By on October 31, 2018

Each one of you here in the peanut gallery learned to drive at one point or another. And whether that was via a proper driving school, or, perhaps for the older types, at the wheel of a friend or relative’s car, the memories are there just the same. Today we talk driver’s education and the car which withstood your naive mistreatment. It’s story time.

Botched gear changes, following distances, passing rules, jerky turns, squealing tires. Driver’s ed is hard on students, but harder on the cars. Long hours are spent in the classroom on books and videos, as instructors attempt to scare the speed out of you and replace it with pure caution and defensive driving. Did it work? A little.

I can remember how nervous I was when it was finally time to get behind the wheel. I’d been waiting so long for this moment — a validation on my driving excellence. The Audi 5000 was waiting as well, parked patiently on the street until I got my permit. In Indiana there’s a 30-hour requirement for classroom instruction, followed by six hours of time behind the wheel before a 15-year-old can apply for a permit. Surely my patience would be rewarded with a fantastic car with which to demonstrate my skills.

Uh, no. It was one of these. A circa 2002 beige Chevrolet Cavalier, in terrible Ace of Base trim. With an automatic transmission and air conditioning, it was bereft of performance. The Internet tells me it had a 2.2-liter four-cylinder that produced a shocking 115 horsepower. Those horses had to motivate 2,676 pounds of car, plus three teens and an adult. Sluggish and awful, I can remember how inferior it was to the 1987 Audi at home, even with its lifter-ticking inline-five engine. Summer temps in the 80s and 90s and a lack of window tint meant the air conditioning couldn’t keep the nervous sweat from the back of my neck. The driving part was tough, too.

The main problem that stands out all these years later is my initial lack of understanding where the center of the lane was. Especially on two-lane roads, my fear of hugging the center line and clipping an oncoming car meant I hugged the right side line, getting close to clipping mailboxes and signs. I did fare better than one of the other members of my driving group — an individual who found it incomprehensible that the wheel must be turned opposite to the desired direction of travel when reversing.

Let it all out; let’s hear about your driver’s ed experiences.

[Images: Ford, GM]

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84 Comments on “QOTD: Driving Down Educational Memory Lane?...”


  • avatar
    jack4x

    Mine was a late 80s Dodge Shadow with ~180K hard miles. This would have been in the fall of 2000. The driving school had a couple of tired Mopars, and an eccentric old man (Mr. Bob) teaching. For some reason that I can’t recall, my parents sent me to his driving school rather than the one through the school district that most kids went to. That one at least had fairly new Tauruses.

  • avatar
    RSF

    I learned the hard way. 1975 Chevy Custom Deluxe pickup, straight 6, bad power brake booster, rust everywhere, and the automatic transmission wouldn’t shift up, so that had to be done manually. No working AC either. It did teach me to pay attention to the road, however, LOL!

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    1968 Impala for driver ed. The school angled a new one every year or two. My instructor was impressed when I slowed because I noticed a full size cinder block on our path. We stopped and he threw it in the trunk as a door prize.

    I was lucky enough to take the class with 3 girls. But I was too timid to move on anything but the steering wheel.

    1967 6 cyl Mustang automatic to practice at home. Nice car for my first solo ride. Would have been nicer if I hadn’t gone south on a north one way street that day. (Three point turn, no ticket but a lot of embarrassment.)

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Driver’s Ed. car: a 1969 Chev. Impala (IIRC) in high school.
    Practice car: 1965 Buick Electra 225 with a 455 under the hood.
    First car: 1964 Chevy II that couldn’t even get out of its own way (and purchased by my parents using MY saved-up money! I hated that car!)

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Hey, Corey and Co. Would you mind terribly putting the “Post Comment” button BELOW the two ‘Notify’ statements? It would really help avoid nonsensical statements like this one just to ensure the correct Notify is checked before posting.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Summer of 1971, ’71 Dodge Coronet (with the mighty 318 IIRC) in high school driver’s ed. Teacher had been my 8th grade shop teacher a few years before. He seemed a bit nervous, (probably with good reason!) and frequently applied the passenger side brake.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I spent most of the classroom time (started at 8AM in the summer) staring at the girls in my class.

