Auto-Biography: Lost Vintage Snapshots of Niedermeyer-Mobiles Found (1965-1982)

taking my brothers for a drive, age 12

I visited my youngest brother Franz in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and  asked him about old family photos. He dug out a box of prints from the Towson era (starting in 1965) which I had never seen before. Jackpot! It gives me a chance to provide some visual proof that my stories weren’t (all) fiction.

First up is me behind the wheel of the ’65 Dodge Coronet wagon from 1965 or so, making me 12 or 13. Yes, I did start driving the Coronet illicitly at a young age, but not quite this young, at least not on public roads, although this appears to be a cemetery. And not with my two younger brothers in the back seat. But the fact that this photo exists supports the reality that I was obsessed with driving and that my parents were aware of that. So why did they get so upset when I got caught driving at age 15?

This is a shot of me vacuuming the Coronet, taken from the patio over the garage, also from the same vintage. I was an avid car washer, and my compensation was being allowed to drive it out of the garage in order to do so. That was trickier than might be assumed, as the garage, to the left of this picture, was a very tight 90 degree turn from the driveway. I got lots of maneuvering practice before that fateful day — when my parents were away — and I just headed up the driveway and kept going.


So far this is the only photo with the 1965 Opel Kadett A. I was really hoping for a color photo, as it was green, to go along with its nickname The Frog, which it dubbed because my father would invariably pop the clutch, which launched the little critter into a series of hops. I have yet to do a proper write-up of the Frog, having long given up finding one. Maybe this will have to do.

The lovely young lass was my 7th grade girlfriend, my first hot and heavy romance. Not! She and her little sister (in the Coronet with my younger brother) and her mom came to visit us in Towson in the summer of 1966; they had been our next door neighbors in Iowa City. I think they were on a trip to Washington DC.

Is this the best find of the bunch? My father with his 1968 Dodge Dart, taking refreshments after a hike. Yes, that’s what he used to wear on Sunday hikes back then, right down to the color-matching pants (he eventually relented and started wearing jeans for hiking). The Dart replaced the Kadett after it started showing some signs of wear and tear, likely exacerbated by my older brother’s vigorous driving technique and baiting VWs into street light races, which of course the lighter Kadett invariably won.

The Dart was a stripper two-door with the 170 cubic inch six and a three speed manual. Zero options; a cheap little portable AM radio rode on the dashboard so he could listen to the news on his 45 minute commute to Johns Hopkins hospital.  In other word’s, the neurologist’s car of choice.

This photo not only excited me but even more so my older brother, as it’s the only one that’s been found of his 1957 MGA. It was obviously a rusty and tired pile hiding under a $29.95 Earl Scheib paintjob and some pop-riveted sheet metal sills when he bought it, but he just had to have it, his first car and an MG at that.

Trying to stem the forces of entropy that were aggressively at work on the MG was a losing battle. The engine blew up, and he swapped in one from a junkyard Metropolitan. There were endless issues with the electrical system. It was seemingly impossible to keep the brake system’s fluid inside its cylinders. I remember the ritual of soaking brake shoes in gasoline. But then all the other fluid-filled organs leaked and oozed too, leaving a growing miniature tar pit on the driveway. A front fender went AWOL in a minor accident, and I was enlisted as a lookout while he liberated one from an unwitting donor car parked behind a business in Towson. It was bright red and rather stood out; I wondered if that might be a bit obvious in case the owner of the red car ever saw it in Towson?

But it was a ball to ride in it on a warm summer evening, and I once took it out too on an illicit drive. What a revelation, that very direct and quick rack and pinion steering compared to the Coronet’s numb and slow power steering. And that notchy little stub of a shifter. It was hardly fast, and its actual cornering abilities were modest, made more so by the very cheap Wards bias ply tires on it. But it was a blast nevertheless; and the sensations are still vivid in my memory.

When the MGA finally succumbed to stasis from another serious engine malady, my father finally called a tow truck and had it hauled off. Live and learn.

It was replaced in its parking place by its polar opposite: a very hale and hearty three-year old white 1966 VW 1300 that my father financed for $900. What a contrast; it was like new, utterly reliable and it ran like a top. As I pointed out in my CC on the 1300, that was the sportiest Beetle and it introduced me to the joys of oversteer, something that I still savor in my xB since I cut off its front anti-roll bar.

In the summer of 1971, I was back in Towson while my family was off in Europe, including my brother and sister who hitchhiked down to Yugoslavia. I drove it hard and fast all that summer, including some long drives to visit girl friends who were lonely on their family vacations on the beach and such. I fell in love with it, even more than the girls.

It was still in great shape with well over 100k miles on it (and the original engine) when he sold it to a young woman I knew in Iowa City in 1972 or so. She had it for a number of years yet and she lent it to me a year or so later for a wild winter drive on fresh ice up to Janesville, WI. It led to me buying two (also white) VWs, a ’64 and then a ’63 after my ’63 Corvair started showing signs of age. No pictures to be found of them, or the Corvair, although I distinctly remember a photo of the ’64 taken from the living room, dressed as as an Easter Bunny with big ears. Maybe it will show up yet.

I have written up four short posts of some of my on my experiences with my Beetles; links below.

