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by Leslie Linder

Manifold Relationship - A Most Personal Automotive Experience by Leslie Linder

My 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.

I 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".

Eventually, 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 the T-Bird.

Cruising 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.

In 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.

The 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.

Where 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.

My 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 desp
ite 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.

Next 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.

These 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.

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