    On the road I had a Ford Focus ZX3, which I think was a good car to learn with. Not too powerful, realtively small, forgiving handling, decent visibility. I don’t recall any major events, I guess I was kind of slow merging so we practiced that a little bit longer.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Learned stick shift in my dad’s old ’71 ZAZ-966 Zaporozhets, we’d air up the tires and drive it a bit around the garage complex in Novosibirsk when we visited in the summer. The battery was dead as a doornail so the procedure was the following: put my dad’s home-brew jump starter on the leads and plug it into the garage wall outlet, set the choke right and use the back-up hand crank to start it. Clutch hydraulics are iffy, brake hydraulics are shot. Pump the clutch and work the reversed shift-pattern shifter, then feather it out and hope you don’t stall (you’d have to push it back to get to the wall outlet). Passenger works the hand brake. 2 Summers ago my brother went back and spruced it up a bit, repaired the brake hydraulics using the stash of parts my dad had squirreled away in the basement/pit of the garage. It needs a bit of suspension work and a hole in the gas tank repaired, and is way out of date on registration, but the ultimate goal is to recreate our family’s first road trip and visit my mom’s village with it at some point.

    In the US I learned and passed my driver’s test in my mom’s ’90 Civic with an automatic, and then that was my first car that I learned rust repair and some other jobs on (brakes, oil changes), installed speakers and a stereo, wired up fog lights. My brother and I did some more substantial work as well, replaced some ball joints and CV axles. It was a good car to cut my teeth on, I still miss it, warts and all.

  • avatar
    NoID

    I cut my teeth on a 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate with all the bells and whistles, and a 1996 Chevrolet Cheyenne extended cab, long bed pickup. My only downfall was that I only practiced parallel parking in the instructor’s Focus, so when I went to take my test in the Buick land barge I didn’t fare so well. I passed, but barely.

    As time went on I began to appreciate how well the Roadmaster actually handled parking lots. The wheelbase wasn’t terribly long (the 3rd row has a huge overhang) and the turning circle wasn’t all that bad.

    Lordy, do I miss that car. LT1, limited slip axle, and later in life a Flowmaster exhaust that sounded absolutely wicked. Too bad it was totaled in a rear-end collision.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Young lady in my class kept failing the parallel parking but also kept switching the vehicle she was taking the test in. Didn’t make much sense but she was also a tiny little cheerleader so maybe she though a male observer would eventually just let her pass?

      She used her parents S-10 Blazer, her Grandparents Town Car(!), and a newish Celebrity. Those are just the ones I know about. Supposedly it took 5 tries.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    You’re looking at this with rose colored glasses. The Audi 2.3 only produced 134bhp which isn’t much more and the C3 weighed in excess of 2,500lbs (shifting may have been better).

    • 0 avatar

      Less overall weight to pull around when it’s only me in the car. Plus there’s luxury touches to eye. Makes everything better!

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Agreed, 28-Cars-Later. I had an LN2-powered Cavalier as a rental during Montana’s no speed limit era, and I had no trouble getting it up past 100 mph. It was governed at 110, if I recall correctly.

      Signed,
      Person Who Learned to Drive on a First-gen North American Escort with One Fewer Gear and 45 Fewer Horsepower than that Third-gen Cavalier

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Why i remember my time behind the wheel in drivers ed i have no idea. Circa 1991 in a late 80’s Cavalier with some guy who was chain smoking while we drove around Mercer County NJ. We only barely touched the real bad sections of Trenton for him to stop and load up on discount smokes.

    From there it was on to my 85’EXP and all its glory. Leaks a tear…

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    Drivers Ed car was a new 1968 Plymouth Fury. It had a brake pedal installed for the front passenger position. Our shop teacher/coach was the instructor. 3 students in the car, one driving and two in the back seat. Drove after school for a couple of hours for each session.

    Coach taught us a lot in all types of driving situations, but he had fun too. I was driving and first at a red light in the right lane. There was heavy city traffic. Coach said “at the next light turn left so get in the left lane”. I said there may be too much traffic for me to get over. Coach said “When the light changes go and get in the left lane”. I said ok Coach. When the light changed, I floored it, the Plymouth burned rubber and we jumped ahead of the traffic and into the left lane. Coach just laughed. The other motorists didn’t quite know what to think of a car with Drivers Education signs on both doors making such a maneuver.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      I got my license on my 16th birthday after school was out for the summer. I took the test in our 64 Impala. My best friend got his license about the same time. We both went out on dates that night in our parents cars. He also was driving a 64 Impala. No way were we going to go in the same car. That would not have been cool. Our Impala had a 327 while his was a 283. I could beat him at every stoplight drag race. How stupid we were as 16 year old boys. Fresh licenses and drag racing on city streets. I look back on that and am not proud.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    By the time I took Drivers Ed in high school I had been driving friend’s cars for awhile and had a pretty good handle on the basics. When it came my turn to drive my teacher looked at me and said, “You know what you’re doing, don’t you?” I responded with a nod and a, “Kind of”, from that point on when it was my turn to drive he would do a crossword puzzle

    Driving is something I wanted to do the minute after I mastered a two-wheel bike

    Great pic of Lee and his Mustang, Corey

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I had the same experience. By the time I got around to taking lessons, I had driven my family around for months. The instructor would sit there making a few random comments as she planned the rest of her day.

