By on April 19, 2017

04 - 1985 Chrysler New Yorker Fifty Avenue Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin

Think back in time, and then back a little further. Think about when you were between maybe 14 and 18 years of age; when the Kool-Aid was sweet, the lawn darts were shiny, and your personal tablet was an Etch-A-Sketch. It was then you had your first formative driving experiences, whether it was with a driving instructor, or perhaps a relative who reluctantly handed you the keys to their Electra 225.

Today, it’s story time.

I still remember it like it was yesterday, though it was in fact around the turn of the century. A hot summer day, I had gone over to my grandparents’ house to hang around and eat my snack of choice, a pepperoni and cheese Hot Pocket. After I scarfed that down, I was watching something on the little TV in the kitchen when my grandma walked in and looked at me. She obviously saw my boredom, and decided to ask the most exciting question in the world for 14-year-old Corey who loved cars.

“You want to go practice driving?”

Suddenly there was a lump in my throat, and my heart fluttered like a hummingbird. It’s time to drive a real car! We went to the driveway immediately.

Being my first experience, I wasn’t ready to drive on the road quite yet, so I was a passenger at the start. Grandma drove over to an empty parking lot at the offices of the long-ago-closed-down Schenley distilleries. It was only a few blocks drive, but by then the anticipation was almost too much. My fingertips dug into the deep red velour, eyes wide and dry, the ice-cold air from the vents was blowing through the plastiwood-filled cabin at my face.

“Okay, you ready?”

No time to waste. I got out, slammed the heavy red door closed, and jogged the 16-foot distance around the front end of the 1986 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. My grandpa had purchased it at an auction a year or so before, spotless and with just 30,000 miles on the clock. Sitting down carefully in the middle of the button-tufted driver’s seat, my fingers fumbled at the nearly incomprehensible metal toggles that worked the seat motors. There were so many. And my hand was shaking, but just a bit.

“Just take your time!”

I fussed with adjusting the seat for a few seconds, but then I was ready. Fingers found that Pentastar key in the ignition, and turned it. I gave it a bit of gas like I’d always heard about — a little too much — and the 5.2-liter grumbled and roared to life far in front of me.

“Now don’t go too fast, doesn’t take much on the pedal.”

Shifting that Torqueflite into D, I’m sure I never got over 15 miles per hour in that parking lot. Thinking back, I remember how lazy the throttle inputs actually were, and how the softly sprung suspension meant turning was a nautical event, even in low-speed cornering. I remember the heavy doors, and the smell of the velour, and the carpets that seemed two inches thick. Such luxury!

I practiced parking and staying straight in the lanes as I drove around. The whole thing was probably 20 minutes in duration, but it was the best 20 minutes I’d ever had. Interruption of my Fifth Avenue fun came over my grandma’s EMT radio. She had a life squad run, and that meant she had to drop me off back at home right away. Reluctantly, I pulled to the edge of the lot and parked. It was over.

That Fifth Avenue is long gone. It got traded in the next year on a 2000 Century Custom (sigh). But I’ll never forget it, or that late summer afternoon where I drove for the first time.

Pour your hearts out, and let’s hear your formative driving experience.

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113 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Your Formative Driving Experience?...”


  • avatar
    Timothy Cain

    I was newly licensed, had only spent a modest amount of time with manual transmissions, and one of my good buddies (a future RCMP officer) wanted me to learn in his father’s old Nissan pickup. The clutch pedal felt the same whether fully depressed, partially depressed, or gently feathered. The shifter provided no clarity as to what gear you were in or what gear you were going to.

    He would pop it into neutral if I wasn’t watching his every move at a long red light. He made the whole process as difficult as possible, both in good fun and with an eye toward fast learning. And then, once I had the hang of it, on a snowy night, we headed for the biggest empty parking lot we could find for Nissan truck drifting. The parking brake was this long pull lever to the right of the steering wheel, not a traditional hand brake or foot-operated unit.

    Getting all of this right in my head – awful clutch, dreadful shifter, rear-wheel drive, parking brake lever – while sideways in the snow made me the Formula 1 champion I am today.

  • avatar
    Steph Willems

    My dad had a 1979 Sunbird 2+2 (the Monza kind). Red, with oyster vinyl buckets. 231 V6 and a 3-speed auto. It ran quite rich, so much so that it would upshift into second while idling down the street and chirp the tires backing out of the garage. Crazy low miles, as he had bought it from a 90-year-old woman for $700.I was allowed to drive it once at perhaps 16 years of age.
    The insanely sensitive throttle and lack of power steering almost got me into trouble while making a left turn from a stop sign. Let’s just say that the 90-degree turn turned into a 180 due to these factors, and the lack of power brakes didn’t resolve the situation in a timely manner.

  • avatar

    To follow-up Timothy Schumacher’s story above…

    When I was really young — think single-digit ages and double-digit preteen years — my old man would take me to work with him. He was a forester (not a Subaru) and drove a lot on private, dirt, logging roads for his job. He’d wake me up super early in the morning, pack us into the Suzuki Sidekick, and we’d hit the road for whatever 300+ kilometer journey we’d do that day.

    I’m sure the whole purpose of these trips was so my parents didn’t need to pay for childcare on some of the days I had off school but that my parents still needed to work, but I’d still get some orienteering lessons in the woods along the way. My father and I would walk a kilometer or two into the woods and he’d tell me to lead us back to the Sidekick. If we came out of the woods within 100 feet of the truck, that was a win.

    One day, when I was all of eight years old, I asked my dad if I could drive the Sidekick. Surprisingly, he said yes. Being a tall, lanky kid, I didn’t have much issue reaching the pedals, and I’d spent copious hours in the driveway at home pretending I was driving, so I was familiar with the manual shift pattern.

    Needless to say, I was not familiar with how a clutch worked with a running engine.

    I stalled — a lot. The Sidekick bucked and protested — a lot. And my dad didn’t let me go beyond second gear, which is probably quite smart in hindsight even though I begged him to let me shift it into third.

    From that point on, I was hooked. I never owned a Powerwheels or anything motorized as a kid, so this was the first time driving something that powered itself. It was freedom, power, and excitement all at the same time. I’ll never forget that.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      This story could make a Subaru commercial, though. Did it start your love for all things Suzuki?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      When I was a kid, my dad sold women’s clothing for a company called Bobbie Brooks. He used to take long over-the-road selling trips, and sometimes let me tag along (I was his his “assistant,” meaning he used me as free child labor to drag his racks and clothing bags around). One time, on a trip to southeast Missouri, he put me on his lap and let me “drive” his car on the highway, which was a late-’60s Olds 98 or Buick Electra (can’t recall which).

  • avatar
    e30gator

    All I did was get into trouble. Hindsight being 20/20, I shouldn’t have been given a license at 16 as I was too immature.

    One of our favorite pastimes was to turn the windshield sprayers on my ’89 Sentra to the side and spray people. We were banned from Taco Bell after one incident.

    More fun was using my off campus parking tag and loading up to four friends into the trunk and skipping school for the rest of the day to go to the beach.

    Then there was the impromptu burnout contest in front of our friend’s house at 2am. His father was the local Episcopalian minister BTW. Another guy ran over his neighbor’s mailbox and the cops came.

    I’ve done a lot of growing up since then, but getting my license turned me from a sassy punk into a full on juvenile delinquent. Ah, memories…

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      I got in so much trouble. There are a decent number of decent memories, but none of them are family friendly. I had a court date on my 17th birthday. If I had gotten that ticket today I would have had to do jail time because the state that it happened in is run by literal Nazis.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Learning how to drive, I had a few family instructors, but none stood out more than when my cousin took my out in his old ’72 Chevy truck. I had been practicing on my parent’s 1981 Corolla for a while (this was in 1986), but getting the opportunity to sit up high and command the wheel of that green and white beast was a thrill for this (at the time) 16-year old. It rumbled, it shook and it had all the steering feel of having my hands dunked in Novocain, but ye Gods did I love that thing.

