(I no longer have any pictures of either car I’m writing about; all pictures in this post are from the internet.)
I got my first car when I was 13 years old, and I fell in love with it right away. It was a 1979 Honda Accord hatchback with a semi-automatic transmission that had been my grandmother’s car. I drove it back and forth in our driveway, which was about 50 yards long, and dreamed of the day when I could drive it on the street. I looked at it from every angle, and sat in it, and played with all the features. But when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, it was not mine to drive, because it had been a present to both me and my older sister. I would have to wait until she was done with it.
Not a Japanese Scirocco
In the meantime, I was lucky enough to have another car to drive, a hand-me-down from my cousin, who had received it from my other grandparents, Grandma and Poppa: a 1981 Buick Skylark Limited. In 1985, at age 16, this was a pure dork-mobile, and I had to drive it while my sister drove our ’79 Accord!
But I wasn’t relegated to the Buick all that often, as I was away at boarding school most of the time, and when I was home, whenever I could, I would borrow my Mom’s 1984 Volvo 740 GLE wagon with a 4-speed + overdrive manual transmission. Then in 1986, my sister got a brand new VW Jetta and I moved up to the Accord.
Two-speed semi-automatic transmission
Despite the semi-automatic, I couldn’t have been more excited to finally have this cool car to myself! No more AM Radio (like in the Buick), as the Accord had a Panasonic tape deck and aftermarket speakers in the doors. No more smoke coming out from under the hood every time I turned the wheel, like in the Buick. And this Honda was fun to drive, with a very direct and solid feel that was most similar to the BMW 2002 I owned years later.
My first car accident was with one of these
And within almost no time, I crashed it fairly hard. I was trying to jump the car off of a peak in the road to show off for my buddy, and as I looked to see his reaction, the car in front of me swung wide left and then turned right to enter a driveway, and by the time I saw the car and slammed on the brakes we couldn’t stop and smashed into the side of a big, late-70’s Thunderbird! No one was hurt, but I smashed the Thunderbird’s big passenger door in, and smashed up the front of the Honda, and neither the driver’s door nor the passenger’s door of the Honda would open. We had to climb out Dukes of Hazard style.
Well the Honda had $3,000 worth of damage, which meant it was totaled, but my generous Dad opted to fix the car anyway. He even got the whole car painted so it wouldn’t have mismatched paint.
All was well for a while after that, as I drove the Accord throughout New England in summers, and whenever I could on other school breaks, and even occasionally between boarding school in Massachusetts and my girlfriend in New York City. The car only had two-speeds, but could hit 50 mph in first and about 97 or 98 in second. My highway speeds would often move past 80, and more than a few times past 90, and the car would scream down the highway, at 4500 RPM or more in high gear. In fact, I regularly got only 19 mpg in the Accord as a result of the 2-speed transmission.
Because of my habit of speeding, and because my parents were both speeders too, I used a hand-me-down Passport radar detector, made by Cincinnati Microwave, to reduce the danger of speeding tickets.
License and registration?
On the way to visit the college I would soon attend, Bates College, I was pulled over doing more than 90 in a 55 on I-95 near Ipswich, Massachusetts. When the policeman asked me for my license and registration, I had to confess that I’d lost my license in New York the prior weekend, and I could not find the registration in my glove compartment. I did have an insurance card, and I did have a radar detector. He said “you don’t have your license or your registration, and you’re a professional speeder?” as he pointed at the radar detector. I said it’s my Mom’s radar detector, and he said in a exasperated voice, “WELL THEN YOUR MOM IS A PROFESSIONAL SPEEDER!”
He said: “Son, do you realize that in order to give you a ticket, I’d have to arrest you and hold you in jail because I can’t even prove who you are?” Fortunately for me he decided that was more hassle than he or I felt like dealing with, and he let me go with a stern warning! I drove the speed limit the rest of the way!
