QOTD: What's Your Worst Childhood Automotive Memory?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

In my QOTD post two weeks ago, I asked you to share the story of the most unreliable vehicle you’d ever owned. Most of you were quick to point out that I should’ve turned that into several different Questions of the Day, so you could specify different types of unreliable vehicles. The sheer number of comments (over 240 of them) showed me that the B&B love to share a bad story.

I see no reason not to return to form this week, and ask you about your worst childhood automotive memory. Mine involved a GMC Safari — in a situation which was nowhere near as decadent as above.

Tossing this question idea to the TTAC staff on the Slack channel last week triggered immediate memories: Seats in the way-back, hot vinyl on legs, or perhaps an experience with a third-degree burn from a solid metal seat belt buckle. Mostly, I realized through this quick survey that my worst story wasn’t that bad. Anyway, it sticks in my mind so you’re gonna hear about it.

The year was around 1994, and we’d driven in my grandma’s light blue circa ’88 GMC Safari over to the west side of Cincinnati to do some shopping at the Service Merchandise (off of Glenway Avenue, presently vacant). It was one of my favorite stores to visit, for two very distinct reasons: They had electric typewriters I could play with while my family was shopping, and there was entertainment while we waited to check out, via the guys pushing boxes down the conveyor belt. Service Merchandise is the only store I’ve been to in my entire life that combined these two features. My joy was stopped short when we left to go have dinner.

Returning to the Safari with whatever VCRs or other ’90s goods my family purchased, grandma realized she did not have her keys to unlock the van. Peering through the untinted windows, we found it was because the keys were in the ignition. To my recollection, all this happened in the fall, and just about the time we realized we were locked out it got dark and started raining. An adult went back into the store and used a landline telephone to call the police, who put the request into their queue. Sometime later (it seemed ages) a young policeman arrived to our wet and cold location at the back of the parking lot to try and unlock the door. I remember standing there and being freezing for what seemed like hours as the cop used his slim jim on the van.

The policeman was worried that with his lack of experience he might scratch the van’s window in the attempt to get the door open. He suggested that if spare keys existed, it might be a better idea to get them. Someone went back into the store to use the phone again, to call my grandpa and give him the bad news about the rest of his evening. It would take him a half hour to drive over with the keys and let all his soaking wet relatives into the car.

I have questions about this event — questions my family is unable to clarify so many years later. Why didn’t we wait in the store, out of the rain? Why didn’t the cop call for assistance in popping the door open? What ever happened to Service Merchandise?

I suspect I’ll never know the answer to any of these , but perhaps you can console me with your worst automotive-related memory (and keep it PG, please).

[Images: General Motors]

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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  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Feb 23, 2018

    1st Gen Moostang had brake failure twice on me. The car suffered from being a Dukes of Hazard surrogate - bashed oil pan, bashed gas tank, bashed floor boards. The previous owner(s) really wailed on that poor pony. Everything was worn out on that car. Including the brake drums. Drums were worn oversize and the brake shoes would wear funny and get twisted around in the drums. Single circuit hydraulics. If one wheel cylinder came apart then the whole system lost pressure. Mountain roads, inexperienced driver (me), and morning traffic. Oh - and a three speed manual with worn syncros. Couldn't shift down very easily and even if I did the engine's low compression wouldn't slow me down much. Twice. Managed to get down the mountain without hitting anyone. Same car's suspension was worn out as you might imagine. Had a terrible case of snap-oversteer caused by bad shocks, worn bushings, and cheap tires. Other memories: no a/c living in the south as previously mentioned. Parent smoker. Car sickness. Old cars (even then) that leaked in the rain. Vacuum wipers. 6-volt electrics. Mechanical brakes. Tires that had plenty of tread but still no wet road traction (hard compound). Rear windows that wouldn't roll down. Thinking of this thread when I climbed in to our modern car at lunch with all the whistles and bells and then some - it is amazing how nice a modern car is by comparison. I still own several vintage cars. To me they are a lesson in history of engineering and marketing.

  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Feb 28, 2018

    Way late, but the ignition-relay key buzzer in my Mom’s 1971 Cutlass! The sound like “a hillside full of nauseous goats” (as stated by the arguable father of the road test, “Uncle” Tom McCahill, in a Mechanix Illustrated from 1968 in my Dad’s stack) absolutely terrified me like nothing else! (Well, at least until my Dad brought home a GE Home Sentry Smoke Alarm back in the mid-‘70s, with the electromechanical horn! I still have problems dealing with loud or startling noises to this day!) Adding insult to injury, the ignition switch developed a problem where the pressure switch would short without the key in the switch, so I’d be scared every time my Mom would open the door! Any car buzzer would scare the $hit out of me, so it was a Godsend when my Dad got his 1983 Regal that had a tone generator and not a buzzer! (I cannot figure out why GM put a key buzzer in their late-‘70s and later which could wake an entire cemetery, and yet the seat belt warning was barely audible even to my over sensitive ears! And in the ‘80s J-Bodies, at least, there was a single buzzer for keys and belts which wasn’t overly loud, the first buzzer I honestly could say didn’t bother me!)

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