I was barely a teenager and had my bedroom walls covered with pictures of and advertisements for various vehicles when I had decided I wanted an actual piece of a car in my room. I can’t remember what the source of my inspiration for this might have been. It might have been the Cord 810/812-shaped couch on the TV sitcom “My Two Dads”, though I can’t say for sure. It was also around this age that my eyes were perpetually glued to my copy of the Encyclopedia Of American Cars by the editors of Consumer Guide almost as much as I’ve been known to be on my smartphone on some days. Reading about yearly styling detail changes, like to header panels and taillamp lenses, had me focused specifically on the front clip of a car.
I had no spatial sense of true scale in terms of how this was going to work out. I didn’t realistically think I was going to be able to put the entire front end of a car in my bedroom on the lower level of my parents’ moderately sized split-level house. My first thought was that I wanted just the front nose cap of a ’73 Pontiac Grand Am to mount on one of my bedroom walls. Even by the late ’80s, this part would have been tough to find, let alone cost-prohibitive to a kid making paperboy money at the time. I was undeterred. With an uncharacteristically relaxed attitude about my idea, my mom basically said “okay”, handed me the Yellow Pages, and let me tie up our singular phone line that Saturday morning by calling various car parts vendors and body repair shops in and around Flint.
I started with some of the junkyards that lined North Dort Highway (Michigan highway M-54), with those businesses basically telling me that they wouldn’t have something like what I was looking for. I mean, I was only a kid and didn’t know what a tall order the first choice on my automotive wish list might have been. I was hoping against hope that there might have been some person who thought of an early G/A as just another old GM Colonnade coupe and had junked it, with no other parts-seekers recognizing the special nature of its pliable Endura front fascia. I didn’t want a front grille assembly of, say, a Cavalier or something. This sculptural installation piece had to be special in some way.
Without giving up hope, I let my fingers do more walking, and I eventually landed on a business called Flint Bumper Mart in the northern suburb of Burton. (I’m so happy to find out they’re still in business, now for over fifty years.) The gentleman who took my call was patient and listened as I explained to him what I was looking for, and the purpose for which I wanted it. Thinking back to this as an adult, I can imagine it must have taken a good listening ear for an adult to extract from an adolescent exactly what the order of business was. I don’t remember many specifics about that conversation, but he did mention that they had in stock the rear bumper cover of a ’79 (or so) Corvette that had some light damage. Corvette?, I was thinking. Let’s go. Now. “MOMMMMMM… I think I found something! Can we go soon before they sell it?”
I’m not sure how soon after I shouted my request across the house that we left, but at some point that afternoon, my mom, my brother, and I were in the family Tempo driving north to Flint Bumper Mart to check out the merchandise. Those kind people at the store were very helpful, and after showing us the rear bumper cover (finished in factory Dark Blue metallic) and pointing out the scratches and minor damage to the bumper cover, I could barely contain my excitement when the salesman quoted me a price of just $25. I have wondered sometimes if they had given me a low price just because I was a kid, or maybe for positive word-of-mouth for their establishment, but I rode away from Flint Bumper Mart that day with one of my most prized purchases of my entire life up to that point.
I fed Christmas tree lightbulbs through the individual holes around the inset taillight-mounting brackets, bought a set of four, domed, red taillamp covers and a “Corvette” license plate for it, and mounted the whole ensemble on my bedroom wall using drywall screws and household tools. When the lights were plugged in, I’d turn off all the other lights in my room and gaze at it, dreaming of one day cruising the streets of Flint at night in my own Corvette. This bumper cover followed me to the walls of my first college dormitory room in Florida. I still own it today, though it’s currently wrapped up and in storage. I just can’t part with it, even if I’m all grown up and have decorated my home in an age-appropriate way for a forty-something. If I had a house with a garage or a basement, I might have found some way to incorporate my Corvette piece into the decor in one of those two areas.
My badge-less bumper cover might actually be from a ’79, the Corvette’s all-time-high sales mark, with about 53,800 sold. This was a high annual figure for a premier sports car by any standard, but especially for one in the twelfth year of its basic design – which makes this number seem all the more mind-blowing. Its $12,313 base price translates to about just over $47,000 in 2022. The base price of a new Corvette coupe starts at around $60,900, but few could argue against that fact that the C8 is of a much more sophisticated ilk than the ’79 C3 was in its day. That’s not the point of this story, though. A Corvette is a Corvette. A little kindness and patience go a long way, and when the owners of one auto parts store in the greater Flint area took the time to do business with some random kid, their acts of goodwill and great service left an indelible mark on me. Flint Bumper Mart granted me the ability to purchase one of my most treasured souvenirs of my formative years spent in the birthplace city of General Motors – and one I may never part with.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Friday, May 1, 2015.
