I’ve been debating this essay for a while, but now seems as good a time as any. With my grandmother Violet (referred to previously as Iris) having passed away in February, and my grandfather “Albert” no longer driving, their automotive story has wound down.
For perspective, my grandfather was born in March 1924; my grandmother in February 1927.
While you will notice a distinct commonality in most of their vehicles, there are also a few relative outliers. So let’s get started.
Ford Model A, year unknown
Uncle Sam knew how much every outgoing soldier had earned during their stint in the military and he was making darn sure what they were taking home didn’t exceed that amount. Gambling and other fun, related activities could quickly grow that amount. During Grandpa’s dismissal in St. Louis, there was a line where every serviceman had to present how much cash they had.
Figuring it up quickly, Grandpa knew he was in a bind. He’d discovered the fringes of the black market in Europe and cigarettes had proven to be lucrative.
It seems at that time a person could get a carton of cigarettes for $5 and a pack for $0.50 (he’s quoted those prices for over 20 years); he sold each pack to some poor soul in Axis territory for $5. In turn, he’d discovered each carton was the right size and weight to contain a chunk of 2×4 pine board. The refilled and resealed carton got sold for $50, but only at a train station and only when the train was starting to move. That way a person would be in the clear and could reap the rewards of witnessing their customer making the discovery.
As Grandpa told me recently, “when Adolf wasn’t (screwing) those poor Germans, we sure were.”
All this relates to his having too much money. Knowing his limit, and what he had, he turned to the soldier behind him who was nearly broke. Handing the broke soldier his overage, then giving a cut on the other side of the line, Grandpa left the service with $1,400 in his pocket. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that is comparable to $19,142 in 2018.
That gave him enough to pay $400 for a house, furniture for said house, a 0.22 rifle, get married, and have something to live off for a while. It’s just sometime between April 1946, when he and Grandma got married, and February 1947 when my mother was born (on Grandma’s twentieth birthday) a Ford Model A entered the picture.
I know nothing about the Model A. In fact, when I spent the night with them returning from the 2016 CC Meetup in Nashville, I asked about their Model A. A debate ensued about what body style it was.
She was saying coupe; he was saying two-door.
Annoyed, she said “how the hell do you get a rumble seat on a two-door?”. Being contrary, he said “what makes you think it had a rumble seat?”
So their first car was a Ford Model A. Beyond that your guess is as good as mine, although I suspect it had a rumble seat.
1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten
Was there a car between the Model A and this? I rather doubt there was. Here’s why…
They purchased another house (for $2,900) around 1948 or 1949; their first house was on the banks of the Mississippi River. Grandma woke up one morning and got out of bed to find herself knee-deep in water due to the river having risen overnight. From all accounts – primarily hers – she grabbed my mother and told Grandpa she was not setting foot in that house again.
So the subsequent purchase of a house on dry ground, along with my Aunt Connie being born in 1950, likely precluded any car purchase until this one.
Part of what prompted the purchase of this 1953 Chevrolet were my great-grandparents. They lived in Houston, Texas, and were within 90 minutes of my grandparents house when they were involved in a nearly fatal head-on collision in their Studebaker pickup (seen here); the other party was two gentlemen in a Buick who both perished. My great-grandparents convalesced with my grandparents for nine months before being capable of heading back home.
The Two-Ten was needed to haul them to various doctors appointments, which reinforces my theory about this car succeeding the Model A. All I know is this Chevrolet was a two-door and it had an automatic transmission.
1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air
This Chevrolet was a milestone for my grandparents in many ways. In addition to being both their first V8 and four-door, it was also the car in which they taught my mother to drive and the car in which they brought home their youngest, my uncle who was born in 1958.
My grandfather still talks about this Bel-Air and his fondness for it is evident, even bragging about having purchased it off the showroom floor. From his description of the car having an automatic, that meant it possessed a 283 as the 265 had been relegated to manual transmissions only for 1957. He also talks about its passing power, which makes me suspicious it had a four-barrel carburetor.
With their mutual fondness of the car, the number of recollections of this ’57 are more than anything else they owned – as are pictures of it. However, it could simply be the timeframe given their three children were all at home and the eleven year spread in their ages made this window rather small.