This is me, age 16 (1969) working weekends at Ringgold’s BP station at the corner of York Road and Washington Avenue, in the heart of Towson. This was my second gas station job; the first was when I was 15, when I got a job solo-tending a very quiet two-pump Sunoco station on Saturdays, also on York Road, near Towson University. Both are long gone.

Robert Ringgold, who was Black, had formerly been a liquor store delivery driver, discreetly servicing the well-off and often alcoholic clients (mostly women) who lived north of Towson in big houses or country estates. He was consummately polite to the point of being ingratiating. And unthreatening. So when he took over this gas station, they all became loyal customers, an endless parade of middle aged women in their late model Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Thunderbirds and a Mercedes or two.

In a addition to lots of new ball joints, brakes, tune-ups and other mechanical services that may or may not have been actually needed, a key service that he offered his regular customers were cheap but very thorough hand car washes (inside and out) in one of the two service bays. So all day Saturday another kid and I worked our butts off running between the service bay and the pumps, wiping windows, checking oil and tire pressures and washing cars. Robert was OCD; if they weren’t immaculate, he  would let us know in no uncertain words.

But on Sundays it was very quiet and I was there alone all day except when Robert would stop by after church and do a bit of sermonizing. He then paid me $35 in cash for the two days’ work and went home. That’s $300 in 2023 dollars, or almost  $20/hour. Not bad for a 16 year old back then, but I really did earn it on Saturdays. I spent it on food, records and a quality stereo set with a Dual turntable and AR speakers.

After Robert left, Rosanne Shalor, a sweet young 14 (or 13?) year old who lived across the street and had a crush on me would come over and visit. We’d go into the back room where the tires were changed and make out until our lips were chapped or the bell dinged. Be right there!

I eventually got fired because of my addiction to driving illicitly. I had taken the station work/shuttle truck, a 1966 Chevy Suburban, out for drives a couple of times on Saturday nights, since I had keys to the place. Someone had seen me and tipped Robert off, and that was that. My next job was at Towson Ford as a car jockey. Minimum wage, but now I finally had my license and I was getting paid to drive cars!

Since you’ve heard so much about the Not-Niedermeyers, here they all are in a family portrait when my sister Ruth came for a visit in 1969. She never moved to Towson with us in 1965, as she had just turned 18 and was more than ready to be independent. Within a year or so she ended up in Alaska, where she still lives. She has her shoulders not on her kid, but my youngest brother Franz, who is over 17 years younger than her. My older brother Tom moved back to Innsbruck some years back. And Karl, in the middle, died a few years back, as have my parents.

I’m going to divert from cars briefly to my other passion: mountaineering. My peak youthful experience in that realm was climbing 14,259′ high Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time in 1970. Here’s my sister (who did not summit) and a few friends resting up after the very early morning hike (starting at 3:30 AM or so) up to Boulder Field, with the famous vertical east face of Longs in the background. I must have taken the shot.

Here we are on the ascent on the technical North Face, which back then had some permanent cables for the most difficult parts. They were removed by the Park Service in 1973 or so, which means now the climb is even longer via the Keyhole route, which back then was the typical return route, thus avoiding oncoming traffic and minimizing rock fall risks.

I was chuffed to be on the summit, standing at the edge of the vast vertical east face, with the flatlands of eastern Colorado in the distance. I’ve been wanting it go back and do it again. Have I waited too long?

This is the only picture we found of my mom’s 1973 Coronet wagon which replaced the ’65, although it was still in quite good shape.  Sitting on the tailgate is my Aunt Maria and her husband, who came from Innsbruck for a visit in about 1981 or so. They also flew out to see us in LA too, which was a total ball. I used to get free press passes for Disneyland, but I’ve never seen anyone enjoy it more than these two. They were just like big kids, utterly enthralled and wanting to ride all the attractions.

And this is the only shot so far of my father’s Mercury Zephyr, stuck in a rare massive snowstorm near the Towson courthouse in 1983. True to form, it was a four cylinder, four speed manual version, and not a bad driving car. Truly the closest thing to an American Volvo 240 series.

That’s it for that period, but there were a couple more from 1982, when my mom visited us in Santa Monica. We drove up the PCH to a beach near Malibu in my 1980 Buick Skylark company car (in the parking lot) and frolicked in the sand with our daughter Emma. Stephanie is of course pregnant with son Ted. My mom and I went swimming in the ocean, which she loved.

I’m wearing my Speedos and Emma’s wearing nothing. Now I wear nothing (at my secret swimming hole).


Here’s the links to most of these cars:

Curbside Classic: 1965 Dodge Coronet 500 – Family Carma

Auto-Biography: D Stands For (First Illicit) Drive

Auto-Biography: 1968 Dodge Dart 170 Two-Door Sedan – The Neurologist’s Car Of Choice

Autobiography: 1957 MGA – Learning From Big Brother
Curbside Classic: 1966 VW 1300 – The Best Beetle Of Them All; Or At Least The Sportiest

Bug Tales:  Bug Tale 1: The Rolling Igloo   Bug Tale 2: Timing Is Everything

Bug Tale 3: Beyond Drafting   Bug Tale 4: Abrupt Change Of Consciousness
Auto-Biography: The Game of Foxes

CC/Auto-Biography: 1980 Buick Skylark – True Confession: I Gave Up A Peugeot 404 For One Of GM’s Deadliest Sins And It Wasn’t All That Bad

My full Auto-Biography series is here:

Paul Niedermeyer’s Auto-Biography Series