Cool. I once had a header panel off a c. 1982 Lincoln Town Car on my wall. Not by any particular choice, I just happened to come across it for free. A local body shop was throwing it out and I intercepted it on it’s way to the dumpster. My younger brother has it now, incorporated into his custom built DJ booth.
That Lincoln header panel is exactly the kind of cool thing that no one else would have in their room, at any cost. So glad it was able to be repurposed in the way you described. That sounds really cool.
Don’t ever let go of that bumper cover, Joseph (I know you won’t)!!!!
The funny thing was that in the last place I had it stored, it had become deformed by having a heavy item leaning against it. This wasn’t by design or carelessness – but I think something might have fallen or shifted. Anyway, I was disappointed, but still didn’t throw it out following this discovery. I just set it on top of things.
Later, when rearranging things a couple year ago, I took it out of its wrapper again to take one last look before getting rid of it… and lo and behold! It had regained its original shape. I’m so glad I kept it. I have no idea what I’ll do with it as long as I live here, but who knows? I’m a creative person. 🙂
I bet that looks cool all lit up!
If you ever have it out, take pics for us.
I was just looking through old albums to see if I could find a picture, and I can’t. I’m sure if I find one later, I’ll post a picture back here.
I never would have gotten away with putting a car bumper in my bedroom – it would have mysteriously disappeared one day while I was in school, like my other childhood belongings (my mom always swore she didn’t throw my stuff away, even after I caught her once with said items in the trash bin). Maybe posters would have survived. I had the Countach S poster in my college dorm room, some Camaro prints from a brochure, and a few other cars I don’t remember. I didn’t even like those cars; I just thought the other kids would find them cool-looking and the coolness would rub off on me (didn’t work – my roommate was critical of the then-new ’82 Camaro brochure cutout on the wall, ironically criticizing the plastic bumpers and cladding). The cars I really found cool I’d never find posters for, at least back then.
But actual car parts on display? The closest I came to that whilst living in my parents’ home were accidental, random parts left over from old cars my family owned left in some odd corner of the basement. There was a faulty speedometer removed from my dad’s ’66 Dodge Polara wagon (which must be one of the largest speedos ever, with a separate dial for another gauge in its center and the speedo numbers surrounding it), which long survived the car it was pulled from in a corner of the basement, under a big table there. Nearby was one of its original tires, which taught me that old bias-ply tires had widths as well as diameters sized in inches rather than the curiously odd width-in-cm/diameter-in-inch sizing used today. Also, the edge of the sidewall where it met the tread looked like a pie crust, and there was one of those stick-on whitewall stripes to upgrade the look of cars with blackwall tires (and dog dishes, in this case), which was starting to peel off. After the car was junked in 1982, the red center console bin lived a second life on the basement shelves holding small parts, and it somehow wound up at my older brother’s house in his garage where I noticed it a few weeks back. I also still have a can of Ford touch-up paint from my mom’s ’60 Falcon (light blue, also matches Mercury and Edsel), and in my bedroom now on a shelf is a circa-’63 unopened can of STP (product of Studebaker Corporation, it says on the back) that was still on my folks’ car-parts shelf when they moved out of their old house.
The only car part I ever considered buying strictly as room decoration was a clock from a ’55 or ’56 Packard, which surely I could get running on my desk with a 12v power supply, right? And maybe some help from a clockmaker since old pre-quartz clocks often aren’t running or don’t keep good time. Choice of size since Packard made the clock bigger in ’56 to make it easier to read. They still show up on eBay and elsewhere and aren’t too expensive, but I never got around to it.
There is hope for you on the clock – it is my understanding that there are vendors out there who sell quartz movements for retrofitting the clocks on classic cars of all kinds. Go for it!
There are, and that would certainly make it more accurate, but “quartzed-out” vintage clocks are the restomods of the timepiece world. I’d rather keep it authentically mechanical, just like my watch, with real clockwork inside. Maybe it’s because I grew up with electronics, but the notion you can keep time with nothing but a hundred tiny little pieces of various shapes moving around, governed by springs, a balance wheel and an escapement, seems more amazing than having a microchip do the work.