One of their favorite mutual stories involved their annual trip to visit my grandmother’s family near Houston. While alluded to here, my grandfather drove to and from Texas like his butt was on fire. My mother still talks about how the only stops were for fuel and you better use the bathroom then because there were no other stops. Except once.
With my uncle being the youngest, my grandmother was more experienced in children’s behavior by that point. She said paying close attention meant never changing a dirty diaper after the time he was about three or four months old. She’d simply take him to the bathroom once he got a little fussy and the problems worked themselves out.
During a trip to Texas, most likely in 1959, my grandmother noticed my uncle squirming and grunting while sitting on her lap (remember, nobody used child seats back then). She told Grandpa to stop alongside the road. Grandpa didn’t care to as, in his words, “I’d finally passed all the drag-asses and was starting to make good time.”
My grandmother countered that he could either stop or he could smell it. So as grandpa once said “I had to stop so Ron could crap. Then I had to pass everybody again.”
There’s nothing quite as memorable as family road trips.
The Bel-Air went away in 1964. My mother had had a mild confab with a ditch which prompted my grandparents to no longer trust this Chevrolet. My grandfather was an acquaintance of the new owner and soon learned the Bel-Air had been stolen by a couple of teens. The joyriders were going too fast for conditions when they lost control and hit a tree, killing both of them.
1964 Chevrolet Bel-Air
My father once remarked about this ’64 Chevrolet’s austereness by saying he’d seen more luxurious telephone booths. Thinking about this, I’ve developed a theory.
The ’57 had been purchased sometime after my grandparents paid off their second house. A move to their third, and final, house in 1961 likely prompted the plainer car.
Regardless, their 1964 Bel-Air was white with the 230 six-cylinder and a Powerglide transmission. My father, who drove the car on numerous occasions, said it was uncomfortable and painfully slow. Considering he had purchased a new 1962 Ford Falcon with the 144 six-cylinder, that’s quite the statement.
Oddly, not much is ever said about this Bel-Air. On that, I also have a theory.
In 1966, my Aunt Connie became quite ill with a condition that would ultimately be fatal. There were many trips to medical facilities in St. Louis, so this Bel-Air likely had a lot of miles put on it, all associated with Connie’s illness. Nobody likes to talk about unpleasantries or anything associated with them, which this car would have been.
Of the bunch, this has always been the forgotten car. Such happens with all of us.
1938 Ford truck
I know nothing about this truck other than what my father has told me. He and my mother started dating in late 1964 and this was the vehicle my grandfather drove to work. Having to park where there was a lot of dust, he didn’t like driving a “good” vehicle.
My father said seeing this parked in the driveway alongside the ’64 Bel-Air was quite the contrast.
1970 Chevrolet Impala
This was the first car of my grandparents that I can remember, as I come along when the car was two years old. Powered by a 350, it was green inside and out. Somewhere along the way I was told it had been a demonstrator by the dealer.
My grandmother once told an acquaintance who had stopped by their house a story that involved this Impala. While the story should have surprised me, for some reason it didn’t. While this quote isn’t verbatim, it’s certainly in keeping with how she told stories. It’s one of those sitting-on-the-patio-on-a-warm-summer-night stories, told by a 60 year old woman.
“I was out shopping in Cape one day and had started back home. I found a few pairs of shoes and some slacks that were on sale at Buckner-Ragsdale’s. Driving down South Kingshighway, I saw some kids were weaving around cars behind me, honking their horn and being real smart-alecks.
“I got stopped at William Street. Those kids came up beside me and just kept honking their horn. I turned to look at them and they gave me the finger! That wasn’t very nice. I would imagine their mother’s wouldn’t be very happy with their behavior.
“When the light turned green, I honked at them. When they looked my way, I gave them the finger right back. I was in that green Chevrolet, I figured I could outrun them if I needed to.”
That was my grandmother.
Another time, when I was about three, I accompanied her and my mother somewhere. Not wanting to ride in my parent’s 1973 Ford Torino that day (probably because I had already done so), I threw a fit as I wanted to ride in the ’70 Impala. My grandmother, a quick thinker for the ages, calmly told me her Impala was broken down because one of my grandfather’s hunting dogs had wet on the tire.
Naive me, I bought that story. Even forty-odd years later, I still think of that story after seeing where an animal has wet on a car tire. What sticks with a person is hard to explain.