      The real challenge was when I went to university and bought a manual car. I still remember being traumatized a week later as I went up the parking ramp at a busy mall at Christmas – with 3 friends! (The added weight was noticeable in my tiny fiesta….)

    • 0 avatar

      I found that randomly in the TTAC archives – I was just looking for some picture that was at least moderately old.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I was nearly killed shortly before I was 16 and thus was 17 before I took the test. Geo Prism and three driving lessons FTW.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Driver’s ED in a Chevy Corsica (it was the early 90s and the mid 80s Cavalier sedan had just been replaced by the school district.)

    Driver’s Ed teacher was the Athletic Director, Varsity and Assistant Coach of several sports, and the Typing Teacher. He had been there since the late 70s and the legend was that in those days (when you could smoke around kids) he would light up unfiltered Pall Malls in the car.

    My practice prior to that was with the old family Celebrity that I would take my test in. Had to take the driving portion twice due to failing parallel parking the first time.

    When my wife told me that parallel parking was not part of the test in NM I was appalled.

  • avatar
    Krivka

    1967 Chevy II with three on the tree. That car took a beating and ran for years after I sold it. Great car.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The most memorable part of driver’s ed after all these years was watching Mechanized Death and other blood-n-guts accident films. The car i drove most during the class was a beige 1969 Chevelle with auto. However, when it came time to take the actual test, I used Dad’s huge 1968 Mercury Marquis.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Mercury_Marquis_1968_%287104281527%29.jpg

  • avatar
    Dale Houston

    My parents had a Chevette. I lose.

    • 0 avatar
      john66ny

      My parents had an Austin Marina. Fair fight?

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        The car I learned on. My dad taught me to drive. We’d go out after school in the 1975 Austin Marina with a 4 speed manual. He’d drive to a low traffic street (Staten Island NYC) with a slight up hill talking during the about the clutch and the rules of the road and have me take over. Once we got going we’d drive around where he grew up and we’d discuss driving and he’d questions me on different hazards. Since the Austin was unreliable he also taught me on our 1977 Ford Econoline (300 IL6; 3 on the tree, manual steering) so I could use this for the test if the Austin wasn’t working.

        The test in NY is given on local streets including parallel parking and k-turns with other peoples cars surrounding you. The next year he and I taught my younger sister to drive the same two vehicles and two years after that the three of us taught my younger brother to drive with the same two vehicles. That Austin clutch taught 4 new drivers to drive and handled my mothers shopping. The car was constantly breaking down but the clutch never died but the younger siblings had to make due with a K-car 2.2L with 4 on the floor and a bench seat for their driving lessons.

      • 0 avatar
        Dale Houston

        Maybe? I think of Austin as the maker of cool but unreliable roadsters. Googling makes it look like the Marina is about Chevette level awful.

  • avatar

    1972 Impala in that trademark GM nondescript medium green. In car with a girl named Robin and IIRC one other person. Robin took “right lane” literally, driving onto an exit ramp to stay on what she thought was the correct lane. The instructor had a minor cow.

    Don’t remember much what I did, but I passed.

    We lived on 17 acres, two of them were available to practice on.

    Practice vehicles were ’58 Chevy 3100 Fleetside, ’56 Chevy 210 4-door wagon, ’58 VW Beetle convertible and ’64 Karmann Ghia convertible which my dad got running by confiscating the engine from the ’58 Beetle.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      1972 Impala in that trademark GM nondescript medium green.

      Same car my Paternal Grandparents still owned in 1980 when they hit our stupid car chasing German Shepherd with it.