I’m not a clock/watch geek (for which my bank account and spouse are surely most grateful) but I agree with you completely. A vintage timepiece going Cleck…Cleck…Cleck…Cleck instead of TICKtickTICKtickTICKtickTICKtick is about as interesting to me as yet another zombie that looks like a vintage car until I get close enough to see and hear yet another Chev 350, yet another Pinto steering rack, etc.
I don’t think I ever knew about the stick-on whitewall stripes for tires. I imagine it would have taken a very steady hand and good eye to make that look decent. I could definitely imagine the appeal back in the day, when whitewall tires were part of a car’s overall look.
And don’t feel too bad. My share of things went missing, as well. Looking back at this as an adult, I get that there’s limited space in a house and I think my mom had an aversion to clutter.
The center console of the Polara sounds (in theory, anyway) like it could be purposed for something really cool. I’d love to see a DIY show on something like that.
Stick-on whitewalls (and white paint kits too!) were a staple of the J.C.Whitney catalog back in the day. I’m guessing some auto parts stores sold them too.
The center console was probably an aftermarket piece, really just a bin that fastened to a metal insert in the floor in front of the bench seat, though it matched the red interior perfectly.
Jealous. That is me. There was no way I would ever have gotten that plan approved when I was that age. I had to settle for pictures cut from car ads all over the door surfaces in the room. By the time I got to college and had the autonomy, I had a real car and no extra money for wall art.
And I still remember how intimidating it was at that age to deal with adults in businesses that didn’t typically deal with kids. I still remember being about 12, calling tire stores looking for a tire that would fit an old go-kart. The guys on the other end of the line were businesslike enough, but more than one of them called me “Ma’am” because my voice had not matured yet.
I like these late C3s more than I used to.
I too like the C3s more than I used to. Back in 98 I had the chance to buy an 80 with a 4 speed no less, pretty cheaply. I now wish I would have…
Speaking of adult intimidation of kids, I had a hard enough time with some of my newspaper customers when I was delivering the Flint Journal. Some of my customers would pay without any problems when I came to “collect”. Others, though, would definitely give me the business. I was just too damned “nice”, or flat-out intimidated by some of these adults who would tell me something and not actually give me my money.
Part of what made this Corvette piece so cool to me was that there was no parental pushback or negative associations with this cool thing I had thought of doing and executed so well. There’s an emotional attachment to it, for sure.
In my childhood, used to go to a magazine shop with my sister…we were supposed to pick out a comic book, but after some point I started picking out a car magazine instead. The proprietor would look at me at try to talk me out of buying the car magazine, thinking I’d be happier with the comic book…a few years earlier that might have been true, but….I did really want the car magazine (forget which one it was).
Talk about a score. For years now you have owned more Corvette than many people will ever experience!
Like some of the others, I have amassed a selection of miscellaneous auto parts which would lend themselves well to some type of decoration. Tail lights from a ’74 Fury, badges and nameplates from a second generation Kaiser, and a trove of small parts for ’63 to ’65 Ford Galaxies. They just all need to find a new home.
Kudos to the store owner from back in the day for taking you seriously. I was recently dealing with a 16 year old for a large item I was selling (he was from the Chicago area, incidentally) and patience is indeed the operative word at times. While the deal didn’t go through he thanked me for taking the time to talk to him and answer his unending questions. Sounds like that differed from prior experiences, which is kind of unfortunate.
Good on you, Jason, for helping that 16 y/o who was only a few years older than me at the time of my Corvette bumper purchase! I hope you’re able to find a good buyer for your galaxy of Galaxie parts.
This is great. It’s exactly the kind of thing I might have done, but I had voluntarily opted for the smallest room in our house at that age, approximately 8’X10′. I not sure why I felt more comfortable in that tiny tomb-like room, but it felt like my own little vault. My improvised decor of choice at that age was mostly made up of bags, boxes and advertising materials from or for random high-end retailers and odds bits of mid-century ephemera sourced from the basements and attics of grandparents. The car-bodyparts-as-furniture “thing” was pretty big in pop culture back then. I can recall ’50’s Chevy and Cadillac front and rear clips being incorporated into various movie and TV show sets as well as trendy decorating publications. If I hadn’t chosen to live in what was basically a walk-in closet with a window and closet of its own, I’d probably have embarked on a similar journey to yours. (Un?)Fortunately I’ve never been one to hold onto “stuff”, with the exception of some collected small items with family memories attached. I commend you for still retaining this piece. I you find a spot to display it again one day.
I can see the appeal of having a small room like that! Kind of like your own hideout. Absolutely, that would have been neat, barring the need to have friends over in a space of the house that was off limits to others.