My second accident was with one of these
Then in 1987 I graduated from boarding school and planned to go to college in the fall. A summer spent as a sailing instructor in Rhode Island was fun, but unfortunately, a bit hard on the Honda. When driving from one party to another one night with two friends, I was following an Alfa Romeo Milano at about 3 car lengths on a country highway doing about 45 mph. All of the sudden the driver in front of me stood on the brakes and came to a complete stop. I slammed on my brakes and seeing that I didn’t have enough stopping power, I steered to the left to try to pass him. ( I did not yet know to pump my brakes unfortunately.) My front passenger wheel locked up and my driver’s side wheel did not. I nearly stopped, and nearly got around him but in the end, I hit the driver’s side corner of his rear bumper with my far passenger side headlight, still moving somewhere between 3-5 mph. Since we were both braking hard, the tail of his car was high in the air and my car’s nose had dived. The result was my headlight was smashed and I had a small, one inch dent in the sheet metal and trim next to my headlight. His trunk was smashed in, however, and none of his doors would open. (I still can’t figure out how Alfa Romeo passed the 5 mph bummer test.)
When the cops got there, the other guy explained that he thought I had my brights on and was trying to force me to pass him. Turns out that one of my headlights was miss-aimed and hitting his mirror. The insurance properly identified the accident as my fault, despite his road-rage approach to getting me to pass, and as you can imagine my Dad was livid. He threatened to take my driver’s license away, but my Dad was in New York City and distance protected me. Insurance paid $5,000 to fix the other guy’s car, and Dad continued to pay my insurance.
My third accident was with one of these
I’m embarrassed to share this even now, but 9 days later, I fell asleep at the wheel driving home from a party when I had been encouraged not to drive, and drove right into a grassy ditch. While the car was still moving at probably 25-30 mph, the car hit a driveway that interrupted the ditch and launched into the air, while simultaneously a highway reflector scraped down the driver’s side of the car, smashing the mirror into my face through the open window, waking me up as I flew through the air and landed back in the ditch on the other side of the driveway and came to a stop.
I took a look around, no lights, no cars, no damage to anything but my car. I restarted my car (it had stalled in the accident) and drove back onto the road and home. Knowing that even my over-indulgent father would not stand for this, and would take away my car and license, I came up with a cover story that my car had been sideswiped. The lie stuck (forgive me Lord!), until I confessed it years later, and nothing happened, but I did get my act together, finally.
Then about a week or two later, I was giving my mom a ride somewhere and she noticed that the passenger side front suspension was not working properly, as the impact from landing in the ditch had trashed it. She said “Matthew, this car doesn’t feel right.” I said sheepishly “Really?” She then reminded me we’d just had the struts on the car replaced, and dragged me right up to the garage to get it sorted out.
How I expected my Dad to look
I thought, well the jig is up! Up we went to the garage where the mechanic checked the car out. He pressed down on the driver’s side, and it was normal, then he pressed down on the passenger side, and it bounced twice. He said, “wow, in all my years, I’ve never before seen a defective strut, but I guess you see everything once. I’ll get another and replace it.” Bullet dodged!
I went off to college in my Accord and met my roommate. The first thing we did once his family left was to set out together in the Accord to buy beer, with no success. Weeks later, when my roommate discovered that the Honda had a semi-automatic, he confessed that he thought I was strange for always shifting the automatic in my car.
Fall was fairly uneventful, from the perspective of the Honda. A few trips down to visit Tufts in Medford, MA, including one night when my buddy and I had to sleep in the car. Fortunately the front seats reclined completely.
The Accord’s new owner (actually a representation of him)
When I took the Accord home for Thanksgiving, my mom took it out for a drive on an errand, and that was it. She said this car is ugly (it still had the huge scrape down the driver’s side) and unsafe (the brakes were no longer working properly) and you can’t take it back to college. Next thing I knew, she sold it to the UPS man, who gave it to his mom!
Back to the Skylark
So it was back to the beige Skylark with the smoke pouring through the vents from the leaky steering rack. But not for long, because when I was home for vacation in February, Mom sold the Buick to the UPS man as well! And for a while I was car-less, until this!