  • avatar
    NoDoors

    Driver’s Ed car: 1985 Chrysler New Yorker
    Practice: 1972 Chevy Pickup
    My Car: 1970 VW Beetle
    Test Car: 1974 Ford Gran Torino Elite III

    Pickup was auto, which was nice. Since I couldn’t drive stick yet (Beetle) I had to take the test in the car my mother still calls ‘the biggest hunk of junk I ever owned’, the Ford. As for the DE car, Coach (yes, this is a given, coaches teach DE) it was burgandy with 80’s-tastic burgandy interior. We did get to play cassettes, though. Coach liked Prince.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    Right out of the middle of the Malaise years (in geologic terms, the Malais-ozoic Era) came my Driers Ed car – a 1976 Ford Granada. Ace of Base – or extremely close to it – straight six, power steering was the only power anything. Not even sure it had A/C. Sloooow but for a hyper-nervous teenager that slowness was later appreciated.
    Mr. Troutwein was my instructor, you knew you were doing a good job if he said nothing. He retired the year after he had me as one if his students. I don’t think there was any correlation between the two events.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Took driver’s ed during summer school, 1979. Our school rocked two brand new Pontiac LeMans four-doors (complete with a magnetic “Courtesy of Don Darr Pontiac” sticker on the side), and an instructor who I believe was stoned off his a** the entire summer. The guy insisted on us keeping the stereo in the Pontiac tuned exclusively to KSHE-95, a station whose mascot was (and is) Sweetmeat the Pig. Said pig has been pictured since 1967 smoking a joint with glasses and headphones on. He also slept through most of our driving simulator sessions.

    The good news is that we spent the whole summer tooling around Ballwin, Missouri listening to Sammy Hagar (who was on KSHE about 216 times a day), and trying to re-enact “Death Race 2000” when we were on the simulators. The bad news is that I didn’t learn s**t from this class – I failed my driver’s test twice, and crashed my mom’s Olds wagon two weeks after the state of Missouri was dumb enough to give me my license.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I don’t remember the exact make of car we took driver’s ed in, but I can never forget the Larry the Instructor. The guy looked like a somewhat more reputable version of Ron Jeremy.

    He carried a licensed handgun while he had us drive through all the bad neighborhoods. He knew every hot dog joint in town, but only ever bought HIMSELF lunch. He made one of my classmates drive him to a seedy titty bar and wait in the parking lot for half an hour while he got a lap dance.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    I immediately got off on the wrong foot in my high school’s Drivers Ed class, when I dared to start the car (a 1986 Chevy Nova) before adjusting the mirrors or buckling my seat belt. The surly instructor did not appreciate my explanation, either: “my family’s Accord has power mirrors and motorized shoulder belts. Both require the car to be on.”

    That, combined with my stubborn refusal to stop “level with the stop sign” set up the very real possibility that I would fail driver training, even though I’d been driving with my dad for three years. (I still don’t understand the stop sign thing. Why stop once, then creep forward until you can actually see approaching traffic and stop again? Seems that’s an invitation to get rear-ended.)

    Fortunately for me, a family emergency of some kind meant that instructor left the course within the first two weeks and he was replaced by kindly Mr. Roach and his ’84 Cavalier. He was much more patient, and I aced every road test afterwards. Of note, I was the ONLY student in our class of around fifteen kids who was able to reverse in a straight line (tracking a center line in our school parking lot) without swerving.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @MA(x-M)M: “That, combined with my stubborn refusal to stop “level with the stop sign” set up the very real possibility that I would fail driver training, even though I’d been driving with my dad for three years. (Incidentally, I still don’t understand the stop sign thing. Why stop once, then creep forward until you can actually see approaching traffic and stop again? Seems that’s an invitation to get rear-ended.)”

      In some states (such as mine) stopping SHORT of the STOP sign is mandatory to pass the driver’s test. My wife failed her first test specifically for that reason DESPITE testing in a Fiat 500 AND having the bumper behind the stop sign (tester was used to cars with longer noses.) Three months later she re-tested in the same car and stopped 10 feet before the sign, then crept up to clear the intersection before going and passed everything with ‘flying colors.’

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

        @Vulpine and Flipper35 – Yep, my parents essentially told me to surrender gracefully and just follow their instructions, whether they made sense or not. To this day I always start the car first, then adjust everything (and I haven’t stopped “level with the stop sign” since 1992, no accidents yet…)

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          You’d be surprised at how much sense it really makes at some intersections. If you pull up past that sign without stopping first, you might be forced to back up as a long-wheelbase truck you didn’t see at first attempts to make the corner. You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve seen “fender-benders” as a car that overran the stop sign is forced to reverse into the car behind them by a truck making the turn.

          • 0 avatar
            Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

            Eh, I see your point, but I genuinely can’t recall that specific situation even occurring over my 25 years and more than one million miles of driving. (Being out West probably helps; most of our intersections aren’t that tight.)

