(first posted 2/13/2011)
My first memories are of the womb. The enveloping warmth, and the soothing sounds that correlated to movement. I remember the sensations of being propelled: forward, stop, turning, forward again; the gentle g-forces rolling me delicately from side to side, ensconced in my snug compartment, conscious of the rounded form that surrounded me. My surrogate mother was a Volkswagen.
Image from the web, but it could have been my sister, brother and me. Remarkable similarities
It is my oldest clear memory: I was a toddler, and my (real) mother had set me down in that deep little well behind the rear seat of a family friend’s split-window Beetle. As I lay directly over the transmission, inches from the blower fan cooling the little boxer engine, I was one with the car. Every detail is as fresh today as it was then: the textures, shapes, smells, and most of all, the sounds. I can still hear that distinctive whine of the transmission and the whirring motor music overlaid with the rising and falling howl of the blower. I imprinted with my surrogate’s voice, and from then on, I would always call out “VW” when I heard one pass on the street below our apartment. And I was always right.
I was born car-crazy in Innsbruck, Austria in 1953. Not only did we not have a car, but as this picture of the main street (Maria Theresien Strasse) makes all too clear, neither did most folks. And there was neither TV nor car magazines, and my father had other interests. So I was left with only a young child’s keen powers of observation, accumulating vital visual information, often without any context. Since we walked constantly for transportation as well as pleasure, I studied every parked car sitting at the curb. Finding Curbside Classics was my first and foremost life obsession. The problem was identifying them!
On our daily walk to the markets, I would make my mother stop and walk around any parked car that I didn’t already recognize until she could find the tell-tale logo or emblem (I hadn’t learned to read yet). And those were much subtler back then. I have this mental picture of my mother hunched over, circling several times around an old pre-war parked car, straining to find a tell-tale logo on the hubcaps or the radiator, while I stood there on the sidewalk waiting impatiently. How hard could it be? It turned out to be a Wanderer (above). Thanks Mom!
I had an intimate relationship with every vehicle in the neighborhood, all parked in the street in front of the old apartment houses. I gazed at them endlessly, trying to discern some additional insight of their personality characteristics or traits from their physiognomy. Some of the more memorable cars on our block were…
A stolid Ford Taunus,whose chrome globe embedded in its nose (Welt Taunus) was endlessly fascinating, and similar to the one on the front of 1951 Olds, except for which part of the globe was getting main billing. A foreshadowing of Ford’s world cars?
I had a very scary ride in that car; well, scary from a six-year old’s perspective. I was walking home from school (first grade), and it started to rain. The Taunus pulled over, and the driver opened the door and said “do you want a ride home?” Of course I did, despite the natural fear of strangers and getting in their car. Our parents never gave us that admonition, because it wasn’t really relevant then; who was going to do that? My brief moment of hesitation was quickly overpowered by the attraction of a rare car ride. It was the foretaste of that that intoxicating mixture of trepidation and joy of being offered a ride in a complete stranger’s car that I would experience hundreds of times during my hitchhiking years.
Undoubtedly, the Taunus driver knew me and my family, as everyone did in our neighborhood. And it afforded me my first experience in watching someone manipulate a column shifter—now that’s a bit different.
There were several Fiat 600s parked around our block, and I might hazard to guess that they were perhaps the most popular car in Innsbruck at the time along with the VW.
Quite a few tired pre-war cars were still plying the streets, including one rather run-down gray Opel Kadett without hubcaps. I kid you not that I’m 99% certain it was the very same car as this one I found in a vintage picture of Innsbruck. I almost fell off my chair when I found this picture on the web and instantly recognized the Opel. And is that my uncle crossing the street?
Of course there many others, but my favorite car parked on the curb as I gazed down from our apartment window was the Tatraplan, the revolutionary Czech car directly descended from the first groundbreaking Tatra streamliners of the 1930’s. I was in awe of its aerodynamic body, even though its design was then already twenty years old. It was a perfect contrast to current cars like the Opel Rekord, and even then I struggled with why the futuristic Tatra design was being usurped by chromed and flashy cars like the Opel. It somehow didn’t seem quite right, and a fundamental automotive dichotomy began for me with those two cars: flashy styling and purposeful aerodynamics.