    After I got my license, my father wouldn’t let me out of our subdivision for months. So, I had to suffer the fate of having to take the bus to school each day while my 1978 Plymouth Arrow (in full burnt orange and flaming arrow regalia) sat in our driveway. When I’d get home, the first thing I would do was take the Arrow out for about an hour, circling the neighborhood over and over. The first time I was allowed to take the wee hatchback beyond the confines of our neighborhood produced feelings of freedom that I don’t think astronauts experience lifting off into space.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      At that point, you have to get a job with crap hours. Your parents don’t want to take you, and you get to drive your car around at least twice a day. :)

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    My first hit on the go-fast crack pipe was around age 8 in a kart at some craphole kart place in the middle of nowhere on a cross country camping trip. We went Brady Bunch style with a canvas pop-up. karting? Game over. I knew I wanted to drive right then and it was all downhill towards a rusty pile of German junk cars and dreams of piles of nickels.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      You just reminded me how much I enjoyed the bumper cars, and how I would try and drive around the floor (rink?) properly, and not hit anything.

      And I always thought the bumper cars looked like Saabs.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    My Dad’s younger brother had all the cool cars when I was young; Buick Grand National GSX, Corvettes, Buick Grand Sports, Pontiac GTOs, Chevelle SS 396, the list goes on and on.

    When I was 15 he let me drive his 1966 Chevy Biscayne 2 door sedan. It had a 427/4-speed with 4.10 gears and nothing else. No power steering, drum brakes, no radio. As was par for the day, the camshaft in that thing was huge and it was an ill tempered, loud, hand full to drive. Of course the clutch was super stiff and that big Hurst shifter kept hitting the bench seat in second and fourth gear. It was awesome! It was impossible to stall due to all the torque and low gears. I probably could have taken off in second or third. Regardless of which gear you were in, it would blow the tires off at more than part throttle.

    I remember only taking it around a few blocks but was sweating by the time we got home. It was a lot of work driving that thing but it was the single best experience I ever had driving. The rich smells of high octane gas and burning rubber, the heat, the sounds that thing made were just incredible. It left a big impression on me and I have been fortunate enough to duplicate some of those feelings in Biscaynes and Bel Airs of my own. But nothing can top that first time driving that beige, beautiful beast.

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    I was ten, give or take.

    In my pre-teen years, I’d spend a couple months each summer in northern Wisconsin with my grandparents. This typically coincided with a family reunion at a big park on the shores of Green Bay.

    Grandpa was a Buick man, and had (to the best of my recollection) a dark blue H-body LeSabre. I seem to recall dark blue velour, as well.

    I don’t recall specifically why, but the Buick needed to be moved into a different parking space. I saw my chance, and volunteered. I’d watched my parents closely over the years while they drove, so I figured I’d had everything down.

    Unfortunately, most of the cars my parents drove had manual transmissions. The LeSabre, of course, was not so equipped.

    I didn’t realize that an automatic-equipped car would creep forward at idle when the brake was released in “D.”

    A brief, bucking ride began, in full view of my entire extended family – save, thankfully, my parents, who were still in Ohio.

    No tears, thankfully – I came to grips with the situation and shut it down before any damage was done. But my family still gives me crap about it to this day.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Were there laughs at the time it happened, or was the tone more “What are you doing?!”

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      LOL, at least your little joyride was accidental. I had one that wasn’t.

      The summer I learned to drive, my dad brought home a car for my mom to look at (an Audi of some kind, probably a 4000, as I recall). They drove back to the dealership in it, leaving Yours Truly, his newly found driving skill, and a Mercedes 450 sedan in the same vicinity.

      Oh, hell yes! I waited a few minutes, fired up the Benz, opened the windows and sunroof, popped Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” into the Becker tape deck, and took off.

      And about a quarter mile down the road, just as “Sunset People” came on, who did I see coming the other way? None other than Mom and Dad.

      (Cue “Dragnet” theme.)

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        I felt anxious just thinking of how this played out when they saw you. How did your punishment go?

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Long story short, I pulled off into a subdivision entrance and put the car into park doing like 10-15 miles per hour, accompanied by a huge “thunk” and Donna Summer playing at full blast. I was lucky I didn’t waste the transmission, but apparently they were made of stern stuff back then.

          Let’s just say it was a real long two minute drive back to the house.

          Got grounded for something like two months for that stunt.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            It could have been worse! Haha. Thinking of the transmission sound is making me cringy.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            The sound of five large being put into a pile and burned is usually cringe-worthy. Benzes of that era were incredibly expensive to fix.

            But my family had the car for another eight or nine years, and the transmission never went bad. Can’t say the same for the A/C, the cooling system, the exhaust system, the power windows, the power locks…

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            I had to throw my Deville into park from a coast, when I was trying to limp it to the shop with no brakes (driver’s side brake line busted right as I got home a couple days earlier). I was about to roll out into the road! I overdid my speed a bit approaching the intersection, and overestimated the abilities of the parking brake to stop me.

            That was a fun sound.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            So…the Caddy has had no air AND no brakes?

            Damn…

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            This is correct. The timing of the brake failure was very fortunate. If it had happened a couple of minutes earlier, I could’ve been seriously injured. Right as I pulled up in the driveway, the pedal went to the floor and I heard PSSSSST.

            I sold it after that was repaired.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            #narrowlyavoideddeath

  • avatar
    JimZ

    My adolescent years were horrible, and I don’t romanticize them like so many guys are obsessed with doing. so no story.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    One of the first highway outings in my gorgeous, new-to-me ’66 Galaxie, I was in full glory mode filling my lungs with the feeling of freedom and power when the single-latch hood popped all the way open.

    Luckily a rural morning with sparse traffic, I kept it together, slowing down while peering through the thin crescent-shaped gap between cowl and hood and got it safely stopped on the shoulder.

    That indelibly taught me that It’s Not Just Your Car; It’s Your Mortal Enemy.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Had to look up what a Galaxie looks like. There are hints of Pontiac there, and when it goes from coupe to sedan it starts looking much more GM-like as well.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        Yeah, like with the Pontiacs the transition from ’65 to ’66 rounded the fender edges and head light bezels just enough to make them look oh, so sleek.

        But I think Pontiac was doing handsome over/under lights since ’63 so Ford was the copycat.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Ford had a habit of relocating the headlights every two years or so on the Galaxie/Ford/Fairlane et al cars.

          IIRC the 68 -69 were side by side. The 66-67 were stacked. 64-65 were side by side.

          My 68 Galaxie tried to kill me once. I was coming home from college in the wee hours of the night. It had turned cold, in the -30’s Celsius. It had snowed prior to the drop in temp so the roads were nice and slippery. I punched the throttle to drift the car and the throttle stuck almost wide open. It was always fun to blow donuts but not very fun when I was no longer in control of that 10.5:1 compression 4 barrel 390.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            Jeez, what’d you do, Lou? Kill the ignition? Jam it into Neutral? Both?

            I don’t remember which cars (Chrysler?) but I’ve heard of fail-open throttle linkages elsewhere. Strikes me as kwazy.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            OldManPants – I almost sh!t my pants ;)
            I ended up blowing multiple donuts. I first tried the brakes. That didn’t work so I popped into neutral and killed the ignition.
            I lifted the hood and removed the air cleaner.I found that the butterfly’s in the carb had frozen open when I had mashed the pedal to get the car to slide.
            I got everything unstuck and drove it the rest of the way home.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            When you popped the hood could you hear it laughing at you?

