It was a rainy, chilly April 1954 day in Lowell, MA. I was in my kindergarten class, doing some mind-numbing exercise, when all of a sudden my dad walked into the classroom and asked the Penguin if he could pick me up early. “Sure”, said Sister Holier-than-Thou and Keep My Kid out of This. All I was thinking was, “What the ef have I done now?” With great trepidation, I walked out into the gloom only to be confronted with the most beautiful taillight I had ever seen! God, if I had been able to achieve an orgasm at that age, I would have. I was knocked out.
These bodacious taillights were attached to a gorgeous, baby-blue 1954 Mercury Custom two-door sedan. It had full wheel covers (Dad: These aren’t hubcaps, kid, these are wheel covers!), big tits up front, and—gloriosky—a V8! No more waiting in soup kitchen lines. The exhaust note on the Merc was orgasmic.
It turns out that dad had visited a New Hampshire Mercury dealer one evening, in search of a gas cap to replace one lost earlier that day while he was schlepping Socony-Mobil product on a sales trip. He noticed the Baby Blue Bombshell on the showroom floor, and immediately up-rated his purchasing strategy from gas cap to new car. He made the deal for $700 plus his dog-assed 1953 Dodge. The next morning he went to the dealership to pick up his new car. He saw that the dealer was about to have a sales meeting, and asked if he could attend. They asked him if he was the guy who’d purchased the Merc Custom; he said that he was. They told him that he should be chairing the meeting.
Dad’s next car was a 1955 Mercury Custom two-door sedan: Mint green, full hubcaps and red wheels. By 1955, Mercurys still had their tits and great V8s, but their tail lights weren’t nearly as cool. I was totally influenced by the local thugs in 1950 Mercs who’d never have thought of taking off without laying rubber (or “chirping”, in the parlance of the day). I asked my Dad to make the Merc chirp, so he let out the clutch and then nailed it. No chirp. I was bummed out. But at the family farm in Illinois that summer, my uncle borrowed the car from my Dad and drove to his friend’s farm to show it off. His friend had a concrete barnyard, and as we were leaving my uncle popped the clutch, and damn! The thing chirped! I was ecstatic! I told my uncle that Dad would really appreciate knowing his Merc could lay a patch. My uncle threatened to kill me then and there.
Alas, 1956 brought a change: Dad jumped to the Olds camp. This was another life-changing event, at least as far as I was concerned. It was our first two-tone car, done up in red and white. It was also our first family car to have an automatic transmission, and it took my father a while to learn to drive it. We were were in Kearney Square in Lowell, driving home from the dealership after taking delivery, when the car stalled. My father fiddled with the controls, put the pedal to the metal and patched out big time–right next to a cop on foot. We got the hell out of Dodge.
The Olds pictured above has the same color scheme as my Dad’s car, but ours didn’t have Fiesta hubcaps or whitewall tires. The Ninety-Eights had different trim than Eighty-Eights, but you get the idea. My favorite memory of this car is from a sales trip to Maine with my dad. At the end of the day we were traversing a valley, headed for Skowhegan, as the sun set. I looked over at the speedo. We were doing 90 mph (145 kph). It was serene: No noise, no effort. That night, we stayed at a great old white wooden hotel in Skowhegan. The dining hall had a piano, and during dinner my father suggested that I reprise my first piano recital. I belted out the Prelude to “Aida” and “Dixie”. The crowd roared.
Next: Station Wagon O-Rama