I loved them both, but it made me sad to see the Tatra’s principles abandoned for many decades. It would have helped me then to know that fifty years later the Prius would largely reconcile that dichotomy.
Many of the highlights of those first seven years of my life revolved around cars, especially the relatively rare trips in them, inevitably cramped. At the time, a VW was a “standard size” car. Many, like the 600cc 26hp Lloyd my godfather drove, were much smaller. He and his wife took my whole family on a short outing up to the the Hungerburg. And how did four adults and three children aged 12, 10 and 6 fit? They just did, somehow. My 6’5” godfather kept the cloth sunroof open whenever weather permitted so that he could actually sit up straight. I guess there was a practical reason why Europeans were all so slim back in the day.
Another very popular car that shaped a vivid childhood memory was the legendary Fiat 1100. One of the most modern cars in Europe when it arrived in 1953, it was a huge success and had a lasting influence. Highly popular in Germany (and Austria), where it was license built by NSU as the Neckar-Fiat, it was the biggest and most direct competitor to the Volkswagen.
A friend of my Mother had a brand new Fiat 1100 with a sunroof. We were bopping down an Alpine road, us kids were standing up with our heads sticking out the sunroof; it didn’t get any better than that. I held up my mother’s scarf so that it was trailing back into the slipstream, and at some point I let it go. Turning back to see it fluttering freely was a thrill, but a fleeting one. Paul!! The joys of motoring are always being cut short by life’s unpleasant realities.
My first intimate encounter with an American car arrived when we hired Herr Miller and his black early fifties Oldsmobile taxi for a confirmation outing. For a child used to perpetual automotive constriction, entering my first Yank tank was like stepping into another, much larger world. I was quite literally shocked; who could imagine a vehicle with so much interior room?
I have a photo of the party (above): my parents, two aunts, my grandmother, two older cousins, my sister, the driver and my brother and me. All eleven of us piling in was the reverse of a circus’ clown car act, although nobody watching us would have been impressed; it was as ordinary then as folks jamming into a crowded NY subway.
My early automotive education was occasionally punctuated by authentic automotive exotica. A British doctor acquaintance of my father once arrived in a black Jaguar sedan. I saw it from the third story window of our apartment, crouching down at the curb, and I quickly ran down to examine this big foreign cat.
It inspired awe and fear; the big muscular Jag seemed like a larger version of its totemic hood ornament, ready to pounce and devour its small onlooker.
The awe also came in large part from the novel idea of an ordinary person actually owning such a car, and just getting in it and driving it from so far away. I’d never left the province of Tirol, and had not yet fully conceived of the concept of cars as long-distance transportation. Trains, and very rarely planes, were for adults who actually did that. Suddenly, the power of a car to take one to remote places that were just names on the short-wave radio dial hit me. Learning comes in sudden awakenings. My inner automotive fantasy life took had a great leap forward thanks to that Jag.
Another vehicle that suddenly showed up at our curb should and could have been my peak experience of those years. Instead, it turned into my greatest disappointment. My father’s med-school buddy had married serious money, the daughter of the owner of the famed Mahle piston company. The new bride bought him a little wedding present: a brand new Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing. He drove that icon over from Switzerland for a visit.
My father, brother and I instantly went down to it, drawn by its irresistible magnetic pull. This was the greatest automotive achievement of the post-war world, the ultimate symbol of Germany’s resurrection. I had heard of it spoken in almost religious terms, but had never seen one. I circled it repeatedly, feasting on every exterior detail.
Then the magic gull wing doors rose in preparation for flight, and I entered that hallowed space, only to be rudely removed so that my father and older brother could savor a hair-raising ride with the financially-advantaged amateur rally driver. With all the practice I had, I could have easily squeezed in. I’m still trying to get over it.
So my first peak automotive experience had to wait until one bright spring day in 1960 when I stumbled upon an alien space ship that had somehow landed at the curb of the Maria Theresien Strasse in the center of historic Innsbruck. The “wood rose metallic” 1959 Cadillac DeVille two door hardtop (CC here) was the length of at least three Lloyds, with soaring fins and a glass bubble of an upper body that truly lived up to the commonly used term “greenhouse”.