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            OldManPants – I’m sure that there was a crow somewhere laughing it up.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      My driver’s ed teacher actually drilled us on ducking down to look through the slit at the bottom of the open hood, just in case something like that happened!

      It was circa-1979 Duck and Cover.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    A 63 IH 1000 pickup with 3 on the three on a gravel and dirt road with my older brother teaching me how to shift. My brother also let me drive his 55 Buick Special 2 door with a Dynaflow. Neither had power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning. The only extra option on the IH was a heater with no radio and just gauges.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    First experiences were with grandparents’ vehicles, on nearby farms in rural West Virginia. First a Ford 8N tractor, then a 62 GMC farm truck. Just barely old enough to reach all the pedals. Nothing automatic for a while. I was probably 14 before I drove a car. My mom’s parents had a ’65 Fairlane sport coupe, which my grandfather enjoyed having me chauffeur him around in on the narrow dirt roads while he ran his errands. Later I drove my dad’s parents’ ’62 Fairlane, which did not have the power steering or the power brakes that the newer sport coupe had. Much harder driving, especially with the bias ply tires. That was the first car I had on pavement. These cars are the reason why I have little nostalgia for old cars. They were ponderous, marginally reliable and imprecise at best.

    Jump forward fifteen years or so, and I’m pulling out of the dealership in my first brand new car, a 1987 Acura Integra. There is no feeling like the first drive in your first new car–especially when it is SO much better than any previous car you’ve had.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      The farm is a great place to learn driving. I was 8 when my grandfather taught me how to drive an Oliver 1650 hooked to a haybaler and wagon – the clutch was very heavy but I could push it by standing on the pedal – thank goodness it had power steering. The next year I learned how to drive his 4 speed manual 1966 Chevy C-20 pickup, which was tricky because the long floor shifter was not very precise so it was difficult to tell if I was in 2nd (normal starting gear) or reverse. By the time I took my driving test I could drive anything anywhere because I already had almost 8 years of practice.

  • avatar
    thelastdriver

    1989 Camry V6 Wagon. My Dad bought it new when I was two and I’m still driving it!

    Other cars have come and gone through the years (many J-Body GMs and a few Corollas) but the unkillable Camry has always been there at the turn of a key.

    Even the stupid electric seatbelts still work!

  • avatar
    bobpink

    I guess I was about seven years old when my uncle sat me in his Jacobsen 100 powered go-kart and sent me off to go in small circles in the yard. I recall a conversation years later where I told him that I remembered being a bit scared. He said I had a bad memory. He said I was told to stop driving, but I kept my foot down with a huge smile on my face and it was only him being able to remove the spark plug wire that got me to stop. Must have been the occasional weekends spent at Blackhawk Farms that inspired me.

    Years later it was making off with my Dad’s Mazda RX-4 at 15 with my friend in the passenger seat for some neighborhood antics that damn caused me to crash the car…never did that again.

    Eventually went roadracing in the mid-90s to help satisfy my innate need for speed.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    There are a few formative moments that stick out:

    1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager. My first time driving. I didn’t even have a permit. My dad let me drive down the street a few houses while we were picking up firewood from a neighbor. Took it very, very slow!

    1988 Accord. My mother teaching me to drive stick when I got my permit. “If you can get started on a hill, you have mastered it” Boy, we had some steep hills at home to practice on.

    199x Eclipse GSX. A family friend taking me to a track day at Pocono when I was 17. On the way home, he showed me how to double-clutch downshift. A skill I still use to this day, almost 20 years later.

    1993 del Sol Si. Going way too fast on a back road once. No crash or even a loss of grip, nobody got hurt, no harm done, but I gave us zero margin for error. Very stupid, taught me to never do it again.

    1997 Acura 2.2 CL. Overheating. Until then, I had never seen the temp needle “swing right”. Ever since then, I have a tendency to watch the coolant temp gauge like a hawk.

    2004 BMW 330i. A pop up snow storm caught me off guard, dropping about 1″ of powder very quickly. I was on staggered 225/245 summer tires. Nearly every combination of rpm, gear, speed and throttle input would send the DSC into a frenzy. Felt like the tires were bowling balls. My most white-knuckled driving experience ever. Summer tires in the snow – NEVER AGAIN. I also now feel the need to preach loudly on forums about the huge risk summer tires pose in the snow, especially on RWD cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      LeMansteve wrote: “I also now feel the need to preach loudly on forums about the huge risk summer tires pose in the snow, especially on RWD cars.”

      Amen to that. I’ve had too many near misses/close calls as both a driver and a passenger (especially as a passenger) to not endorse this.

      Can’t believe that we drove around Southern Ontario in RWD vehicles with ‘summer’ bias ply tires and later the old ‘exploding’ Firestone 500 radials. Even had a fullsize, Dodge cargo van with a homemade ‘disco’ conversion that I drove year round on all-season tires.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        The one time I found myself on summer tires on a 40 degree rainy day has turned my off to summer only tires. And that was in my ’01 Focus, I can’t imagine it with anything with actual performance. Weather can change so quickly in western PA, especially in that month or so in between seasons that I’ll take the performance loss for the peace of mind.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          This. I had summer tires on my ’05 Focus ST and they made the car absolutely useless in even light snow.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I won’t do summer-only tires because most days of the year in the PNW, especially at night, are below the temperature threshold where summer tires are happiest. High-performance all-seasons are much better in cool temperatures and have gotten pretty good for almost all street driving.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    ‘Officially’ a Type III VW square back/wagon/shooting brake. Manual everything, with zero options, including no radio.

    Unofficially a 1955 Buick, followed by a 1962 push button automatic Plymouth both owned by a friend a couple of years older than me who started earning money making mechanical repairs for our neighbours at the age of 12.

    He was also our lead engineer/mechanic when we started making first push style and then later motorized go-carts from about the age of 10.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    When I was 14, my grandparents got custody of me (long story). Anyway, my papaw took me driving in his ’97 2WD F-150 extended cab when I turned 15 over in the “river bottoms” of Southern Indiana. We live in Kentucky, just across the river, so one trip over the bridge leads to side roads that are nothing more than gravel access lanes for farmers to get to their crops.

    I drove and drove and drove that truck around those gravel roads, practicing stopping, turning, parking, etc. I think learning at such a young age (with nothing and no one around for me to crash into) and in such a big vehicle helped me gain more confidence behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    There’s gearheads on both sides of the family, especially on my moms side. Many vehicles have passed through the hands of both sides of the family, but my one uncle has had 47 different cars,trucks or bikes in his 60 years. My brother is taking after him, he’s had 20 different vehicles and he’s only 36. We’re obviously not a buy and hold family. The only car to buck that trend is the ’56 Sedan Delivery that my uncle restored himself in the early 80’s.

    Cars and driving are so ingrained that my brother might not remember much about many family vacations, but he can remember what we rented when we were there. There’s been many a moment, good and bad, that’s happened with a member of the family that it’s hard to keep track. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of road rage in the genes too and that’s where a lot of the uglier moments have come. I’ve gotten better about it, but sometimes it’s hard to control.

    I remember my uncle doing a burnout in my grandparents neighborhood once in his new S-10 2wd with the 4.3. This was the neighborhood he grew up in, so he knew exactly who ran off the porch shaking their cane at him. My graduation present from high school was being able to drive his ’56 Sedan Delivery around for about 20 minutes.

