My first car was a 1965 Beetle that I purchased from my dad for $200 (he bought it new for $1,795). I was probably eighteen years old. Panama beige was the color. He’d purchased it, sans a radio (Dad tended to be miserly), and a summer or two later the family (Mom, Dad, my sister and I) drove from Michigan all the way down to D.C. for a Marine Corps reunion. Imagine the four of us—I was eleven or twelve and already five foot seven or taller, my sister thirteen or fourteen—baggage for all of us for three or four days, no radio, making that trip today.
A few years later, after I got my driver license, Dad taught me to drive the stick shift in the Bug. I was petrified, not by the clutch but by Dad, the retired marine who was more drill instructor to me in my youth than Dad. But it turned out well. I was a quick study and thereafter anytime I asked for the keys to the car Dad would make a point of asking me where I was heading and how far it was. Then he’d go out to the car to record the mileage on the odometer. A few years later, after I brought it up to him, he told me it was a father’s duty to distrust his children. Ouch.
So when I bought it from Dad the first thing I did was install a quad stereo radio/eight-track player in the dash. Then I added a Hurst short-throw shifter, replacing the knob with a Coors beer can. This was before Coors could be gotten east of the Mississippi. I knew a pilot who flew to Colorado on occasion and I often had him bring me back a case of the beverage. Strange today how I never purchase Coors and drink it only when family or friends have it at their homes.
A ten-inch three-spoke steering wheel and wooden dashboard ended my, in Han Solo’s words, “special modifications.”
By the time I took it off my dad’s hands the running boards had rusted off, as had the back bumper. On cold winter mornings when it wouldn’t start, Dad had to push me with this car, backward, down the street. I’d wave him off just before popping the clutch to jump start it.
Kissed a girl (not my first) in that car at a drive-in movie (can’t recall the title).
Some grand memories, although one or two might not have been so grand at the time.
I sold it three years later for maybe $75 to a kid with whom my dad worked and bought my first new car: a Datsun B210 for (if I recall) just over $3,000, and I thought nothing of that Beetle for many years.
But then I wrote about it for one of my novels—most of my novels contain biographical moments from my life. In A Retrospect In Death, my protagonist trades his Beetle in for a Toyota Celica, and as he drives his car off the lot he sees his old Bug in the lot and feels a certain remorse I didn’t when I’d been his age, as if he’d broken up with an old girlfriend for a prettier model, one with more baubles but little personality.
It’s been said we become old the moment we begin to look back, reflect more on the past than looking ahead to the future. Maybe that’s human nature. After all, I have far more years behind me than ahead of me, and I can only hope and pray my future won’t be laden with adverse health issues.
Anyway, I’m not sure this is worthy of taking up space on my blog, but there you have it.