I’d never seen anything remotely like this four wheeled rocket ship. Who knows how long I stared at every chromed detail, trying to comprehend its design language. I totally lost myself in its mysteries. What was it trying to say to me? It was highly futuristic, yet its florid details evoked the many overwrought Baroque/rococo churches that I was so familiar with. But they were all about the gilded glories of heaven.
Is that where this heavenly space chariot came from? Surely when Jesus returned to earth, this would be the ride The Father would bestow on him for the journey.
Another intrigued (but adult) onlooker brought me back to reality by explaining the more earthly origins of the Cadillac (tourists from America). And within weeks of this transforming event, my father suddenly announced that we were moving to America. Car heaven, I thought, here I come.
Next Chapter: Douglas DC-8 – The Trip Of A Lifetime
Wonderful. I wish my first memories of cars were as endearing.
Sadly enough, my realization of the automotive world came from my parents who drove early-80’s Cadillac Devilles.
One I called ‘Grandma’, and the other of course was ‘Grandpa’. They looked like they were wearing thick spectacles with those squared off headlights. Always smelled like gas, and seemed to always have a colorful light on the dash. Red, yellow, orange. They all melded in together.
Sitting in them was as comfy as sitting on my Grandma’s lap. That is until I ended up in the middle front seat which must have been one of many afterthoughts for the GM designers.
Ah, the middle front bench. I grew up with a Lido-era New Yorker, which included a front bench in its acres of deeply tufted burgundy velour upholstery. It was a terrible place to sit, the middle of the front, but had a certain novelty to it if you were a youngster interested in cars. The straight-ahead view down the hood of the car was something you didn’t get every day.
First memory is of my father’s 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, it was 1979 I was about 2 years old. My father had just finished washing and polishing it in our two car garage. Someone had carelessly failed to fasten the screen door between the house and the attached garage and I pushed my way through, clad only in a diaper. The summer sun was strong, the floor was wet, the sun hit the puddles on the concrete and lit up that silver metalic paint until the car (litterally to my young eyes) “glowed.” From that day forward I was sold on the version of the “American Dream” that Detroit was selling. I would fondly think of that day when 16 years later toiling in that same garage washing, waxing, chrome polishing the 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham sedan that my father had passed down to me. Some of my classmates didn’t understand why I put a chrome tip on the exhaust pipe, why I would sit and listen to the 307V8 idle, blip the throtle to hear the Quadrajet almost “giggle” or why I cared that it had a posi-trac, but I knew and that was all that mattered. I’m still trying to get back to that place.
Dan, Thanks for sharing. Amazing how a moment like that can affect one for ever. Expect to see both of those cars show up here, although they might not be exactly glowing anymore!
Great to see the new site up and running. Kinda past my bedtime now, but I’ll give it all a deep perusal in the morning.
Great photos and writing. Now we know where your interest comes from
Paul, I’m a couple of years older than you, but my first car memory was of my dad changing the oil in his grey 1950 Plymouth in the garage. He had one of those glass bottles with a screw-on metal snout that you removed to put a quart of oil in, replace the snout and pour that in the engine. The garage was detached, accessed by the alley, incidentally, which is absolutely the greatest playground/hangout ever devised by man! The garage was very dark and mysterious to me. My mom kept it locked so I couldn’t “explore” on the sly! I suppose I was 4 yrs. old at the time. One other incident: A year later, I grabbed the box of Baker’s coconut mom kept in the pantry after supper one evening and went out front to where Dad’s 1050 Plymouth was parked and crawled into the back seat, on my knees, arms on the rear shelf, eating that coconut. After a few minutes, I didn’t feel so hot, so I got out of the car, snuck the coconut back into the pantry and preceeded to get sick! Haven’t touched coconut to this day!
No edit feature! 1950, not “1050”!
Sorry; the edit feature is something to look forward too! Hopefully soon.