The Impala stuck around until 1977 when it developed a noise in the transmission. Seven years had always been about how long they kept a car anyway, so off it went.
1972 Chevrolet pickup
Perhaps there was another pickup between the ancient old ’38 Ford and this one, but I rather doubt there was. My mom and her sister had been out of the house since 1968, so things were looking better for another new vehicle.
I’ve always had a soft spot for these Chevrolet pickups, thinking these are the best looking ones ever. The one my grandfather purchased was red inside and out; by this time he was less concerned about exposing his pickup to the blowing dust where he worked as improvements in parking conditions had been made.
His pickup had an automatic but I’m not sure what engine. He said he almost sold it soon after purchase do to getting a ridiculously reliable seven miles per gallon. His trip to work was ten to twelve miles of highway, so it wasn’t like it was all short trips in town. Taking it back to the dealer, no doubt accompanied by a few pointed observations, the fuel mileage suddenly got a lot better.
Grandpa said he intended to treat this pickup with kid gloves but that lasted about two days. He said he had worked a double shift the first time he drove it to work and was bone tired when he left to head home. He discovered somebody had filled the bed full of small rock, making the load perfectly level with the bed rails. His trip home never exceeded 25 miles per hour as he was concerned about the tires blowing out. He jacked up the rear end to take some weight off the suspension before going in the house and heading to bed.
It seems the rock worked really well to fill in a few soft spots in the driveway, so it wasn’t for naught.
As a very small child, I loved this pickup. It had a friendly face and it was fun to ride in.
1977 Chevrolet Impala
By swapping off the 1970 Impala, my grandparents took a decided step backwards by purchasing a new ’77 Impala. This car was a real turkey.
Of all their cars, I rode in this one the most. The one thing I remember about it was the sound it made taking off from a stop and shifting into second gear. It was a melodic whirring sound that I’ve never heard fully replicated anywhere else. I can hear it while sitting here typing this.
The car was brown with a tan steel roof. While nothing visually spectacular, I’ve never seen a duplicate of it. The interior was a tan cloth and it was moderately equipped. Perhaps most unusual, and something I didn’t know for quite a while, was this Impala was powered by the 250 straight-six. My Uncle “Ron” told me he had trouble coaxing it past 80 mph.
I rode in this car to Houston and Cut & Shoot, Texas, in 1984.
So how was it a turkey? For starters, my grandmother, the primary driver, wasn’t happy with how it never tracked straight despite repeated trips to the dealer. The paint quickly oxidized and nothing could revive it. There were a few other build issues such as the trunk that doubled as a cistern. This car proved my grandfather’s theory about how one should never purchase the first year of any car. This scenario would repeat itself.
This vehicle propelled them away from General Motors. It’s also a reason why I have stunted enthusiasm for the 1977 and up GM B-bodies.
1979 Chevrolet Scottsdale
My grandfather bought this pickup shortly before he retired; he recently quipped about drawing a pension for 38 years after working for 32. Equipped with a 305, automatic transmission, tilt steering, and air conditioning, this was a fairly nice, moderately trimmed pickup for the times.
Like his ’72 Chevrolet, his attempts to treat it with kid gloves were quickly squashed. Driving through his brother-in-law’s yard to load something now forgotten, he encountered some soft ground. Goosing the throttle to maintain his momentum, the rear-end fishtailed and the right rear of the pickup slapped a decorative steel wagon wheel. Those creases stayed there until the end.
This was the pickup I used to haul furniture four hours to my college apartment in 1992 where I discovered the 305 to be deceptively potent. While merging onto I-44 I was in a tight jam and nailed the throttle on that Chevrolet. Once past the crisis, I was delightfully shocked to see the speedometer was pushing it’s registered top speed of 100 mph.
In November of that year, on Thanksgiving Day, the pickup died 14 times (I counted it since I witnessed it) upon being started cold and put in gear. Within a week that pickup was cast aside for a new one; it was later sold to my uncle.
1985 Dodge Aries LE
How do you follow up a crappy 1977 Impala? You jump onto the Lido Ship! Other than an initial water problem in the trunk identical to their last Impala (which was fixed quickly on the Aries after my grandmother verbally pounded the service manager), this Aries was a well built car that served them well.
