How I Got to be Cool
With My First Car
automotive phenomenon happens in the mid-teen years. Often, this phenomenon
is thought to be a rite of passage reserved only for males in the
throes of puberty. Not so. Perhaps the precise reasons differ, but
crossing the threshold is an experience to be remembered, regardless
of one's level of testosterone. The memories come tumbling back every
time I see an old car driven by a kid. You see, everybody wants to
I turned 16, I needed to be cool. My parents gave me a '72 Chevrolet
Nova so I could pursue my quest. (If you don't remember what a Nova
looks likes, Eddie Murphy drove one in "Beverly Hills Cop.")
This car (mine, not Eddie's) had personality plus.
I got my Nova, it already had 110,000 miles on the odometer and was
in its third color incarnation. A true veteran of road wars and an
empirically obvious testament to Chevy's incredible durability in
those days, let's just say that this vehicle had been handled with
less than kid gloves in its past. In this latest incarnation, my Nova
was a beige/tan color. A Maaco special, I'm certain. But what was
inside made it special. No, not what was under the hood, but what
was inside the passenger cabin.
sit in the driver's seat was a lesson in piecemeal construction, strength
and endurance. Years of hard use and probably more than one bashing
(and who knows how many pounds of Bondo) had caused the heavy door
to sag on its hinges. When you closed the drooping metal door, it
was necessary to pull up and in--hard! This is no mean feat to do
while sitting, I can assure you, but it eventually became second nature.
"climate controls" were mounted vertically on the cracked
and faded dashboard. At some point, the knob that controlled the heat/cool
had snapped off, which presented a small engineering challenge at
first. However, changing the temperature within the car was still
a simple matter, really. All I had to do was apply the flat-head screwdriver
that I carried into the slot and push either up or down. Eventually,
the screwdriver stayed there, and stuck out as a reminder that ingenuity
can save the day.
the heat stayed on most of the year due to the car's hot-blooded nature.
Without running the heat in the summer, she had an unfortunate propensity
to overheat. This was easily avoided, however, by rolling down all
the windows and running the heat full blast.
along the dash, avoiding the dusty, well-used speedometer, attention
needed to be focused on the steering column. Here was the crux of
the car. The gear shift was on the column. One of the last "three
on the tree" cars made, my Nova had actually "grown"
some of its own improvements over the years.
instance, there was the amazing anti-theft device (one no auto engineer
ever conceived, for sure). In order to get the key released from the
ignition, the car needed to be held firmly in reverse and then reach
over the steering wheel with the left hand, hold the shift back and
up and slide the key out. Hard to imagine a thief trying to make off
with this car.
I must touch on my own improvements, modestly. As I drove the car,
I noticed that the turn signal indicator lever was becoming loose
and didn't want to signal right-hand turns. In a moment of desperation,
I slipped a ponytail holder out of my hair and around the indicator
lever. I then secured it around the column and onto the hazard light
button. I never had a moment's trouble after that. I got creative,
and changed the colors of the ponytail holders to match the seasons:
red for Christmas, green for summer, yellow for spring and brown for
fall. It was quite festive!
Nova developed a sense of humor, as well. After many trips and three
windshields later, she decided she was tired of the "car doctor."
On rainy mornings, the Nova began to display another quirky feature:
she developed a water reservoir under her roof. Obviously feeling
like none of the many teenaged passengers in my car were properly
groomed, she developed a "teen-cleaner" option neither designed
nor considered by the factory. It worked like this: the Nova would
dump a wash basin quantity of water into the passenger's lap with
the first sharp left turn taken. Usually, the most frequent passenger
was my best friend, who learned to cope with this quirk by having
a towel ready at all times to catch any offerings that my car might
choose to bestow upon her. But occasionally I would forget to tell
a novice passenger, and the unsuspecting would end up with the inevitable
lap-full of water.
my car's defense, she was a tank. Steel and iron. Even when I asked
her to roll into that light post, she complied, and wore her hood
dent proudly like a war wound. The rear door (de rigeuer pea green
in color) was welded shut. Between the welded rear door and sagging
front door, Ringling Brothers would have paid good money to watch
the clown act getting in and out of my car. However, in her defense,
I must say the window in the welded door worked well!
only truly annoying fault with my Nova was that the interior had vinyl
seats. And to complicate matters, they were designed with a raised
checkered pattern. It made for some interesting reptilian-like skin
patterns during the summertime, especially when shorts were worn.
I considered it a conversation piece, this "branding."
from the interior to under the hood, there was a peculiarity there.
When switching from second to third gear, occasionally the linkages
would stick. She made a horrible grinding noise, and needed to be
encouraged and coaxed. All that required was to pop the hood and manipulate
the linkages back to the proper spot. But she was ticklish and this
linkage-unsticking operation had to be performed with a certain delicate
lest I forget the "Jane Fonda Clutch." If you were unwise
enough to try and hold this clutch pedal in for a protracted period,
you found your leg trembling like Jell-O and fatigued from the high-tension
spring. Work-out tapes? Exercise regimens? Who needed 'em when I had
this clutch pedal? Neutral was a good place to be.
friends complained about the one-speaker, AM-only radio, but we found
ways around that with the advent of the "boom box." It was
the piece de resistance. A mere adjustment of volume tuned out rattles,
road noise, a well-worn exhaust system and anything else that might
remind us too rudely of my Nova's actual age and condition. I could
hold my head high as we cruised to the beat.
last, and without a doubt, I had undergone this rite of passage. I
was, in fact, cool thanks to my Nova.
happened to my car? Well, after numerous teen journeys, repairs and
adventures, I sold the Nova. The new owner was a 16-year-old kid who
lovingly restored her from tip to tail--but he never did figure out
how to solve the water trick!*
Zsoldos is definitely "cool" today and has moved on from
repairing turn signals to saving lives as a critical care nurse for
a major medical center. Although she no longer has her old car, Carolyn
does relish the comfort of her modern automobile, a Honda Accord LX.