    We were coming home from a family trip in our ’84 Econoline conversion van. We came around a corner on the PA turnpike and even I felt the back of the van loosen up. Next thing, the right rear wheel departed the van. My Dad eased off, slowed down and stopped. It had taken the lugnuts and studs with it. My Dad used the CB, flagged down a trucker who took him to the next truck stop (which wasn’t far). He called AAA and my uncle, who came and picked my mom, me and my siblings and took us home in a giant Pontiac Parisenne while Dad went with the tow truck.

    But by far,my own driving epiphany was my sixteenth birthday. I took “delivery” from my grandparents of my ’81 Buick Regal coupe. My uncle and his friend had rebuilt the 231 V6(praise be). It had about 55k on it and since it was 1994, it was an old car. It was two-tone green, with green interior. It must have been pretty when it was new. But the light green had oxidized so much it was rather chalky looking. Bench seat. That first night I had it, the passenger side window went down and wouldn’t come up. My car got parked in the garage that night!

    But it was mine. All mine. Well, mine and the parents anyway. I did dumb stuff, did fun stuff, pegged that 85mph speedo so many times. Just went out with friends and drove around for fun, listening to whatever on tape ( I had a lot of mix tapes). Nothing was better and nothing still is, than the freedom provided by your own wheels.

    My profession as a pilot requires an endless stream of hotel shuttles, taxis and such. Oddly, I hate being at the whim of others schedules and driving. The company will not let us rent cars to drive ourselves unless it’s dire and no other options exist.(Though after this recent United debacle, they might have to change that). On the rare chance I can have a rental, it’s so liberating, almost like being 16 again.

    Our Mazda 5 lives in DC as my airport car and as much as driving the 4 hours home can suck (compared to a 30 minute flight) I know that I will get home and at my own schedule.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Three specific incidents:

    July 1964 – a 1962 Renault Dauphine with automatic. Dad brought it home at lunchtime so his car crazy kid could crawl all over it while he ate. This time was different. He allowed me to drive it up and down the driveway, first with him in it, then solo while he had lunch. I’ve just turned 14.

    May 1965 – the family is out on the weekly Sunday ride, I stayed home to wash dad’s 1965 Impala Super Sport coupe (silver blue, 327 with Powerglide). And I got my nerve up and took it out on the streets of my suburban neighborhood. Got it back home about twenty minutes before the family returned. Finally admitted it to dad 27 years later while he was in the hospital for the last time. He got a good laugh.

    August 1968 – I got my first car! A 1937 Buick Special 2-door luggage back sedan. Three speed on the floor, of course. And I’ve never driven a stick. Got tired of waiting for dad to take the time to take me out, and I already knew (in theory) how a manual transmission operated, so I went out on my own. And got back home just fine, without stalling it once. Credit to that goes to the Buick, which had the most gentle, most progressive clutch I’ve ever driven in my life. Back when there was no choice, manufacturers put some serious time into clutch design.

    There were advantages to being the son of the local Chevrolet dealer. Unfortunately, he got out of the business just as the ’66’s were coming out – nine months shy of my 16th birthday. So much for the Corvette Sting Ray I was “sure” I was getting for high school.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    It was 1975, on one of those glorious, just-warm-enough, good-smelling fall days in St. Louis (and they are wonderful). My dad and I had just finished up detailing his ’73 Citroen SM, and we took it out on the road we lived on, which was a winding country lane.

    While we tooled down the road, the Beatles’ “Michelle” came on the radio. I can remember the smell of the leaves, mixed with the leather conditioner and the car’s warm fluids, and the sound of the Maserati six as it blended with the music and the faint crackle of leaves.

    I defy anyone to find a more perfect moment in a car.

    (Of course, whenever you tried to use that Citroen, there was about 40% chance it would say, “no, monsieur, we do not start today,” but when that car was right, oh dear Lord, was it right.)

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Age 15. My old man was on the road for his job, so he didn’t give me any time with his cars. My mom was a terrible driver – still is – and didn’t want to show me how to drive before I took driver’ ed.

    So it was up to my older brother, who took me in the parent’s 98 Oldsmobile Diesel. We drove down some deserted dirt roads out in the country. That big b-body was a handful – more so because I had zero experience behind the wheel.

    At age 16 I got my license. My parents let me take that same Oldsmobile out so I could visit my friend who lived on the other side of town. It was dark out and I almost rear ended a car with dim tail lights that was making a left turn. I had to jerk the wheel at the last moment, controlling that 4000 pounds of GM steel. Luckily I didn’t crash.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I was 14 when dad brought home a beautiful, white, 1960 Impala Sports Sedan in May of 1965.

    That did it.

    I learned to drive in that car, and loved everything about it. 283, Powerglide, AM radio, baby moons and nothing else. It was so fancy, it didn’t need anything else, for it was a stunner! The interior was a combination of shades of brown and tan.

    I had a large, 7″ reel-to-reel portable stereo tape recorder (15 lbs) that besides AC, it would run on 8 D cell batteries. I would record my own tunes, plop it in the back seat, turn it on and crank it up and cruise around town on occasion.

    Most of the time, though, I had Kx-OK 630 AM cranked up loud on that vacuum tube radio and enjoying every moment! That car was a lot of fun, especially on a warm St. Louis county day with all glass rolled down and vents cranked out.

    The glories of youth!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Man, KXOK…that brings back some memories.

      As I remember, they were top 40 when I was a kid, but by the late ’70s, they had gone to a classic rock format, like KSHE.

      (Funny thing, when I was younger I never listened to KSHE – it was always the station for the burnouts – but I stream it all the time now.)

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Started learning to drive tractor at age 12 – wasn’t put behind the wheel until I got my learners permit (no illicit activity here – that would have been an anathema to my pious Mother.)

    The only thing Dad would trust me with was the 1982 Celebrity that he had only kept so it could be my first car. Lots of country roads, lots of time with mom in the passenger seat – she’s a terrible passenger BTW.

    The first time I took Ohio’s Road Test I failed based on parallel parking (maneuverability test). I got the official measurements, set up some pitchforks, hoes, and rakes in the yard in front of the shed and practiced for a week.

    Then I passed the test.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    1971 ZAZ 966 Zaporozhets that we had to crank start (no battery, car had sat for years at that point). If you stalled it, you had to push it back to the garage to plug a home-brew booster into the wall outlet to give enough juice to the coil to have a spark, and hand-crank start it back up. Add to that non-functioning brake hydraulics (hand brake only), leaky clutch hydraulics, and a reverse shift pattern (1st is left and down, 2nd is left and up, reverse is push shifter down vertically and right and up IIRC). We just drove it around the crumbling coop garage complex, mostly in 1st gear. This was in 2000 or 2002.

  • avatar
    nickiter

    The first car I could really call my own was a silver 1988 Volvo 240DL. I’d been driving for some time, but I’d never driven a manual before that car. My parents bought it from a friend for peanuts – Volvo chosen for its great safety reputation.

    My uncle helped me learn to drive it – neither of my parents could drive a manual – and it was a forgiving transmission to learn on so the lessons went quickly. After about 20 minutes I was rocking around without too many problems. I couldn’t believe how much more it felt like *driving* than what I was used to The cars I’d driven up to that point had clunky, unresponsive automatics that would ignore pedal input for seconds at a time before downshifting awkwardly. This car, though, was totally under my control! I could make it do whatever I wanted to. It was exhilarating!