However, it was much smaller than anything they had recently experienced. And, in a grievous sin, the air conditioning would cut out any time the engine was under excessive load. Given some of the hills near their house, this meant the a/c was cutting out just enough to royally aggravate them.
It was also the a/c that may have been the final straw for the Aries, but it was nothing due to build quality. My grandmother’s oldest sister Wanda and her husband Bob came to visit from Houston. They were heavy smokers, with Bob once telling my grandfather they smoked twenty cartons (that’s 4,000 cigarettes) per month between the two of them. My grandparents mistakenly let Bob and Wanda smoke in the car and the smokey menthol scent was present nearly a year later whenever the a/c was turned on.
The Aries stuck around for three years. I suspect the cigarette smoke, along with my former smoker grandfather having become heavily anti-cigarette, was a prime factor.
The Aries was subsequently purchased from the dealer by my grandfather’s former brother-in-law, Otto, and his wife Ethel. Ethel soon returned the Aries to the dealer, saying it had no power. Ethel’s previous car was a 1971 Pontiac LeMans coupe.
1988 Dodge Dynasty
Only about three times in my life have I seen that certain look on my grandfather’s face. One of those was when fifteen year old me innocently told him the 3.0 V6 in his new Dynasty had been built by Mitsubishi.
He apparently got over it rather quickly as they drove the Dynasty more than they did the Aries. This Dynasty was also more their thing in terms of interior size. It suited them quite well.
The downfall of this car was the air conditioning. Having learned the behavior of the a/c in the Aries, whenever a hill was approaching my grandfather would reach over and turn the a/c off despite the Dynasty having much less need to self-regulate. Then, he’d turn it back on. The switch was treated like a faucet until suddenly the a/c quit working.
They had worn the switch out. Then, rather than pay to replace the switch, they decided having a/c wasn’t necessary as they had not had it in many previous vehicles. A summer trip to see ill family in Texas finally convinced them to replace the switch.
1992 Buick Roadmaster
In what must have been a rare moment of weakness, they traded the Dynasty for a slightly used first-year Roadmaster in November 1992.
Problems arose soon enough but suffice it to say this Buick required two engines, three transmissions, and five torque convertors during their ownership. This Buick was a supremely comfortable, and frighteningly quiet, pile. I will give it credit for something; the engine only turned about 1,100 rpm at 70 mph and this allowed them to get nearly 30 mpg on a trip from Scott City, Missouri, to Houston.
For a 5.7 liter Buick that was no small accomplishment. They did keep this car longer than typical, with it being their first car to accumulate 100,000 miles. Despite the problems, they liked the car.
This Buick also provided the largest cognitive dissonance I had experienced up to that point. In 1997, when my sister graduated college, I drove this Roadmaster to a celebration and then promptly drove a Mazda Miata that belonged to a friend of my father. Let’s just say there was little in common.
1992 Ford F-150 XLT
At this time, there were only three full-sized pickup manufacturers in the U.S. When a person has ruled one out (GM) and found a second to have a product whose lineage dates back to 1972 (Dodge), you buy a Ford.
Grandpa bought this new, leftover F-150 about ten days after he bought the Buick. The family rumor mill was thick for a while as “Albert” had bought two new vehicles within ten days! How can he do that? Easy. He got mad and wrote a check.
This pickup has been a good one and it’s still around. Since Grandpa never treated it with kid gloves like his prior two pickups, the body remained unblemished. Other than fuel pump that crapped out after twenty years, this pickup was flawless.
Grandpa gave it to my Uncle “Ron” last fall. I wrote it up here.
2001 or 2002 Lincoln Town Car
This replaced the Buick and there is little I can say as I never rode in it. It went away after a relatively short time due to a water leak.
The water leak cannot be laid at Ford’s feet as my grandparents never had a garage. Where they parked was near a maple tree and, by this time, the maple tree had branched out to providing a canopy over the Lincoln.
As washing a car was no longer a top priority for a couple pushing their 80s, maple leaves accumulated around the cowl of the Lincoln with some plugging drain holes in the firewall. Some rain followed by a few freeze-thaw cycles ensured a ruptured drain hole that allowed water to infiltrate onto the passenger side floor.