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            That could be, MA(x-M)M. That situation is VERY common where I live… In some cases, the ‘big truck’ might be a full-sized pickup where the stop sign is right at the corner of a house (no yard to speak of.) Other cases, it’s an 18-wheeler trying to turn from a 2-lane street onto another 2-lane street or highway. Difficult enough for two such trucks to even meet and pass each other safely on some of those roads, much less trying to make a 90° or tighter turn.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I told my daughter as soon as she got her license the order would reverse from what they are taught and to start the car to get the fluids moving, then adjust everything and finally start moving.

      For drivers ed they would do everything, start the car and immediately drop it into gear and start going within a few seconds of engine start.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Believe it or not, modern cars are built for that immediate Start-and-Go method of driving. Of course, you still want to warm the car up before sporting around but actual driving warms up the car faster than sitting and idling for however long. I used to watch a guy start his vehicle, sit and wait a full 15 minutes before rolling, waiting for the engine to get up to temperature before ever moving… no matter how much of a rush he may have been in at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I still let my cars warm-up a bit before going. Start and go just goes against my nature

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            As do I.

            If I don’t let the Taurus warm up a little bit, it makes a hard clunk when shifting into gear. It doesn’t do that any other time, and so I let it do it’s warm-up cycle before driving it. I treat it right and it treats me right.

            The only time I have jumped in, started it and immediately put it in gear was the morning my teenage cousin was killed in a car wreck about 5 miles from my house. That was a horrible morning.

          • 0 avatar
            Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

            I’m sorry you had to experience such a morning, John.

            I’ve never owned a manual transmission vehicle that was “happy” going into gear without letting the engine and gearbox warm up a bit first, so I’ve gotten in the habit of doing it regardless of what I’m driving.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @MA(xM)M: Those gears warm up faster in operation than they do waiting for the engine to get to temperature. Yes, my Wrangler (6sp-M)used to habitually kick out of second gear when the tranny was cold but never acted up more than once on any cold morning.

            And I wasn’t wasting time or gas waiting for the rig to warm up.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            For nearly all of my cars and from deep freeze to summertime, idling for less than a minute followed by gently driving away has worked fine. I’ve always lived a short distance from a stop sign or a parking lot exit, so that first minute of gently driving was not only natural but would do more to warm the car up in the winter than idling for a few more minutes (or spin the air conditioner slightly faster in the summer, as the case may be). I always thought that initial gentle drive was particularly good for manual gearboxes (rear axles and automatic transmissions too) since it would help spread the oil on the gears while they were under only a mild load.

            Regarding @Flipper35’s comment about the drivers’ ed way of starting the engine *last*, yeah, me not so much. Get in, start engine, buckle up, fiddle with stuff for a few moments (change radio station, plug in phone charger and start Waze app)… and now we’re ready to drive down the block to that first stop sign.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    First vehicle I ever drove: 1940’s Farmall tractor.

    Driver’s Ed car: mid-80’s Chevy Malibu in that awful Malaise-era light blue, equipped with a passenger side brake pedal (not used while I drove, thankfully). The only memory that really stands out to this day of driver’s ed was how ridiculous the “one car length following distance for each 10 MPH” sounded, both then and now. Just try that on any of our nation’s freeways – multiple vehicles will swoop into that space, driving your speed down into unsafe road obstacle territory.

    First car I put in the ditch while horsing around: 1984 Chevy Chevette. This was also the same car I got my first speeding ticket in, hilarious since that car was pushing at 65 MPH!

  • avatar
    Broo

    Driving school car : 1991 Civic, 5MT
    Practice car : my parents’ 1992 Corolla, 5MT
    My first car : 1989 Tercel, 5MT

    I once had a VERY hard time going from a stop in the Corolla soon after successfully taking my driver’s test. I wasn’t far from home, so I left the car parked and walked home. Told my father the engine dies every time I try to release the clutch, no matter if I give it some throttle. He came with me to take a look and I showed him what happens. “You’re in third gear” was all he had to say to make me feel really bad. I was SO ashamed :D

    With the same Corolla I also once downshifted from 5th to 2nd. After that incident, my father taught me that if you bring the shifter to neutral and remove your hand, it goes right between gear 3 and 4 so I wouldn’t mistakenly take it to 2nd.

    I also spent an hour on our steep incline driveway practicing launch from an uphill stop. My neighbor (my grandpa) was sitting on his porch, looking at me. He told my mother “he’s gonna wear out the clutch”. She answered that she’d rather pay for a clutch rather than paying any damage I could do to the car behind me if I am in this same situation later.

    That clutch survived both me and my brother a few years later. My brother was handed down that car and drove it until reaching close to 400,000 Kms. All on the original clutch.