    Back then, we lived in an isolated farmhouse in the country, surrounded by chip-and-seal or plain gravel roads that were by turns straight and flat and windy when they hit low-lying areas that hand’t been cleared for farmland. I treated that creaky old Volvo like a rally car. For the years I had it, I regularly took it down back roads and into dirt tracks, slewing around on the thin tires and pulling half-assed handbrake turns. I taught my brother to drive stick and we bombed down the same roads together, taking turns at the wheel and occasionally playing a game where the driver steered and worked the pedals while the passenger shifted and worked the ebrake.

    Good days.

  • avatar
    countymountie

    In the late 1980’s, Dad had a 1972 Impala sedan. Had horrible faded green paint with a white painted roof, green interior and a small block 400 with an alarming appetite for oil. Dad worked nights so oftentimes my brother and I would spend the night at our grandparents’ house and Dad would pick us up on his way home.

    He had a long dirt and gravel driveway and most mornings he would stop at the end and have me drive the rest of the way. I felt like I was king of the world at 11-12 years old driving that old tank. Fast forward a little ways and one morning my stepmom was driving it to town when a tie rod broke. Somehow she managed to get it off the side of the highway without hitting anyone or anything. Dad, Grandpa and I went out to fix it. With the job done, they soon realized that there were now three cars and only two adult drivers. They decided that Dad would lead the way, I would follow in the middle, and Grandpa would bring up the rear. I got to drive alone for several miles down some narrow, hilly rural Oklahoma back roads. What a thrill it was! I think the experience ingrained my love of wallowing land barges to this day. Thanks Dad.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    I got my license at 17 when my Dad put me to work in his roofing company. I drove a 1963 Pontiac Catalina to the jobsites, where, often as not, I worked alone. The Pontiac was a decent car and the 389 2bbl had enough power to tow a trailer with some surprisingly heavy loads. Had I ever been stopped, I’m sure the nice officer would have been surprised as well. The car was enjoyable when I wasn’t working but mostly, I remember from that time that I sure didn’t want to be a roofer for a living.

    My first purchased-by-me car was as a newly married and newly employed 23 year old. It was a 5 year old red 1969 Fiat 124 A Sport Coupe, the last year before gov’t regs started the long slide into the malaise era. My wife and I learned the manual transmission on the way home from the sellers house, on suburban and urban roads. While it was apparently made of sintered rust, I loved that car – 5 speed (yes, really), disk brakes all around, twin cam engine, wishbone front suspension and decent handling, but in NE winters it became a rust bucket in a few short years. If I could find one in good condition, I’d be tempted to buy it. BAT had one several years ago, but then I was wrestling with tuition payments etc.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    I got my license in October 1982. Bought my first car in Spring of 83 – my 74 Gran Torino – my little avatar pic that you see. But I really wanted to learn how to drive a stick!
    My summer job through high school and college was working at the town lake as a lifeguard. Before the the lake opened I worked with the Recreation Department’s maintenance crew – here was my chance! They had a few mason dump trucks with sticks. Whenever I could I would putter around the lake a little, getting the feel for the the clutch, shifting etc. but not on the main roads.
    One day I was out with one of the full-time guys, in the Chevy truck. We were cutting the grass at all the town parks. There was a trailer on the back with the big grass cutters. My job was to use the push mower to do all the areas the riding mower couldn’t reach.
    On the way back to the shop,the full-time guy gets a call on his walkie-talkie – no cell phones of course, that there was a fire in town. Him, being a volunteer firefighter, rushes to the fire house, throws me the keys, and says “Drive it back” and is gone.

    So, here I am, 17 years old, with very little experience driving a stick, much less with a trailer, and I have to drive back on public roads.

    Doing a quick calculation in my head, I tried to figure out a way back with the fewest stop signs, hills, etc.

    I think I drove back mostly in first and second gear – but I made it.

  • avatar
    Jason

    I learned to drive a stick at age 14 on a family friend’s farm over the course of a weekend. Day 1: Ford tractor, 3 forward gears and 1 reverse gear, plus a 3 or 4 position transfer case. Day 2: Volkswagen Thing. Orange.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Were to begin ? .
    .
    1967 Rural New Hampshire I found and resurrected a rusted out ’59 Ford F100 pickup, I don’t think anyone expected me to be able to make it run much less driveable .
    .
    I doubt it was safe by any measure but since I was too young for a learner’s permit I just drove and had fun .
    .
    Right about that time Larry Harris let me drive the Farm’s pristine old 1952 Willy’s M38A1 Army Jeep from Fort Devins (a real live $50 Jeep !).
    .
    Moved to California and bought a battered 1960 VW # 117 Beetle, still no license but I needed to get to high school and work…
    .
    THANK YOU for sharing your stories one and all ! .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    1965 Buick Elektra 225 with the Wildcat 455 c.i.d. under the hood. My mother took me out to practice driving on the open highway and we chose a 2-lane highway running about 30 miles between home and the next town over. We chose the 2-lane because traffic was typically light, the highway long ago bypassed by the Interstate highway system.

    The scary event had to be the fact that this road was both curvy and hilly (good practice) but about halfway between towns, a big 18-wheeler came up behind us and started tailgating us at the speed limit, wanting us to go faster so he could get a run at the next hill. When I wouldn’t speed up, he’d lose ground on the grade, then rush down on us again on the other side. This was scaring my mother all to heck and she kept telling me to pull over and let him go by. BUT… this being a southern two-lane road, there was no shoulder to speak of and the road had few passing zones where I could slow to let him by.

    I stopped his rush, however, as when I crested one such hill ahead of him, I saw a road off to the left with the intersection right at the foot of the hill. I get about halfway down and hit the turn signal, then start braking for the turn. He was forced to ride his brakes hard to keep from hitting us. Just as I would have started the turn itself, I switched off the signal and floored the throttle. I never knew a car that big and heavy could burn rubber on a rolling start. For the rest of the run into the next town, that truck stayed no less than 200 feet behind me as I resumed the speed limit.

  • avatar
    alan996

    City Kid, no need for car, old man wouldn’t let my brothers and I touch the Ford..

    SO:

    1962 USMC Jeep 1/2 ton with large AM radio mounted:
    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=253T54hh&id=B5396BDC98A233AA7B77775DD0E31A3D75929F44&thid=OIP.253T54hhE4hjOZm_MKd8fgEsDe&q=usmc+jeep+mounted+am+radio&simid=608050483014929252&selectedIndex=14&qpvt=usmc+jeep+mounted+am+radio&ajaxhist=0

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    17-year old me in mom’s 1962 Olds Dynamic 88, 394 CID engine.

    It was misty, I was coming a bit too hot into an intersection on a 4-lane (2 each direction) expressway.

    The light turned yellow, and I hit the brakes, causing the rears to lock up and I did a perfect 180 through the intersection, facing the right way in the opposite direction.

    I just crept home realizing how close I came to hurting someone or their car.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I grew up on two continents. My mom, my schooling, and 9 months of my year were in Seattle. My dad, his next family, and my summers were in the suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland. So I learned to drive in both America and Europe. And it’s not remotely surprising that the European experience was more valuable.

    My mom’s car at the time I was learning to drive was an automatic ’88 Accord. I learned the basics and got my license in that car. My birthday is in February, so I had been a legal driver for a few months when I next traveled across the ocean.

    My dad’s household had in it two stickshift cars: a very used and abused ’82 525i and a lemon of an early-build ’90 Discovery V8i. Despite the fact that it wasn’t strictly legal for me to drive in Switzerland, he and my stepmom (who has since been replaced by another stepmom) encouraged me to drive because it was so convenient to have another driver in the household. So I spent that summer getting comfortable driving stick in the two very dissimilar cars. Most of the drive time was on short trips on relatively non-demanding (albeit narrow) Swiss suburban roads, with a white-knuckle trip or two into the busy, crowded city center.

