Manifold Relationship - A Most Personal Automotive Experience by
family moved from an army base in Germany to suburban Detroit
when I was nine. Two teenage boys lived next door. They were always
working on cars and talking about cars. I admired their ability
to identify in an instant the make, model and year of any and
every car that passed by on the street.
decided to learn, too. Our house was near a heavily trafficked
main road, so I got plenty of practice. A fresh pack streamed
by every time the light down the road turned green. Buicks back
then were easy. The little portholes in the front fenders were
dead giveaways. Cadillacs had those big fins, and so did '57
Plymouths. The Edsel's nosepiece was easy to spot, as was Oldsmobile's
"Rocket 88" hood ornament. And so on. The main foreign
cars back then were Volkswagen Beetles, which posed no problem
to me, nor, as yet, to Detroit. To this day, I can identify
most American cars manufactured in the '50's quicker than Lee
Iacocca could have said, "Toyota Corolla Tercel".
instead of looking at cars with boys, I began looking at boys
with cars. I was particularly attracted for a time to a white
'55 Thunderbird driven by a blond quarterback. We used to drive
to McDonald's after school, and it was fun while it lasted,
which wasn't for very long, because I wasn't quite as fast as
up and down Woodward Avenue, which runs from the Detroit River
all the way out past the northern suburbs, was a favorite pastime
of any Detroit-area adolescent who had the price of a tank of
gas. At twenty-odd cents per gallon, we put a lot of miles on
our parents' wheels when we were supposedly over at a friend's
house studying geometry. My next boyfriend and I used to take
his mother's white '64 Valiant and drive around half the night.
We'd spend the other half fogging up the windows, parked in
my parents' driveway, until my dad put a stop to it by turning
on the porch lights.
graduate school, I briefly had a boyfriend who briefly had a
silver Corvette Stingray. I cracked it up, putting it into a
drainage ditch along Interstate 10 on the way to Daytona Beach
at Spring break. As I explained to the skeptical state trooper,
a skinny-tailed animal with a pointed face and huge red eyes
leapt out at me. He couldn't find a dead possum for evidence,
but he let me go without a ticket. Unfortunately, the boyfriend
was not so reasonable, and things were all over between us before
we got anywhere near a beach.
first car I actually purchased was a 1971 lime-green Maverick.
It was all I could afford on a graduate-student fellowship,
but it got me between Detroit and Florida at least six times.
It still had plenty of economical miles left on it when I foolishly
traded it in for a 1975 Fiat X1/9.
that car got me was mostly in the bank account, and to and from
(barely) my mechanic's garage. How many times can a throw-out
bearing go bad? I was tired of counting after three, and acting
on the premise that the Fiat was jinxed, I sold it with feelings
of guilt to a high-school kid down the street. Naturally, he
never had a day of trouble with it.
next automotive move was a retreat of sorts, to a 1966 Plymouth
Belvedere with a good old 225 "slant six". It wasn't
pretty, and it wasn't fast, but it was reliable, unlike my ex-husband,
who once took apart a Chrysler engine in the kitchen, and despite
promises that it would be "just for a while", left
it there in pieces longer than was healthy for our marriage.
We had two garages and four acres, so using the kitchen for
a machine shop didn't seem absolutely necessary to me. Neither
did the twenty TV chassis in the lanai, but that's another story.
came a classic 1968 Mustang, restored with (all) my money and
the considerable talents of others. Since it was originally
my deceased mother's car, I had quite a sentimental attachment
to it, and drove it for years. Inevitably, it met its fate on
U.S. 19 in Florida in the form of a big Buick driven by a tiny
old lady who was well-past merely needing to get her eyes checked.
days, or actually, these years, I drive an eleven-year old Saturn,
now on its second engine. After the beautiful Mustang died,
I gave up on all wheels exotic, wanting only thrift and dependability.
I'm pleased to say that my taste in men took a happy turn along
those lines, too. However, I still think about that white T-bird
of long ago with much warmth and sentiment. After all, they
say a woman never really forgets her first love.