My earliest memory was my dad’s 51 Plymouth business coupe. I was probably only about 3 years. I would stand up on the seat to look out, and my dad would repeat, ” Sit down” When he had to make a sudden stop , he would stick his arm in front of me for protection.Those were the days before safety was built into cars, and there was no such thing as seat belts and child seats. Next came the 61 VW camper with the second row seat facing backwards. My brother and I would kneel on that seat facing forward. Funny thing is I never remember sleeping in that camper. Maybe I was asleep before they put me to bed. One time the right side windshield wiper became disengaged from the wiper motor. When it rained, all I had to do is reach under the dashboard and operate the wiper with my hand ! That was fun !! I recall the light green early 60s Chevy pickup my dad used when he worked for the forest service. He smoked a pipe at the time. So I always associate that smell with the inside of the pickup. Then came the 64 Rambler American station wagon, 3 on the tree, which I thought was nice, until I got to ride in our neighbors full size Chevy wagon with automatic transmission and power windows. Why couldn’t we have one like that ? When we moved to Europe we got a nice blue and white 67 VW microbus, the last year of the split. I was envious when the redesigned 68s came out with the sliding door and huge windshield. Many of our neighbors had that 68. I spent most of my childhood wishing my dad had the newer fancier models
My earliest car memory involved riding in the front seat of what must have been a late-sixties station wagon of unknown pedigree (I was only 3 or 4) with my dad at the wheel. I believe I was standing on the seat – different times!
My earliest car memory for a model I can actually sort of ID involved sitting in the drivers seat of a mid-late sixties dark blue Plymouth Fury which was sitting moribund in our driveway. That dashboard was a wonderland for a 7 year-old me.
Thanks for jogging my memory with this story. My earliest car memory is going through an automatic car wash in my dad’s metallic brown-with-beige-top 1979 Pontiac Bonneville company car-it may or may not have been a Brougham. I remember the big red and yellow brushes going around; brushless car washes were the exception, not the rule in the early Eighties. This was probably 1981 or so, because my dad got a new maroon Volvo 242 DL in 1981 or ’82. I also remember wandering around that car in the driveway all the time, and that I was about the same height as the wheels. Dad also used a silver 1979 Catalina occasionally, but he usually had the Bonneville, which was the ‘neater one’ in my 2-3 year old opinion. He told me much later he also used a blue Bonneville once in a while, but I don’t remember that one at all. For that reason, I am really interested in the 1977-79 Pontiac Bonnevilles, but they are a lot rarer than the similar vintage Caprices, Delta 88s and LeSabres. I also have many memories of riding in the back of my mom’s 1973 Volvo 1800 ES, red with black leather seats and red carpeting. Now that was a really neat car, but the rear seat really was just for kids. As a kid, though, it was the perfect size. My dad also had a weathered 1951 Porsche 356 cabriolet, that was subsequently restored and sold. He owned that car from 1973 to 1988. I’m really lucky that my family has had so many neat cars!
Am I the only one who thinks this is like a class reunion? And in a good way!
My first car memory dates back to 1968. I was born in Argentina where (unitl 10-15 years ago) is was commonplace to see pre-war or WWII vintage automobiles. so it was to be that my first memories were playing in my dad’s 1942 black Plymouth sedan, in particular the car’s starter button on the dashboard to the right of the huge steering wheel. What a beast of a car.
Another memory in that monster was falling asleep in the back seat as my dad sped my mom and I to the hospital for my baby sis’ arrival. From what i hear, I was left in the backseat for the duration of the night (why wake you up?? you were zonked out!) as the car was parked a block away from the hospital as mom had her all nighter
…… different times, eh?
Paul, your writing sure stirs up memories. My earliest ride was in the back of my parents’ red 58 or 59 Karmann Ghia. My earlies memory of a car was my parents maroon 61 Olds F-85 wagon. I was 2 when they got it and 5 when it was traded. We kids used to play in the “way back” with the seat folded down. I still remember being warned to stay away from the rear hatch because the latch would sometimes pop open. I also remember sitting along the side of the road on hot days with the hood open so that the defective aluminum 215 V8 would cool down enough to start driving again.