    Most of my vehicles since have been manual.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Our Driver’s Ed cars were mid 70’s midsize Mopars, that had retired from other duties. I was really bummed as where I had lived when I was younger my cousins all got to learn on brand new vehicles that were on loan from the local Olds dealer with of course large signs strapped on the trunk that announced the fact that it was a driver instruction car donated by said dealer.

    They had a fair number of them and we actually did some driving during class time. The instructor would set up cones in the bus parking lot and all the cars were equipped with a fm radio converter and of course the extra brake pedal. The instructor would stand in the middle of the lot and bark instructions into his Mr Microphone.

    Of course many of us would tune away from that frequency to the rock station and crank it until the speaker crackled and dash rattled.

    There would be two of us in the car at a time so of course the thing to do was to slam on that extra brake pedal to make your partner look like an idiot.

    I still remember the instructor barking at me through the Mr Microphone to creep over the speed bumps that I didn’t slow down for one bit. Hey xxxx slow down over those speed bumps you are going to blow out the shocks”

    There was also after school driving where it was the typical 3 students and a different instructor where we drove for a couple of hours once a week rotating every so often.

  • avatar
    ernest

    Driver’s Ed car: 1970 VW Squareback mitt Automatic.
    Practice Cars- Uncle’s ’61 Mercedes 220S. Four on the column, power nothing. Dad and Uncle Fred figured if I could master that car, I’ll be able to drive anything.
    @ DMV- Dad’s ’67 Mercedes 250SE.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Practice car: 1987 Ford Escort GT (also my first car).

    Drivers ed car: 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier, then 1993ish Chevrolet Corsica.

    My experience before drivers ed gave me an advantage, but I still had to learn a few things. What I remember most was how awful the Cavalier was. The gear indicator would stick in reverse after you had passed it, which made for a short-but-terrifying trip up onto the curb once. Also, my then-girlfriend trying to drive the car up a steep hill and the car kept going slower and slower until it pretty much stopped (you could hear the engine straining). The instructor told her to take her left foot off the brake and accelerate. She explained that her left foot was not on the brake, and she had it almost to the floor. We barely got the car over to the curb and then walked several blocks back to the school where we picked up the Corsica.

    I was amazed at how much I preferred the Corsica over it’s little brother. It was my turn to drive, and twice I surprised the instructor (in a good way). First, when I got up to speed on the interstate, I set the cruise and took my foot off the accelerator. He said “what are you doing?!” And I explained that I had set the cruise to the speed limit. He said he had driven this car more than anyone else since they bought it new, and he had no idea it had cruise. Later on, when stopped in traffic in the city, I stopped with about a car length between me and the next car and waved a guy in who was coming off a side street. He smiled and waved back and pulled out. My instructor said he had never had a student do that before. I think he was impressed.

    Anyway, after we completed the course, I asked the instructor (a few weeks later) what was the problem with the Cavalier that left us walking that day. He said the rear brakes had stuck on, and after that was fixed, the car again left him and a group of students walking (he didn’t give a reason). He convinced the school district to get rid of it, and they traded it in on a pair of 1999 base model Tauruses.

    I later bought a low-mileage, one-owner 1988 Corsica LT V-6 based mostly on how much I didn’t dislike the one in drivers ed. It was a disaster, a royal pos. I did have a good experience later on with a 1996 Corsica base model 4 cylinder. I didn’t own it, but I took a trip in it, and later showed it to my brother’s in-laws, who bought it and drove it for years. It was a good car for them.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    I took high school diver’s ed in the spring of 1981. Our school had two Ford Fairmont sedans, a Chevrolet Citation, a Dodge Diplomat coupe and a Chrysler LeBaron sedan. By today’s standards none of these were great cars, but by the standards of the time some were more appealing than others. I always tried to get the LeBaron or Diplomat. These M-Bodies just seemed so much nicer than than the cheaper and cheaper feeling Fairmonts and Citation. I’m not sure why the Local Dodge and Chrysler dealers donated these instead of Aspens or Volares.

  • avatar
    threeer

    First practice car (and car I took the laughable “driver’s test” in TN with): 1981 Toyota Corolla
    2nd Practice car: 1983 Mazda GLC (thankfully, at least a manual trans)
    1st car (and car my father made me practice for months in just driving around the subdivision before I was allowed on any main roads): 1978 Plymouth Arrow

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Speaking of ‘laughable Tennessee’ driver’s test, when I bought a motorcycle (a Kawasaki 3-pot 400 2-stroke) I had to ride to the testing location almost 20 miles away on the other side of a busy city as I had nobody able to ride it there for me and no way to carry it at the time. On arrival for the test, the tester asked, “Is the bike here?” To which I answered, “Yes.”
      “How did it get here?”
      “I rode it.”
      “Good enough. Here’s your temporary license. Your replacement license will be mailed to you with the M for Motorcycle Class marker within the next week.”

