seller taught me how, and I was on my way the very same day.

As much pain and disgust as I had experienced with the Brown Dart, it was the complete opposite with the Love Bug. It was a joy to drive it around. I used to change the oil myself. It was the excellent hippy-chick ride! At one point I had it painted purple, my favorite color. Then I was involved in an accident with a guy who should have been wearing his glasses, but wasn’t, so that’s when it became the two-tone purple bug. My husband now speaks fondly about it to our friends, mentioning how it was like being in the Easter Parade when driving around in it.

I didn’t think I would ever bid goodbye to the Love Bug, except Mark and I decided to sell or give away everything we owned so that we could drive around North America, Alaska and Canada in a Chinook (small camper) in 1986, so my mom bought the Love Bug for my sister, Jeanne, who nearly immediately had it painted blue and didn’t worship it nearly as much as I did. By then I was off on such amazing adventures that no mere possessions had any hold on me. I was fishing for trout in Oregon, walking around and through redwood trees, getting chased by a grizzly in the Yukon.

I never did take a photo of the Brown Dart (maybe I would have burned it if I had) and I only have one existing shot of the Love Bug to illustrate my story relating this woman’s love affair with her car.

When we returned from our nine-month journey, we bought a Honda Civic, the first in a succession of work-horse vehicles over the years. We now have a Ford Focus and my dad is happy it’s a “Detroit product” but the charm that oozed from every pore of the Love Bug is nowhere to be found in our silver streamlined station wagon. The Focus is a wonderful piece of transportation, handsome and reliable. If I had the Love Bug today, I probably would rather hop into the Focus for a quick trip to the grocery store or the dentist. Maybe it’s the time of life that the Love Bug represents – when Mark and I were poised together on the threshold of our dreams, curious, unscathed and unafraid, proud to drive around in a purple and pink two-toned Easter egg.

BOLA TANGKAS