    Then, toward the end of the summer, we took a vacation. Everyone but Dad (me, my toddler half-sister, a stepbrother about my age, my stepmom, and a giant dog) piled into the Discovery for a long drive to our vacation spot near Barcelona. My dad, who had work to attend to, drove down in the BMW several days later. On the way back, Dad and I decided to do a bit of father/son bonding, and we took the BMW with everyone else still in the Discovery.

    We took an indirect route, which included a visit to the very rich and very remote principality of Andorra, situated high in the Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border. There is only one road in and out of Andorra, a narrow, curvy, and very busy mountain two-lane. Dad drove into the town and we stopped to grab a drink at a sidewalk cafe with a beautiful view.
    The atmosphere was perfect, we lingered and chatted, and the drink turned into three glasses of wine for him.

    We got up, and he suddenly realized he was the worse for wear. Then he tossed me the keys. I was a new driver behind the wheel of a stickshift car on one of the gnarlier mountain roads in Europe, with 9′ lanes, no shoulders, steep drop-offs, heavy traffic on both sides, trucks and buses frequently needing both lanes to make the switchbacks, and insane Pyrenees drivers passing without regard to traffic. I got us safely down the mountain and haven’t ever been intimidated by a road or street since.

    Edit: I see on Google Maps that the road has been considerably improved at some point in the 25 years since. It wouldn’t be as much of an experience today!

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Such a common story to hear! :)

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        My childhood was typical, summers in Rangoon. Luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. At the age of 12 I received my first scribe.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I mean no offense, but it is interesting to note that some of our most outspokenly liberal commentators also seem to have grown up in the most privileged circumstances (Jack and his brothers being notable and obvious exceptions on the other side of the political spectrum).

        A very biased sub-sampling I am sure, but a potential correlation(?) to ponder nonetheless.

        Sorry if I just opened a can of worms :/ again I mean no offense.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          Then what *were* you meaning? ‘cos I see little reason to bring it up here apart from some sort of backhanded way to “discredit” people.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            An observation on how environments affect outlooks later on in life, and whether there was any correlation. No discrediting intended. I’m sure someone could identify just as many examples to disprove my little hypothesis.

            I accidentally took a “American Studies 101” course as an elective in college thinking I would get a refresher on early American history (spoiler: I didn’t). The professor told stories about living in San Francisco and participating in some sort of anti-capitalism/materialism protests, but later when he found out I was a car guy told me about taking his dad’s ’74 Porsche 911 out for spins when he was 16. I just drew some parallels to what I was reading in a few of the comments here today.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            In hindsight my earlier comment was in poor taste, my apologies.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I’m not at all offended. But I think I’m an interesting case study in relative privilege. Compared to many people, I was always privileged. Compared to the people I was around, well, not really.

          My dad was always the one in the family who made lots of money, but he was and is poor at managing it, and tends to spend it even before he actually makes it. Both my parents are Americans, and he was the one who moved to Switzerland to follow a job — and then, when the job evaporated, liked it so much he decided to stay there. That transition was right at the same time my parents divorced, and my mom decided to return to the USA.

          She had no career, having been a homemaker for about a decade, and had to start one from scratch. So she was barely bringing in any money. But at the same time we did have some advantages: a house that came in the divorce, in a nice area of what was even then a high-cost city, and Dad paying for me to attend good private schools.

          Being at those schools at all was and is privilege, and it was key to the life I eventually put together. But I was always the kid with the worst clothes who couldn’t afford to attend classmates’ expensive events and parties, and I didn’t fit in as a result. When I turned 16 I did get a car, which is more than a lot of kids my age could say–but to continue the theme, it was a high-mile six-year-old Taurus in a school full of brand-new Explorers and Grand Cherokees.

          I got through college with a very high GPA and without debt, mostly by being in what was then a cheap state school and picking up a lot of achievement-based scholarships in music. But I had no idea what to do with my life. After college, I worked a series of low-paying jobs for several years, trying to figure things out, and often only had a couple hundred bucks in the bank, although I avoided ever being totally broke. But my academic record gave me a variety of options most of my co-workers didn’t have, and I ultimately cashed in one of them, gaining admission to a big-name law school.

          My life since then fits squarely into the “privileged” category, although the “privilege” expresses itself not through any sort of fancy lifestyle but through my ability to afford a house in the city of Seattle. I expect my life doesn’t look all that different from that of most TTAC commenters until you look at the amount I spend on the mortgage and student loan payments.

          I don’t know to what extent my political views come from my unusual upbringing and to what extent from my experiences. I do think that spending so much time in Europe made me more liberal. I admire components of both European and American systems, but I think the parts the Europeans get right are part of the liberal agenda in America: universal healthcare that doesn’t depend on employment (which is a good thing for entrepreneurs and small businesspeople), public education that’s effective in all communities, low-cost or free higher education, and a commitment to housing access for everyone. At the same time I appreciate our superior commitment to freedom of speech and our emphasis on hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Your father was in banking when you were younger I take it?

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            He was and is a lawyer in a highly unusual subject matter area. Let me put it this way: he has been a professor of physics, knows enough about the shipping industry that he could probably run a container line, can tell you all about each of Switzerland’s major private banks, and hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom for three decades.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I did the Spock “fascinating” eyebrow thing as I read your post.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            @dal

            Since you’re sharing, I’m curious how you ended up as a bus driver, and how long you did that.

            :)

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            When I graduated college, literally the only relevant work experience I had outside of music was in conference housing. That got me hired at the front desk of a hotel, where I ended up pretty quickly as a night manager. The hotel business is a horrible soul-killing thing, especially when you’re making $12.25/hour (maybe $17 in today’s dollars), and I quickly discovered I wanted out.

            But I had no other real options. I did remember a regular bus driver of mine in college telling me it was a good part-time job. I never minded driving, so I signed up. I was part-time for about two years, supplementing my income with part-time work at the hotel, and then a full-time position opened. Once I was full-time working a bunch of overtime, I made pretty good money — my best year was about $85k in today’s dollars. It also turned out I loved that job, at least as a way to make a living while I figured out what to do next.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Thanks for answering!

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @gtemnykh – my dad was a depression era farm boy who was pulled out of school to help on the dust bowl that was the family farm. He worked his way accross the country sending money home to support his parents and 6 sisters and brother.

          When I was a kid, he had a small trucking business and we lived in a trailer. We were located literally on the wrong side of the tracks. A rail yard and a fuel tank farm were next door. Across the river were the pulp mills. We got a dog as a pet and to keep from loosing all of the fuel out of our vehicles every night.
          I learned to drive sitting on his lap steering his pickup, or car or dump truck. When I got old enough to reach the pedals he taught us to use the clutch and drive all on our own. I could easily operate a gravel truck well before I got a driver’s licence.

          My dad was as big a redneck as you’d ever meet. He actually looked and sounded a lot like Archie Bunker. He was very pragmatic but sat on the conservative side of the spectrum.
          He put us in private school to give us the benefit of a good education and since my mom was a staunch Catholic, it appealed to her strong Christian values. He supported both me and my brother with college. I went back to college the second time around totally on my own dime.

  • avatar
    KevinC

    In 1974, I bought my first car, a ’69 VW Bug with 96k miles, a recently rebuilt engine, a nice loud “extractor” exhaust, and a tranny with a completely shot 2nd gear synchro.

    One of my buddies, also a bug owner, taught me how to double-clutch my downshifts, so that I could smoothly shift down to 2nd gear with no crunchies. Smooth as glass, every time.

    43 years and about 25 cars later, I’ve still never owned a car with an automatic transmission. And I’ve never worn out a clutch, or any synchronizers. I was addicted to the joy of shifting for myself from the get-go, and while I like driving an auto occasionally in a rental or whatever, I still have no desire to actually own one.

