QOTD: What's Your Worst Childhood Automotive Memory?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd whats your worst childhood automotive memory

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]

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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!)

  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.