From about 63-65, my dad had a white 63 Bel Air wagon as a company car. We were a 2 station wagon family for awhile. I remember the bright red interior. I recall getting in trouble when my friends and I were playing treasure hunt in my front yard, and I drew a treasure map on the left rear door with a green permanent marker. Damn kids.
I am thoroughly enjoying the new site.
My first memories are of our 62 Buick Special deluxe wagon (salmon pink of course). Two things stand out; first how big it seemed to my 5 yr old carcass, (car was 9 yrs old) and second, how smooth and quiet the engine was. I remember dad several times opening the drivers door just to make sure it was still running. That 215 was a sweet engine, after car was wrecked, engine stayed in the family; I ended up with it and sold it in 2003 for literally twice what dad paid for the whole car in 1966!
Damn……..now I know why I was destined to be a “car guy”.
I’d taken many a trip in the much shallower cavity behind the rear seat of my father’s 1968 Beetle as a 3-4 year old, and it is one of my earliest memories as well, right next to sitting for hours in my dad’s 66 Galaxie 500 coupe pretending I was tearing up the driveway.
I guess some things are just unavoidable…….
Most of my early automotive memories center around our blue ’61 VW, which was also the car that brought me home from the hospital after I was born. I remember sitting in my dad’s lap steering it (well, sort of) while he worked the shifter and pedals. I also remember a green F100 that belonged to a friend of our family, and we used to ride around their farm in the back of it. It was a ’66 or ’67, and to this day some of my favorite vehicles are the Ford pickups from the late ’60’s to early ’70’s.
Naa, des is jo net tsan glaum – a Landsmann.
Just have to write this, as it’s a really rare occasion to stumble upon someone from the same country (I’m a Viennese), and almost the same age (I left the, um, assembly line in 1957).
I don’t own a car and never did (except for a few Wiking models in 1:48 and several diecasts in 1:87 scale), not even a driving license (fortunately, Vienna’s public transport network is very comfortable – and meanwhile, a one-year network ticket is as cheap as 360 Euro).
But I’m a design addict, meanwhile am able to identify most cars built between the later 50s and … not many years ago (newer ones may take some time to get used to). So, spending a lot of time searching on the web what I may never experience in real life (great cars, urban life and thrilling architecture round the globe aso.), I just had to find curbsideclassic.
Which – now that I recognized you – may be a little different from other (mainly US-based) websites about (not only) classic cars, as you perhaps add some European perspective. Last time that difference drew my attention was when I heard about a recent car accident on an US-based nonprofit tv news program, calling a Maserati Quattroporte a “small car”.
A luxury sedan, never affordable for average folks, which must have an extra-comfortable interior, where I live seen as not only very expensive but also in size, though not too large, at least comparable to “obere Mittelklasse” (an euphemistic understatement term for just slightly smaller than the biggest) – and in the States it only makes it into the “small” category.
So, if 8-to-9-seats-vehicles – on this side of the big pond long ago called (large) mini-BUSES – are dubbed minivans, and old VW beetles are named not just small, but “micro”, what the neutron is left as category for NSU Prinz (one like that on the pic frequently used to carry my uncle, aunt plus heavy Omama and not slender Mama with me between them), DAF, Simca 1000, VW Lupo, Nissan Coure, Tata, or even Lloyd – not to mention Goggomobil, Smart, Aixam, and, well, Nash Metropolitan? Nano??? I don’t tend to let cliches dominate my imagination, but has the US-Americans’ understanding of purposeful, reasonable sizes changed not the least during the last half century? Nix fia unguat, oba: do greifst da am Schädl, echt.
I am loving these articles ! .
I’ve been an air cooled VW Fanboi my entire life…….
Being the last of six Children meant I had to ‘ suffer ‘ (not IMO !) riding above the engine in Pop’s self import 1954 VW Kombi ~ it was always cozy & warm back there even in January in New England….
My earliest car memory is in a Chevy station wagon on a long trip(from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean). I was small enough to curl up on the floor next to the family dog who was also curled up on the floor next to my mother’s feet. I can still remember laying my head on the warm transmission hump and going to sleep listening to the sound of the drive train. There were no child seats back then and nobody wore seat belts. I had free reign of the entire car from my dad’s lap to the extreme rear next to the back window. Yet I never fell out of a window or a door even though there were no child safety door or window locks.