  • avatar
    Thorshammer_gp

    For the most part, my learning experience was fairly uneventful (mostly just tooling around the high school parking lot in our Pontiac Grand Prix on quiet Sundays, then graduating to real roads), but it started off somewhat inauspiciously.

    My mom was working on her master’s degree at the time, and wasn’t often available to take me to the DMV during the hours it was open to get my learner’s permit (the place closed at 4 or 4:30 every afternoon- not conducive to making that happen!). My best friend lived about a block from the school, so one day, under the pretenses going off-campus to take an AP test, we absconded and convinced his mom to take us there for the written test. Mom was, of course, less pleased about my initiative than I was.

  • avatar
    la834

    I don’t have any good underage-driving stories to tell, at least for myself, though I did let my 14-year-old neighbor drive around some empty roads and parking lots in my mom’s ’82 Nissan Stanza when I was 16 (I do have an amusing story involving the Stanza but it has nothing to do with driving it ;-) . Other than moving my parent’s cars onto or off the driveway onto the front yard, my first drive was with the high school driving instructor and two or three fellow students in an ’81 Pontiac Grand Prix. Before that I took the wheel in those driving simulators they had back then that had a dash and steering wheel pulled from a circa ’76 Caprice that about 20 of us “drove” as we watched the synced movie and little lights above and forward of the dash (think early ’90s Park Avenue) lit up if you did something wrong at the controls. It was like a more realistic version of the fancier racing arcade games of the era, the ones that you actually sat in. Do they still have those things? Do they still teach driver ed in high schools? I don’t have kids and have no idea how teens learn to drive nowadays.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    When I got my license in 1970, Mom and Dad decided to give me road experience by having me being the primary driver on vacation in the family 1968 Mercury Marquis coupe. It was hell for me driving from near Orlando to Key West with both parents back-seat-driving the bejeezus out of me – the haranguing was endless. In Key West, it was decided that Dad would drive after lunch. We got in, he started the car, proceeded to back up, and immediately hit a parked delivery truck putting a huge dent in the trunk lid of the Mercury. I didn’t dare laugh.

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    So, I have two related things:

    1) An uncle on my dad’s side was always letting me go around the block on this 1975 or 1976 Nova Rally, black over red with red details.

    (looked exactly like this: http://www.oocities.org/nova77sedan/nova/78_Rally_Nova.jpg)

    It ran ok (although it stalled randomly in cold weather) and the headliner was sagging, and the more modern (late 80’s vintage?) radio/cassette deck was not cleanly installed, but functioned.

    He was trying to restore it to something closer to a stock appearance, but never had the time or money. By the time I was 16, I thought I’d ask him to sell it to me.

    At the same time, an uncle on my mom’s side who was a PA State Trooper, was genuinely teaching me how to drive a manual……on his very early Mazda RX-7 (1978 or 1979?). He had always lusted after one in HS, and was a single guy in his early 30’s making good money by then. He found one in AMAZING shape, and for a while at first, used it as a DD, but soon it became the weekend special (as of the last time I saw it, it still only had like 120k miles on it….in 2006? He still garage keeps it and maintains it meticulously).

    Now, my parents thought he was insane. And were worried for my safety. He said MAYBE when I got my license, I could drive it solo one day on the road.

    So I had two things going on at once: a large automatic domestic coupe (although it was the top trim and look pretty sporty with the wheels and paint) and a light, manual, Japanese sports car.

    I got my driver’s license the March after my 17th birthday as a senior in HS and two wonderful things happened:

    The first uncle told my dad that if I put in the sweat equity with him on the final mechanical things that needed to be taken care of (a new carb, new exhaust, and what he hoped was just a transmission fluid change, not a band trans) I could have the Nova. Since I was not mechanically inclined, I simply ran to the store to buy the stuff, hold tools, and take notes. But he kept his word. Three weekends later, it was titled to my dad and was my DD. I was pleased. I mean, the back seat alone was worth it. ;)

    Then, my other uncle asked me if I was going to my senior prom. I was not really giving it any thought. He said I should go, even if by myself. But if not, he knew a neighbor who had a shy but pretty daughter if I needed a date. Turns out, that girl had transferred out of our school after her parents split up (I went to Catholic school that was the closest to her, but she now lived in a different county and school district and couldn’t really see her friends, and I guess tuition became an issue). She had friends at my school. I knew of her, and had spoken to her (it was a small school), and she wasn’t just pretty….she was HOT! But pretty quiet. But I keep thinking…maybe this could go somewhere over the summer….and dreaming about that back seat in the Nova

    Anyway, we agree to go to my prom, so she can see her friends and it should be fun. The weekend before this dance, my uncle asks me to help him wash and detail the RX-7, which for him meant all day…wash, wax, vacuum, windows, mats, door jambs, clean the engine, etc. He’d let me drive it from my parents house back to his place as payment…..

    HELL YES!

    So, we go and do that from something like 10am to 4pm on a glorious spring day in April. We get done, and I’m driving it back home and he asked me about the neighbors’ daughter and said she was pretty happy that she could come back to my HS to see her friends before graduation, and that he was pleased that I was doing something nice for someone else. He then said that I should come to his house first before I pick her up.

    I get there, and I do what he asks, and she is at his house (and looked amazing, by the way), and I was confused, but no matter. Pictures get taken, blah, blah, blah, and he HANDS ME THE FREAKING KEYS TO THE RX-7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “Have fun, don’t let the car get away from you, don’t drink alcohol, and call me when you are on your way back”.

    She didn’t know he was going to do this either. But she seemed happy. It was a very nice night, and when we showed up in that car, some of my friends were impressed, and her friends and her and I had a great time. I took her home, on time, and returned the Mazda with a full tank of gas. My uncle tells me (after I walk the girl across two lawn to her home) that he wanted me to drive the car because it was a great car to drive, and also, he had concerns about me ‘getting into trouble’ in the backseat of my car….as did my parents, apparently.

    So, yeah, within three weeks of becoming a driver, I had my first practice car given to me (which lasted 3 years before the tranny died, and it was a remarkable, reliable tank up to that point), and I got to drive what is now considered a legendary sports coupe because my family didn’t want me fooling around with a girl after my senior prom. :)

    Epilogue: My uncle eventually married, and is now 57 and permanently disabled after the RX-7 fell off the jack stands while he was working underneath it. He can walk and stuff, but with a painful limp. He can still drive it every now and then, but it hurts. I long ago put first dibs on the car when he dies or sells it. But his wife divorced him and took sole custody of my cousin, who is 17 and wants the car given to him (!!!) since no one is driving it. My uncle is trying to keep his promise, but would like me to consider buying it and then selling it immediately to my young cousin,so he at least has to earn the money to pay for it and he gets to keep his promise. I’m on the other side of the country, and would love to just walk away from the deal and the car in the name of avoiding family drama. But its a stock, maintained Series 1 RX-7! We’ll see.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      And the girl? You married her?

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        No. I went off to college after that summer, but I did swing by to drop off the ‘official’ prom pictures taken at the venue by a pro. She was a sweet girl, but there was a lot of parental drama, and she wanted to to college, but couldn’t. She ended up living with her grandmother, who was WAY old school and restricted her schedule as a ‘young single lady’. I was too young or immature to be able want to be involved with that.

        I lost touch after my freshman year of college. No letters returned, and even our mutual friends that I’d see over breaks said she dropped off the grid or something. No social media, and I heard she didn’t show up at her grandmother’s funeral in 2001. I think she had a tough time of it all and just walked away from her bad family life and everything from that time.

