QOTD: What's Your Formative Driving Experience?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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.

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Kyree Kyree on Apr 19, 2017

    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.

  • THX1136 THX1136 on Apr 20, 2017

    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.

  • FreedMike Depends on the used car. If we're talking a numbers-matching GTO or something like that, then hell no. But if we're talking about something like a six-banger '67 Mustang, it'd be cool to make it into an EV with modern suspension, brakes and electronics. Call it an electro-restomod.
  • Billccm I think history is repeating itself. In the late 1980s the French acquired AMC. They discovered no easy money in that deal, Chrysler took AMC and Jeep is all that remained.Present day the French acquired FCA, discovered no easy money in the deal, and some Asian manufacturer will take what remains of Chrysler, and Jeep and RAM will be all that survived.To understand the future study the past.
  • Jalop1991 "why did the governor veto a bill to give me free gummint money?"
  • Jalop1991 absolutely. I'm probably coming into a 31 Model A, and there's a great retrofit system for that. It makes a bunch of sense.
  • TMA1 Been thinking about getting one of these for my mother. Skip the AWD and DSG, the FWD comes with an 8-spd. Good size vehicle for a woman who wants a SUV and has a small garage. Much better view outwards than the Mazda CX-30 I was looking at. Wish it had a power tailgate though - she's short.
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