You also make a good point about car-bodyparts-as-furniture being a very ’80s thing. The “My Two Dads” reference was the first thing that came to mind when I was drafting this, but I remember being lots of other instances of this in pop culture, in general. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse had some Cadillac couch in it, or something else I can’t remember right now.
Cool story, my first car part was a leftover hubcap from my uncle’s 1946 Ford, I still have it and it’s serving as a cap on the chimenea in our garden.
When I was 14 my sister was dating a guy with a white Corvette just like that. He took me for a ride, and I wasn’t that impressed. It wasn’t that fast, and because it was new everything worked and there was nothing to fix. Where was the fun in that? 😉
Doug, I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever ridden in a C3. I’m trying hard to remember. Maybe 7 years ago, there was a dealer in the greater Chicago area with a latter-day C3 in need of a little TLC (but mechanically sound) that had me thinking I needed to ride the Metra commuter rail out there to experience it, but that just never happened. I think the asking price was $8,000. Wisely, at the time, I just continued to save my money.
Your story definitely resonates with me. I’ve probably shared this story here on CC before, but if so, here it is again:
When I was about 10 years old, a buddy of mine found a pair of California license plates (he had a hobby of rifling through other people’s trash cans, which is how he found them). He kept one, and gave me the other – and that started me on a quest to collect license plates. Back then, license plates weren’t easy to find, especially those from out of state (we lived in Pennsylvania).
I mentioned to my mom that I’d love to get some license plates from far-away places, and she suggested that I write letters to every state’s governor, saying that I was a kid, and that I’d love a license plate from their state. I actually did that, in about 1984. Of course, I’m sure mom made that suggestion hoping that it would keep me busy for a while… and that certainly worked. It’s not quick to write out 49 letters to governors.
Not all governors responded, but several did… sending me license plates. They quickly found their way onto my bedroom wall. I still have those plates today (no, not on my bedroom wall any longer), and have even kept up the hobby through all these decades.
Have you met Rick? Not me… this guy: http://www.ricksplates.com/
There’s a wealth of information there regarding license plates, especially from our general area/region.
I have met Rick, at license plate meets occasionally. I haven’t been to a license plate meet in a few years, but since the national convention is in Virginia Beach this year, I’m hoping to be able to make it down there.
Rick’s website is a great resource too – I use it often… whenever I’m curious about some arcane detail of Maryland or some other plates.
I love that you took the time to write these governors, and that some of them responded. It must have brought them (or their offices) some low-key joy to receive a handwritten request like yours, especially versus a complaint of some kind. Just a good, cool, innocent hobby from a good kid looking to collect license plates.
That was a big job for a kid. Just getting each governor’s name and address was time consuming – I remember spending a day at the library copying down that information from The World Book.
We had a typewriter at home, so I typed all the letters and envelopes — and most often, I had to retype them. More than once.
However, getting responses from the governors was exhilarating. I saved most of those letters too… they’re in a box in the basement somewhere.
I’m a bit surprised I didn’t do something along those lines. But in my case, it would have had to be an old engine, like a Chrysler hemi. That might have been harder to pull off.
»smacking myself upside the head« Wow, I coulda had a Slant-6!
Thanks, Paul! I might have thought to mention in my essay that this bumper cover was engineered nearly perfectly to be able to be affixed to a flat plane with minimal gaps. I’d use a tape measure to get the screws in the wall to match perfectly with the holes in the back of the bumper cover, and then once everything was in place, my Corvette piece went up nearly flush against the wall. It was truly awesome. I can’t think of a more ideal way that this had worked out.
Nice of the guy in the C3 to give you a wave, Joseph!
A guy that lived right down the street from me where I grew up had one of these, a 1979 C3 Corvette with the exact same wheels. He got it brand new at the age of 19 or 20. His was black though. He kept that car perfect, until he traded it in on a 1984 Porsche 944 in silver, also new.
As to car art? That would’ve been cool! The closest I ever came to that was a C-Pillar ornament from a ’67 or ’68 LTD that I had on my drafting board.
As to the Cord Couch on My Two Dads… priceless. I remember this vividly. Wasn’t that Paul Riser’s first TV Show before he became famous for Mad About You?
I see the driver and this Corvette on the roads in and around my neighborhood in warm weather months! I often think, “This could be me.” The car is still in beautiful, pristine, stock shape, even in the almost seven years since I got these photos.
And yes, I also think this was Paul Reiser’s first show. Staci Keenan went on to become a successful attorney!