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    I took driver’s ed in the spring of ’92. Classroom was shared with a lot of bored jocks, taught by one of the basketball coaches. Over time the 52 minutes turned into a farce: The instructor would ask a question, to which no one would volunteer the answer, and after a few seconds would call on me for the answer.

    Behind the wheel was in a Buick Century, probably an ’85, with one of the football coaches. Our town was so small that the last day of driving, to celebrate we were allowed to drive to the next town over to go to McDonald’s. Looking back I still shake my head that that was considered a treat.

    Funny though, I can remember taking the driver’s test but not which car I drove. We had to go two towns over for it and the test route included an alley I’d never driven down before with a modified Do Not Enter sign at the end. I’m sure they did that on purpose just to throw people.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I, too, began driving in gutless wonder. It was a limitation only in acceleration. Otherwise, the difference between low horsepower and high is how long you have to keep the accelerator pedal to the floor before reaching your desired speed. The problem of limited acceleration was avoided to a great degree by treating slowing down as a last resort.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    First vehicle driven age 8: Oliver 1650 tractor with baler and wagon attached.
    First road vehicle driven age 10: 1966 Chevy C-20 pickup – 4 speed manual.
    Driver Ed. vehicles age 15: 1977 Chevy Monte Carlo and Malibu.
    Drivers License test vehicle age 16: 1975 Volvo 245 – automatic and very slow.
    First Car: 1971 BMW Bavaria – 4 speed manual and very quick (for the time).

    Since I could reverse a tractor/baler/wagon into a confined area by the time I was 12, Driver’s Ed was a piece of cake for me, and the instructor would basically nap while I drove, but he was in sheer terror when my classmate took over, because said classmate was still working on what the steering wheel was for.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Driver’s Ed car: 1978 Chevy Nova 4 door, with straight six. Totally unmemorable.
    Practice car: My parent’s 1974 Mercury Montego, with 302 V8. A slow, understeering pig.
    First car: 1969 Ford Torino GT, with 390 ci/335 hp V8. A fast, understeering pig.

    Some days I’m amazed I survived.

  • avatar
    James2

    Summer 1980. My friend and I took Driver’s Ed together in high school. There was a choice of a Buick Century Turbo (!) and a Toyota Corolla. My friend says the Toyota should be easier to drive, so we pick that car. Wrong! No power steering, so it’s like turning the Titanic. The instructor takes us up the Pali Highway, which is oh 20-degree incline. My foot is to the floor and the instructor is saying ‘faster, faster’ but the Corolla has nothing left to give.

    Back at sea level we drive around a neighborhood with wide streets and rounded intersections… no need to brake since the Corolla isn’t carrying any speed, but the graduation certificate I receive reads “he needs to learn to brake while turning”. Even now I still don’t brake that much (ha!).

  • avatar
    john66ny

    Drivers Ed Cars:

    ’78 Tercel (as a student)
    ’84 Tercel (as an instructor)

    Boring but reliable.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    My driver’s ed car was a 1978 Plymouth Volare, in 1993 :( Typical malaise: wheezy, spongy, drab. The school did replace it a year or so later with whatever the cheapest K-car was at the time.

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    My driver’s training car(s), depending on the instructor, was either a Hyundai Excel or a… I can’t remember. A Geo, maybe? The instructor with the Hyundai was a sweetheart, and let me drive to the comic book store at the end of the training session before returning me back to my high school where my mom would be waiting to take me home, angry that the training session mysteriously took an extra 15 minutes or so.
    Practice, as well as my drivers license test happened in my folks’ 1988 Lincoln Town Car Cartier with a digital instrument cluster. That car was a genie bottle on wheels. The DMV guy giving the test was so ecstatic that he got to test with me as he had been crammed into subcompacts all morning.
    My first car was a blue 1972 Pontiac Luxury LeMans with a white vinyl top that had long given up on life, and even still had it’s wheel skirts. I can’t think of a single thing that was even remotely luxury about it. I sold it in ’92 when I got my ’74 Continental Mark IV.

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    I don’t recall any bad experiences through the whole process, but since it was 35 years ago things were probably a bit simpler.

    The driver’s ed car was a late ’70s Dodge Aspen with the 225 Slant Six and three speed automatic. To this day I have a soft spot in my automotive heart for those cars.