Great article and enjoyable reading the comments too. My first memory is of my fathers 1952 Studebaker flatbed farm truck. It had an eight track tape deck in it and I could pick out the music that I wanted by the color of the tapes! My favorite was ‘Yes Fragile’—it was pink. This is not the truck, but it was nearly identical; yellow with aftermarket blinkers atop the front fenders.
Thanks for the reprise on this Paul; somehow I missed the original. My earliest automotive memory also involves the cubby behind the rear seat. My Dad bought a brand new ’62 Beetle; his first new car. The sounds, the smells… you described it perfectly!
Paul, it is amazing how similar our childhood automotive experience looks. I am all of 2 years younger than you. An uncle had a car: oval window VW, I believe “Reseda Green”, and my usual place was exactly the same as yours: in the cradle behind the rear seat were I often fell asleep.
Fiat 600, 1100, “Weltkugel” Taunus, and Lloyd Alexander are well inscribed into my memory. However, your home town offered the advantage of touristic prominence that my small town was lacking. No exotics got lost in our neck of the Black Forest.
A high light was accompanying uncle Peter on business trips in his company’s Mercedes Benz 180 (Ponton) I still recall him being pulled over by Police going 100km/h pulling a trailer which carries a speed limit of 80 km/h. (Herr Wachtmeister hatte keinen Humor.)
Living in the French occupied zone I saw many Citroen, Peugeot, Renault and the occasional Panhard. Quite common in our area was the DKW Sonderklasse, and micro cars like Goggomobile, BMW Isetta, and Messerschmidt. Many years later I saw a Jaguar E Type in nearby Baden-Baden.
All American cars were simply called “Strassenkreuzer” (road cruiser). They were rare enough to not bother with actual brand and model. I never saw one in our town.
I vaguely remember my father`s bullet nose Studebaker, but when I was about five years old, he bought home a used but very beautiful black `52 Cadillac four door. He had it for about three years, and then he bought a `53 Buick Roadmaster with factory air. My mom tells me that I was always a car guy. When I was three, I would go out with my parents and my father would point to certain cars and ask me “Phil, what car is that”? I would answer “Buick, Packard, Nash, Oldsmobile, Ford, Cadillac, Chrysler” and always got them right. Of course, I don`t remember it, but my mother does. I believe her.
I must have missed this one. Perfect description riding in the ‘suitcase well’ behind the rear seat. I was squeezed into that area when I was about 12 in our 66 Beetle. Parents and grandparents in the front and rear seats, about a 100 mile drive. All the engine and fan sounds and the heat was an experience I’ll always remember. Even loaded down with all that the car still did a good job of keeping up with freeway traffic as long as there were no steep hills. Fun read. Earliest memory is standing on the front seat of our 53-54 Chevy and mom’s arm flying up to save me if there was a quick stop.. And riding in the supermarket cart as a cigarette burned away in moms fingers, and other mom’s at the store doing the same. I always wanted that little piece of candy on the little lollipop that was the cars radio indicator.
I’m perceiving a generation gap here. Our first VW Bug was a new red 1961 model that I talked Mom and Pop into buying so I wouldn’t use so much gas driving back and forth to Pacific Lutheran University for my junior and senior years at college. They kind of wanted a new car anyway; by that time their 1950 Packard had well over 100k miles on it.
Not my earliest, but my most vivid early memory, is riding home from the dealership in the family’s new 1965 Ford Mustang fastback. I was 4 1/2. The darn rear seat did not really have a back and a bottom, but instead a curved, upholstered rear seat panel, so one would just slide down in a heap into the footwell. It was much better to fold the rear seat down and lie on the flat, carpeted floor, which we soon learned to do. But it got very hot under that big rear window under the bright California sun. Not having air conditioning, my parents always drove with the door windows down, so one got fairly well buffeted by the wind. Early on, I was disappointed, because our Mustang did not look like the others, driven by the parents of my schoolmates (quite a few middle class suburban Californians bought new Mustangs of the first iteration). Later on, I learned to embrace the fastback, it was special. The 289 V8, front disc brakes, and the four speed were also points of pride in the middle school bragging, a few years later, when I began to learn about the mechanical attributes of cars.