Upon a spell of dry weather my grandfather went car shopping. Part of me has always wondered if this car wound up being a taxi in St. Louis.
2007 Chevrolet Equinox
My grandparents were early adopters of CUVs, having purchased one of the first Equinii available. This rig was ideal for a couple now in their early to mid-80s. It saw them through to the end of their driving days.
This past spring my mother and uncle sold the silver Equinox to a consignment dealer as they didn’t want the hassle of placing an ad and farting around with tire kickers. It had just over 60,000 miles.
These were the vehicles owned by my grandparents. GM is overly represented and any loyalty to them was obviously questioned and had grown quite weak over time. Chrysler was appreciated although it had a minor quirk that made itself known. Ford was there at the beginning and at the end. All known problems with these vehicles, with those since 1975 being within my memory, were highlighted.
This has been a tough synopsis to write, but it was one that needed to be told.
One correction: That 53 Chevy is a 54. 53’s had large, round turn signal lights.
Hmm…the plot thickens! I have always been told it was a ’53 and didn’t even bother to verify!
It’s a ’54 Two-Ten sedan. I owned a ’54 BelAir back in 1975.
The ’53 is homely by comparison with its grill extensions that look – to me, anyway – like they should’ve come around the side to the fender opening but stopped before the bend.
The ’53 taillight was fussier looking than the ’54.
That said, I enjoyed this write up. Thanks for sharing!
And rear lights were also smaller and round. ’54s have taller rear lights split horizontally for back ups in the lower portion (if so equipped)
Thinking about this further…I have another picture I didn’t scan showing a piece of their Chevrolet and it’s dated Easter 1953.
Perhaps the car shown with the ice cream cone wasn’t theirs at all. It’s not like. A Chevrolet was uncommon.
There is something about those few minor changes done to the ’54 that makes it completely better looking than the ’53. The difference is almost night and day.
Back in my adolescence, when I was dreaming of that first car, I always had a desire for a ’54 BelAir hardtop way more than getting a ’55 or ’56. Well, you can always drop a 265 in it, the mounting points were the same. Something about the ’54’s I considered equally attractive to the two follow up years, and way better looking than the ’57 – plus it would have been different at the drive-in.
Thanks for a touching article, and sincere condolences for your grandmother. Your grandparents sound like quite a couple.
It’s always warming to read a family story. As a car fan, I can read it through transportation, as you do.
If you are as sensitive or nostalgic as I am, this was hard to write indeed!
Congrats on your piece, which has made easier waiting for my wife and daughter to come out of a gigantic clothing sale due to storage fire….I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. Prayers appreciated!
A heart warming, often hilarious, enjoyable tribute to your Grandparents, their lives and personalities.
I had tears leaking out the corner of my eyes several times.
Those family stories are one of my favourite topics in Curbside Classic because it connects the vehicles to the people who actually use them. Their real life experiences and perspectives really bring out the best (or worst) in the vehicles.
Much different from reading the test drives or driving impressions done by the journalists.
Really wonderful stories, Jason! Thanks for taking time to write the article and post it here.
Thank you for a wonderful story. Your grandparents were contemporaries of my mother and father, who were both born in 1923. Like your grandfather my dad served in the European theater during WWII, but nothing in our family tradition mentions him coming home with any large sum of money. I suspect he was just happy enough to be home as his unit had been moved intact from Europe to a base on the west coast to train for the invasion of Japan; in any case the war ended without the invasion and he was home well before Christmas.
My father viewed cars purely as transportation devices, something to get him back and forth to work, go the store, etc. He would buy a used car (one of the low priced three of course) and then drive it until it died. The only car I can remember not staying around very long was a 1950 Ford that was in the family for barely a year. It was replaced with a Plymouth that was the first car he owned with an automatic transmission; I suspect that my mother was tired of shifting gears and that was that. As far as I can remember the only new vehicle my father ever purchased was a Dodge pickup bought shortly before he retired in 1985. He still owned the truck when he died in 2000 although he didn’t drive it very much in his last few years.
That is a lot of cars.
I don’t believe I could do a full history on my grandparents. I’m not sure memories and photos exist from before the late ’60s.
My grandparents would have been simple. They never learned to drive. They never owned a car. And, they never learned to speak English. Slovak to English was dad’s assignment.
