Remember the days of the “oga” horn and foxtail tied to the antenna? When the skin of a car was thicker than a pop can? Well folks, those were the good days of the automobile.
Looking back now, I must admit that as great as the cars of the 1940s and ‘50s were, they did have a few shortcomings. Air conditioning was rolling down windows (or dropping the top). Instead of stereo, tapes and discs, the radios sounded more like an advertisement for Rice Krispies — snap, crackle and pop.
A tune-up was required every five to ten thousand miles and a roll of baling wire in the trunk was a necessity to keep mufflers and tailpipes from dragging. Standard transmissions were called manual and if you ever shifted one you would know why. Power steering meant manpower while cruise control was the throttle switch on the dash.
Although these cars are now considered “vintage automobiles” many were labeled junkers back when I first started wheeling them around. You could buy the nicest Model A Ford in town for twenty-five to fifty bucks. Buicks, Cads and Lincolns, produced in the 1940s, could be had for not much more.
My first “store bought” used car was a 1949 Oldsmobile which I procured in 1956 from Skei Motors in Ames. The chrome on it probably weighed as much as the average car today.
It had something like 50,000 miles on it and would burn about a quart of oil every couple hundred miles. The battery was anything but reliable which necessitated parking on a steep slope.
I could never manage to come up with the bucks to fix those shortcomings but I did scrape together enough to install dual exhaust — complete with “Hollywood mufflers.”
What my car had in common with most older cars back then was trouble. Few were the trips I would take without having to pop the hood at least once. By trips I don’t mean 500 or 1,000 miles, I’m referring to 15 or 20 mile jaunts.
The car’s unfaithfulness really didn’t bother me much. Back then I was rarely in a hurry and getting dirty was the least of my concerns.
It wasn’t long until people saw more of my posterior sticking out from under the hood of my car than my face. This constant vehicle maintenance worked out fine until the fateful day I first noticed girls. Sure, I was aware of girls before but only as a group. This was the first time I noticed one in particular.
Suddenly, my devotion to my Olds began to cool. Instead of cleaning spark plugs after school, I was searching for an excuse to drive past her house.
The first couple of weeks of this one-sided romance found me barking at the moon while my Olds slowly lost its hand-honed shine.
It got so bad that my mother began to worry. Each morning I would don a clean pair of jeans without being told. Even more alarming was the time I spent brushing my hair and washing my hands and face.
The cleaner I got the dirtier my Olds became. It went from the shiniest car in the school’s parking lot to the dullest. Even the whitewalls turned on me.
I believe it took at least a month to gain the courage to ask “my girl” if she’d like a ride home from school. I can still remember the pain and agony while I awaited her reply. Finally, she announced that she had play practice after school but would ride home with me the next day.
That afternoon I waited outside the back door of the school with the pipes on my Olds belting out a soft, deep tune. I closed my eyes and began to feel like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”.
She finally emerged from school in the midst of a cluster of girls. They looked my way and chattered as they slowly walked by my mighty machine.
She bent down and in a soft voice said, “My daddy says if he ever hears of me getting in that car of yours he’ll lock me in my room for the rest of my life.”
That was it. I drove straight home, put on my greasiest pair of jeans and started polishing my neglected Olds. Sure, she might not have been the most faithful car on the planet, but I never had to brush my hair to please her.