Paul, it’s great to hear about your earliest years and car memories. It think it’s safe to say that most of us here have a car obsession, and it’s cool learning more about how they started.
Paul: Such a great collection of early automotive memories! Glad to have a chance to read yours. The earliest car that I have memories of is my dad’s 1955 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan, that he purchased from the salesroom floor. It was yellow and white. I remember playing on our front porch, when a commercial truck came down the street, hitting it and opening up the left rear quarter panel as if with a can opener! Needless to say, I was traumatized; immediately bursting into tears and running to tell my dad that someone had hit his car! I JUST remembered that my dad was in uniform (US Army Reserve) and the driver of the truck turned out to be DUI. I still have a fondness for 55-56 Fords, altho by the time I started driving, dad had switched to Mopars! Thanks for sparking the memories!! 🙂
Great story and memories !
My first metal womb was this, the interior of a similar 1967 “Frog DAF”. That must have been around 1970 ~ 1971. I can relive every inch of it and remember the smallest details. And of course its neverending soothing diesel sound. You could almost count the strokes when it was idling. This could be the most durable DAF model ever built, a popular classic truck now.
Other vehicles I remember very well from the early seventies, and none of them was ours:
-a black Fiat sedan, it had double headlights.
-a dark purple Mercedes-Benz W115 diesel.
-a small white Hanomag-Henschel double cab flatbed truck with wooden removable sideboards.
-a blue Volkswagen double cab pickup. (the typical flat VW light blue)
-a conventional Scania 85-series 4×2 truck.
-a Hanomag farm tractor with a straight six diesel, IIRC it was all red. No cab, no rollbar.
The exterior, you can clearly see why it was called a “Frog DAF”.
The one I spent a lot of time in had a longer wheelbase and a longer bed. And it was white. It had one right mirror, not the round one and the curbside mirror.
(Photo courtesy ClassicPark.nl)
Although I’ve been reading since 2012, I hadn’t come across these before and am really enjoying your story, Paul.
I’ll chime in with my earliest memories:
* c. 1985 sitting on the hot, beige vinyl backseat of my parents’ grey Chevette Scooter, strapped into a carseat, watching my mom shift the manual transmission as we drove in un-airconditioned South Florida heat behind the buzzy engine to the Publix or Winn-Dixie.
* c. 1985 opening the rear door of my best friend’s mom’s Ford Grenada, accidentally setting off the alarm. The mother criticizing the alarm for being so easy to set off (and not blaming me! She was so nice.)
* c. 1986 coming out of a restaurant where I had just had dessert with my parents and paternal grandparents. It was twilight/sunset and I was watching from the front steps of the restaurant as my grandfather’s brand new sky blue Grand Marquis LS swung around from behind the restaurant, coach lamps softly lit, AOD transmission making the Hydramatic-esque whir, car just looked so big and shiny in the Florida dusk. Climbing in and whisking away on the freeway in air conditioned silence, looking up over the hood from the backseat to watch the Lincoln-style hood ornament floating along and the green glow from the silver gages in the dark. I was hooked on big American cars from that day forward. The experience of being in one just seemed so much better than the Chevette, or even the Hondas that followed it.
I am afraid that I missed the point of the article. Instead I was taken back to the Austria I visited in 1966 and 1968. The country was poor then, still recovering from the war, but the people I met and the experiences I had were unforgettable. Thank you for reminding me of them.
“On our daily walk to the markets, I would make my mother stop…”
My mother said that when I was a child in early 1960s Vancouver, there was no such thing as a short walk to the post office – I had to stop and examine every single car that we passed.
Hmmmm… my earliest car memories are foggy ones of a Checker Aerobus on a family vacation, probably summer of ’65 or ’66. My father was, er, kinda cheap and would look for bargains at fleet auctions, and Aerobuses made for good vacation cars for our extended family.