    The harder part was transitioning from the Aspen into the family car – a ’76 Impala. 1976 was the last year for the biiiiiig cars. Jesus. I dragged the inside tire over a few curbs on right hand turns before learning just how big that thing was.

    (Not long after that I bought a beat up ’78 Accord. The Accord was about 1/3 shorter than the Impala but probably had as much if not more interior room. But I have a soft spot for big American cars of the era too.)

  • avatar
    Roland

    Took lessons in a Dodge Aries 4-dr sedan, automatic. This was in the mid-’80’s, in a small city in the interior of British Columbia.

    I remember one lesson took place right after I had done a gruelling set of back-to-back shifts at the busy restaurant where I was working at the time. When I climbed into the driver’s seat, I slumped back and sighed, almost numb with fatigue.

    The instructor peered at me suspiciously. “Are you on drugs?” she asked. I forget how I persuaded her that I wasn’t, but I’ll always remember the expression on her face.

    I did some practicing in my mother’s 4-dr Chevette auto, but most of my hours learning to drive were spent in the 1973 Cadillac Coupe de Ville I had just bought.

    Actually, the Coupe de Ville was easier to parallel-park than the Chevette, because of the power steering.

    A number of years later I was able to learn the manual transmission in an early-’90’s Mazda Protege. I remember that car as pretty fun to drive.

  • avatar
    Creaseuk

    If I only knew then what I do now. My old Boss’s wife used to take me on driving lessons in her 1978 Austin Allegro.. He was cheating on her, I wish I’d have worked out she was looking for revenge. In the end, she got his Mitsubishi Starion in the divorce. I later took structured driving lessons in a 1979 Ford Escort MKII in which i took my driving test, failed the first one for speeding..My first car was a 1978 Rover SD1, a brute of a V8. I was unemployed at the time so, I spent more time sitting in the drivers seat making vroom vroom noises than actually driving it ..

  • avatar
    Roland

    BTW my parents’ attitude towards me driving was, “You’re old enough to drive when you’re old enough to afford your own car.”

    So I didn’t drive until about a year after I was done high school and out in the workforce.

  • avatar

    my old dad taught me how to drive in a lovely dark blue austin mini 1000, a ’71 or ’72 model. its rubbery shifter meant you never were sure if you’d selected the right gear plus there was almost no clutch travel. so much fun. biggest joy was doing my driving test in that wee beast. the inspector was terrified and didn’t want me coming back so he gave me a high score and my licence.

  • avatar
    George B

    The Driver’s Ed car was a Dodge Aspen. Everyone knew it was a crappy car even when it was new. The power steering was extremely light. I remember a guy in the class spinning the steering wheel like a roulette wheel and getting chewed out by the instructor for improper technique. The class also had a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission car that we would drive around the perimeter of the school unsupervised while the instructor taught parallel parking in cones or something. We quickly learned a variety of ways to make the tires break loose on gravel as we drove around the back side of the building.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “The power steering was extremely light… make the tires break loose on gravel.”

      That brings back some memories. One or two fingers to twirl the steering wheel and make zig zags and figure eights in a gravel lot. Mud flaps or not, rocks flying everywhere!!

      MOPAR nerds will fondly remember that even the “small” .94 power steering pump was oversized, almost comically too powerful, for the A and F bodies (the “compacts”).

  • avatar

    For the driving portion of DE I was by myself with the instructor. We did not use the provided DE car, we used the instructors personal ride – a 60 something Pontiac Catalina (or was it a Grand Prix?) convertible in red. Drove during one hour of school time – 2 pm. First time drive was from my town to a neighboring larger town (county seat) on a road which crossed a river. The bridge was an older style with a superstructure. I was glued and near motionless when going through that bridge – first time no oncoming, second time with oncoming. The instructor actually complimented my driving, especially after he found out it was my first time behind the wheel. It was dang scary for me. Like with many things, it got easy with more practice. I don’t remember why I did the solo thing. It could be I had no other time available as I had an after school job. I was actually looking forward to having friends along like most others did.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Late 1980s Toyota Corolla, four cylinder automatic. The driving school sign strapped to the roof hurt freeway performance pretty bad, but out of all the lessons I think we only made a few runs from one entrance to the next offramp. The sign didn’t interfere with city driving or parallel parking.*

    * That is if you can call my several~ish feet from the curb “parallel parking…” three feet or closer notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that part of the vehicle was obstructing the travel lane of those subdivision streets. The driving examiner didn’t mind since I carefully checked my surroundings and used my signals.


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