Joseph, I think this is my favourite writeup from you (a fiercely-contested spot on the list).
I was fortunate enough to have more than a few shopkeepers and other busy grownups do like this for me instead of go away, kid.
You bring to mind that scene in the “Chinpokomon” episode of South Park where Cartman has just seen the ad for actual, real Chinpokomon toys and hyperactively informs his mother that they’ve got to go to the toy store right now.
Like that time I called up the Fram people when I was 14 or 15 to kvetch about their having discontinued the metal ’61-’69 Chrysler PCV valve, and they responded by sending me the remaining 300 of them.
Daniel, thank you so much! Your first thoughts have me reflecting how in a business setting, as well as personally (and also at CC), how important it can be to treat other people with respect. I’ve heard it said that people don’t necessarily remember what you did or what you said – they remember the way you made them feel, above all else. These are just some of the words I live by.
Shockingly for me, “South Park” was never on my radar as must-see TV, so I miss most of the cultural references people have made about the show, though I have seen more than a few episodes. Maybe it will be one of those shows like “Seinfeld” that I couldn’t stand when new episodes were airing due to the shows ubiquity, but came to really appreciate later.
South Park isn’t great—or even good—art, and its comedic half-life is very short. Then again, nobody ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the masses (–Mencken, 1928, in re tabloids). Viz The [zombie undead] Simpsons.
When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I tried to talk my Dad into getting me an old car engine from a wrecking yard, he never actually said no, but the engine never made an appearance either, though for about a month I used to check the back of the Holden wagon when he came home from work.
Of course I never paid any thought as to getting it in there and l out again.
I’m trying to figure out why that archway built into the rug-cleaning store behind the Corvette extends one length beyond the building, over the left side of the fence. Weird. And then there’s that little extension of the store to its right, almost on top of the neighboring house.
Just to be mid-century awesome, I’m sure. Lots of architectural choices made in that era don’t make “sense” to me, either, but I don’t love them any less. I hope this storefront never gets remodeled. In the meantime, I’m glad I have these (and other) pics of it.
The closest thing I had with the auto part as a home deco was a Taurus (1986–1991) headlamp that came from one of the fleet cars. While its indestructible lens was intact, its anchor points were broken from the collision and couldn’t be used.
I modified it to be the doorbell flasher in lieu of bell or chime since I am deaf. I built the stand to anchor the headlamp so it pointed upward to the ceiling. Boy, the headlamp was so bright and almost impossible to overlook anywhere in the apartment flat except the bathroom with door closed.
One evening, a guy came in to collect the furniture I no longer wanted. He was so curious about the headlamp as a “lamp” and had a closer look. He looked directly into the headlamp while my mischievous friend rang the doorbell. A blinding and blazing mistake…
I think that was a brilliant repurposing. (And poor furniture guy!)
This late 50’s Chevy/GMC door, found in a friend’s aunt’s field in Montana, is one of my most prized possessions. I made a clock out of a Rambler wheel cover years ago for my step dad, who’s last name started with an “R,” and last year I made myself one from a mid-70’s Cadillac wheel cover. The biggest coincidence- or was it planned (?)- is that it has exactly 60 slots for the minute and second hands!
There are no coincidences! I would put that classy Cadillac clock in my living room. Great pieces.
I still feel like I need to post at least one picture of my Corvette bumper in the comments, so I may have to get it out of its storage blanket just to post a quick shot here. Commenters here like you and a few others have been generous in sharing pictures of your own treasures.
Now you _must_ post pictures or it never happened…. =8-) .
Great story well told Sir .
In the 1960’s I occasionally found bits and bobs off random junked 1920’s cars, I wish I still had them .
Right after I bought my house in 1988 I took a road trip across America and in some tiny farming town where I stopped to talk to a welder I discovered an ‘A’ model Ford transmission sane top, it was full of blown in dirt and had wild flowers growing out of it, I paid the guy $3 for it and pissed off my ex wife for several years by keeping it on my front porch…
The same shops out back scrap pile had a 192? Nash front 1/3, saved as a useful A.P.U., I still have the cloisonne ‘NASH” emblem from it’s radiator .
I enjoy hearing all the stories about car magazine pictures etc. on the bedroom walls, I’d never been allowed to put anything up and find it cool that others could .
You’re very correct that those few ‘adults’ who took the time to talk to young boys instead of turning up their nose and being rude, are never forgotten .
I like the GM Task Force truck door too .
That’s great Joseph .