The first picture looks familiar. My very first auto memory was sleeping on the package shelf of Dad’s ’47 Dodge two-door on long trips. Same upholstery, same coziness. Those Dodges were QUIET cars.
I’m seeing only 4 of the photos.
I was in a 1st grade carpool with a Beetle one day a week in ’67-8. Someone had to sit in the wayback. Not as roomy as our ’63 Impala wagon.
Congratulations and thank you
This would be the first car I rode in, it was a Holden panel van with a back seat fitted after sale, which was a cheap way to get a station wagon back then, but with only 2 doors of course.
I only have the haziest recollection of looking out the window of it, but a much clearer one of being in the dealership when it got traded on a EH holden wagon in 1965, I remember there was the latest model, a yellow HD sedan also in the showroom.
The floor of the showroom was grey painted concrete, I was 3 years old at the time.
If you click on the pic, it appears the right way up, its actually a nice shot of one of these, my Dad was pretty handy with a camera back in the day.
Also meant to say I love the shot looking out the split window, (first pic.)
Its exactly what a youngster would see lying back there.
We had a cousin who owned a VW from from the late ’50s or early ’60s and while it not a split-window VW, and while it was my first automotive memory, I also recall sitting in that small luggage compartment behind the rear seat of the car. I also have memories of standing on the center of the front bench seat beside my father who was driving the car. One day my head touched the ceiling of the car. And then there are memories of laying on the “package shelf” behind the rear seat of the car and of sitting in the back seat, being unable to see anything except the back of the front seat and the sides of the closed car doors, and then getting car sick.
Count me in as someone else who sometimes travelled on longer trips in the “sleeping compartment” – that’s really what we called it – when I was 4 or 5 (probably younger too, but don’t remember back that far). A soft foam “bed” was cut to the size of the floor to make it more comfortable (or was that a standard feature or accessory?) What I don’t remember is what kind of car it was. It may have been an old Beetle, or a 1960 Corvair, or something else. The older Beetles had more room back there before they moved the back seat about 2″ rearward, right? The larger windows on later Bugs seemed to intrude too. Anyway I then had to ride in a Falcon 4 door sedan that didn’t have a “sleeping compartment” and I didn’t like it. I began to wonder why more cars didn’t have sleeping compartments; I liked them.
Thanks for a wonderful essay to give us a glimpse into your childhood. Living in The Bronx in the 1950’s, I can tell you that seeing these cars during the announcement weeks for the various autos was a thrill. My friends and I would go to dealerships on The Grand Concourse to look at the new cars, to gather brochures and to just look in disbelief. In 1956, a Dodge with a Highway Hi-Fi for example. The striking 1955 Chevy’s. Just a few remembrances.
Paul, In 1975 I found an old red 1950 Taunus just like the one you showed. It was in a scrapyard, wrecked in the back, but the front world emblem was very nice. So I ended up buying the emblem, complete with the chrome surround. I’ve still got it today. If someone is restoring one of these cars and needs it, they can contact me thru you.
Awesome column. Thank you for writing it. My earliest memory involves a car. I could not have been older than 3 1/2 (summer of 1964). My uncle bought a used C-1 Corvette, he lived in Brooklyn. My father sat me down on the hump between the seats and the three of us went for a ride with the top down – across the Brooklyn Bridge. The blast of sensory input is forever etched in my mind. The growl of the engine, the pull of acceleration, seeing the infrastructure of the bridge above me, the smell and feel of the wind, Even that slight stink of the open crankcase ventilation (the only modification I made was removing the tube and replacing it with a PCV valve, which was a modification Chevrolet made in 61).
So I have my own C-1. Manual steering, manual drum brakes, kingpin front end. Primitive. No fun to parallel park. But I love driving it. The low belt line and windshield, along with the cowl vent make it as close to a motorcycle as you can get on 4 wheels. I drove the car once with the hardtop on, promptly took it off and put it in a storage unit – haven’t set eyes on it in 6 years. Haven’t seen the convertible top in five.
My wife cannot get over the reaction people have to it. It literally stops traffic. It’s got to be the most photographed car in the county. People love it, even people too young to have seen one in the wild.
Trying to upload photo