Remember TTAC’s Future Writers Week? You chose the writers. The writers wrote. The stories are in (well, most of them …). Here is the first one. Do you like it? Tell us. The stories will be published in the sequence in which they arrived in TTAC’s mailbox.
Jeff called while I was watching the Ed Sullivan Show. He was my best friend, but it was odd for him call on a Sunday night. (As eighth-graders in 1968, it was unusual for any of us to call our friends except to see if they were available to “do something” at that moment, and we never did anything on Sunday nights.) Jeff did something all by himself. Jeff liked to take his parents’ 1967 Saab 96 around the block when they were gone and, that evening, he overshot the turn onto his street, jumping the ditch and landing in his next-door neighbor’s front yard. After repeatedly killing the engine while attempting to get traction, he managed to exit the yard. As this was a two-cycle three cylinder Saab that sounded like a chain saw when revved, Jeff assumed the neighbors, or the police, would soon be paying a visit.
The next morning, I walked a few blocks from my usual bus stop to survey the damage. It had rained the day before, so the Saab’s comma-shaped tracks were long and deep. When Jeff and his father drove by later that day, his father pointed to the damage, saying: “Looks like a small car went in there.” Jeff agreed : “Sure does…must’ve been a VW.”
We lived in a new subdivision and took to driving in the vacant lots that had recently been farm fields. No one owned trucks, or what we now know as SUVs: gas stations had Jeeps, Broncos and Scouts for snow plowing, and most of the pickups we saw were owned by the farmers occupying the undeveloped half of our town. Getting stuck was par for the course. A floor mat under the drive wheel usually provided sufficient traction in mud. Drainage ditches, nearly invisible in fields overgrown with weeds, were the biggest hazard – once your front wheels dropped in, the only way out required jacking up the front end and piling field stones under the wheels. Apart from a Corvair that landed hard after cresting a rise, snapping its oil filter mounting, significant damage was rare.
Once we were street legal, fresh snow provided cheap thrills. On a road slippery with fresh snow, the Saab 96 proved that a reverse spin could be accomplished in a front wheel drive car simply by giving the hand brake a sharp pull. A few years later, Jeff’s family moved on to the then-new Saab 99. Compared to the rear-drive domestic cars the rest of us drove, the 99 was fairly adept in snow. After snow storms we cruised back roads, searching for drifts which, if taken fast enough, allowed us to become airborne for a moment. Due to our inability to get up enough speed, and because it was at least four feet deep, an attempt on a drift in a school driveway failed, leaving the Saab perched atop it. Luckily, (it was -10 with a -40 wind chill, and we had only a collapsible army surplus shovel), a front end loader happened by and pulled us off, but not before the loader’s driver made us explain “what the hell were we doing.”
Given the prevalence of SUVs and trucks in today’s family fleets, these types of adventures must be different for today’s teenage boys. As SUVs are far more capable than the cars we drove, I wouldn’t expect vacant suburban lots to provide much of a challenge. The same is probably true for thrill-seeking on snowy roads. Of course, the level of risk-taking has probably increased with the corresponding increase in vehicle capability. Nevertheless, I want to believe that off-roading and drift busting isn’t the same in an SUV. Just as driving a slow car fast is more fun than driving a fast car slow, driving a car like a truck is more fun than driving a truck like a car.
Keith is a 50-something attorney, born in Detroit, now living in Appleton, Wisconsin. His interest in cars started when he was three or four, awoken by genes provided by a father who worked for Ford. Kevin does “not want to be defined by what I drive but the most fun cars I’ve owned include an ’83 GTI, ’96 Contour SE, ’98 S70 GLT, ’06 325i, and ’10 535xi.”