        Julie L., where are you?

  • avatar
    zamoti

    My first car was a smurf-blue 1987 Yugo GV. Growing up in plushy Buick wagons, I had never experienced such a tiny, thin, cheap, no-frills car before. Learned to drive a manual in that thing and learned that some manuals are just awful. My favorite game to play in that car is “that car is better than mine” to which I could say about darn near anything else on the road. It was slow as a dog, rusty, broken, cheap, crappy and my brother had it first so it was also abused. However, it was MINE and it meant that after many years of being stranded in rural Ohio I could finally GTFO and go places! I could have a job, have some money, spend that money on tasteless accessories for my crappy car. Oh man, it was great (the experience not the car). I eventually figured out that a 6 year old Yugo’s top speed was 80MPH, gentle curves could be taken at a maximum of 60MPH and backing up in a car with a bad manual transmission usually meant shutting off the engine before it would permit you to shift into reverse. I had many people comment on spare tire in the engine compartment (hood was up a lot) and nobody else at school had one. Oddly enough, I had a Subaru GL coupe that also had a tire under the hood. The Subie was my first wreck, save that story for another day.

  • avatar
    komododave

    The first time I cooked a corner.
    I was 17, my parents had bought me a brand new 1996 Mercury Cougar. Smooth riding personal luxury coupe of freedom. Rear wheel drive! Cloth inserts! V6! As any young person who loves cars, I would push it to the limit every so often. I had never had any track time, had no idea about grip and driving lines and barely had any driving experience anyway, but I knew I wanted to see how fast I could take a corner. The back of my subdivision was under construction, so there were plenty of straight, newly paved roads, empty on the weekends since no houses had been built yet. I lined up one day and took a run down the street, whipping it around a 90 degree corner, feeling exhilarated as the body rolled far over and the tires squealed. I did it again, a little faster this time, taking another hard left at 90 degree. More roll, more squealing, larger smile. I mashed the pedal getting up an even greater speed down a long straight. Whipped left, felt the roll, heard the howling squeal, didn’t smile. Everything in front was spinning instead of turning. The rear end had come loose, predictably. The road wasn’t wide, so I hit the edge with the right rear tire, bounded over the curb and came to a stop. I lept out to inspect the damage. How the tire hadn’t burst or the rim hadn’t bent, I have no idea. You could see that it had slammed as flat as possible into that cement curb. What was apparent, or so I thought, was that the whole axle/hub/suspension was bent inward. Looking down the body, the wheel was noticeably off. I was terrified. I was a good kid, I didn’t do these things. I started it up and began trying to figure out a lie to explain he damage. Pothole was what I settled on. I got home, told my Dad, and we went out and inspected it together. I was so afraid I would get it taken away, freedom removed. But he pointed out that the body was not straight it curved, like any car body does, and comparing the angle of the wheel to the body wasn’t the right thing to do. Ends up, no damage, nothing bent, just some adrenaline lost and maybe a little pee. But I learned my lesson on pushing a car to its limits on public roads.

  • avatar
    ClayT

    I don’t remember the actual first time I ever drove a car. I’m sure it started with dad saying pull the car around back so we could work on it.
    ‘Around back’ involved a U-turn, drive to the end of the block, and up the alley behind the houses.

    I do recall my DMV driving test, back around 1977. When the time came, mom’s Mercedes 220B, four on the tree, was ‘around back’ with the head off.

    The ’66 Plymouth Fury Wagon had a brake issue… the power brakes were so sensitive, one pinky toe would lock all four wheels. Stop hard enough and the brake pedal stayed down by itself until the wagon stopped. Not a good choice for my driving test.

    Last choice was dad’s 1967 Porsche 911S.
    Drove it over to the DMV, got in line and waited for my examiner to come out. Shortly, I see a woman walking over to my car, and I’m pretty sure I see her shaking her head already.

    She gets in and begins with quizzing me about the controls. Where is the horn, turn signals, the dimmer switch.

    American cars of that era all had the dimmer on the floorboard. The Porsche had it on the turn signal stalk. I flashed the lights and said to the examiner woman “I bet you didn’t that’s where the dimmer was”
    She replied “My son has one (a 911) just like it”

    Ice broken! Off we went on our drive around town. A little freeway, some parallel parking, and through the housing track back to the DMV office.

    We’re sitting there while she tallies my score and she says she’s docking me one point.
    What!?
    She said in the housing tract portion I cut one of the left turns a bit.
    I said “It’s a Porsche, of course I’m going for the apex” We laughed…

    I still have the Porsche, 40 years later.

  • avatar
    komododave

    Burnouts in High School autoshop.
    I loved cars and hated athletics, so when I found out that my high school exempted you from P.E. if you’re in autoshop, I jumped at the chance. I was a nerdy kid who read a lot of books and took AP science classes, and most of the people who take autoshop in high school are decidedly not. I got heckled and made fun of by the other, “manlier” car guys and outcasts in the class. I barely liked any of them, but enjoyed working on the cars and learning, so I put up with it. One day, my mom’s 1991 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz blew a coolant hose, and I knew I could take it in and fix it in autoshop for just the price of parts. This thing was 90’s nice. Diamond metallic white, gold package with the Rolls Royce style grille, white vinyl top, and a V8. Super classy. Fixed it myself and even balanced the tires. When I went to pull out, a bunch of guys started heckling me to do a burnout, calling me a pussy and such, knowing I wouldn’t because I was the good kid who never did anything wrong. Even the one guy that was halfway a friend was walking toward the car, calling me out. They were right, I normally wouldn’t. I always did what I was told, finished my homework, came home by curfew, never got in trouble with anyone. But today felt different. I threw a grin on my face that made the halfway friend stop and look confused, then floored it. I left 20 feet of rubber and a billowing cloud behind me, tearing away from the shop. When I got back, a bunch of guys were high fiving me or ribbing me in a good natured way. A few more aggressive dicks tried to bait me with “Oooooh, you’re in trouble now.” Mostly because I was. The teacher came over sheepishly with a note to take to the vice-principal and sent me on my way. V.P. sat me down and looked up my file. Nothing in it. Never a single toe out of line before. As he mulled his options, I tried to stifle my smile at the situation and what I had just done. I had to remain serious in this serious meeting. He shrugged and said he had to do something so he said I couldn’t park in the school parking lot for 2 weeks, but gave no indication of how he would enforce it. My parents drove me for two days because I gave them some excuse, then I drove to school again and no one said a thing or ticketed my car. I tried to earn some street cred that day, but it ended up just feeling good to rebel, even a little bit.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Mine happened when I was two or three. My grandmother, who had a 1985 Buick Riviera, would let me sit in her lap and help steer. She said the steering was so overboosted that you could turn the wheel with your pinky…and that more than once, I nearly steered us into a curb because I didn’t know how to gradually turn a car, being a toddler and all.

  • avatar

    First time experience was in driver’s ed. For whatever reason I did not drive with a group of peers in the driver’s ed car. I did my driving in the instructor’s car – a 63 Grand Prix (or Catalina, don’t remember for sure) convertible during school hours – not after school. Our instructor was also the science teacher/boy’s jr. hi basketball coach. I remember feeling like it was a huge car. The first day I drove to a nearby town on Highway 30 which was a two lane at the time. The point where it crossed the Des Moines river was an older style bridge with the steel on top – not open as most short, modern bridges are now. I was terrified going through that thing, hoping there would be no oncoming traffic (there wasn’t). The steel girders seemed incredibly close to the car. After getting through it my instructor complimented my driving – I don’t think he knew this was my first time driving any car. It got easier after that.


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