Jim, if it helps any, I’d never seen some of these pictures until I acquired them in early July. Plus, I also spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents while growing up allowing me to capture these stories.
Re: Model A purchased in 1946. My guess is that this was about all they could find. Cars were in very short supply for a few years after WWII. I think it amazing that they kept it running until 1953 (or 1954).
Sure enjoyed the history. Thanks
I know that gear-whir sound! My folks’ ’78 Caprice made it, too; it was very evident but not alarming; “melodious” is a good word. I am fairly sure that car had a Turbo Hydramatic 350 behind its 305 engine, rather than the papier-mâché TH200; I test-drove a couple of ’77 Caprices with the TH200 and their first gear whine was much quieter and higher-pitched, just what I would expect with punier gears. The ’84 they replaced their ’78 with had one or another of the 4-speed automatics, either a 200R4 or a 700R4, and it lacked that first-gear whirring sound—I missed it. I was pleasantly shocked to hear that sound suddenly return to the roads sometime in the mid-late ’90s in Chev & GMC trucks and vans, presumably with heavier-than-basic-duty automatic transmissions. It’s not quite exactly the same as the ’78’s sound, but it’s very close.
I still prefer the first-gear whir of a pre-1980 Chrysler Torqueflite, though.
I was wishing I knew what sound was being described as I couldn’t recall any of the older b body’s that I rode in as a kid having made that sound. But I know the exact sound you describe of the later GM vans and trucks having. What I found funny was that that same sound returned in the 2009-2012 Chevy 3500 diesel Express can/chassis’s that my company used as ambulances. They had the GM transmissions but the same year 3500 Silverado truck cab/chassis we had used the Allison transmission and I’d didn’t make that whine. The Allison’s also lasted about 3-4 times longer than the GM transmissions!
Great timeline, Jason. Nice that you still have all these old photos. Grandfather on mom’s side had a ’62 Tempest 215 V8 that needed it’s coolent topped off often. It was replaced by a loaded and pampered ’65 Bonneville convertible, beige with white leather interior. He passed in 1972. Grandmother on Mom’s side was a ’68 Camaro convertible, 350 automatic, in light green with green interior. It had AC, PS, manual windows as I recall. She passed in 1974. Grandmother on dad’s side never drove. Grandfather on dad’s side passed around 1963, don’t remember if he drove, don’t remember any car associated with him.
Appreciate this tough to write story, it was a great read.
What I’m finding tougher than the cars is the disposal of their house. At 45, I’ve known that house forever. The upshot is it’s going to a young couple who love the house, the way it was built, and the property. So it’s about ideal in that regard.
I found a picture of grandfather in his ’65 Bonneville with the top down, the one time he actually lowered it!
When it was time to sell my parents house, some friends of mine (and my parents) bought it. They rented it when parents were no longer able to stay and were in assisted living, mom and dad wanted them to get the house after they passed. So I get to visit the house and my friends. They did a lot of remodeling and it looks great.
Interesting saga, nicely told.
Sadly, I wasn’t close enough to either set of grandparents to be able to list in detail what vehicles they owned.
I do recall that my paternal grandparents had at least 2 green late 50’s-early 60’s Ramblers. One of them was a station wagon.
And that’s about all.
A lovely story. Sorry for your loss.
I’ve been sitting on some old photographs of my maternal grandparents’ cars, too. I keep meaning to write about them, perhaps you’ve finally spurred me.
You really should go for it. This is information that if you don’t harness it now, it’ll be harder to do later on.
My grandfather has dumped the responsibility of getting the house and property sold onto my mother. I went down there in early July to help get furniture out of the house and disposed of. She and my father have been working on this for a long time and she kept all the pictures.
Going through them while down there, I asked about taking a few. Her response was “Take all you want; you’re just going to have to go through them again in 20 or 30 years anyway.”
Nicely done, Jason! This brings back a memory or two of my own.
As I grew up in the Southwest, and both sets of grandparents lived in Michigan, I don’t have quite as detailed a recollection of their cars. We only saw the grandparents every 2-3 years.
Neither of my grandmothers drove by the time I can reasonably recall. I only remember two of my paternal grandparents cars: Their second-to-last road trip to New Mexico was circa 1964 or 1965 at which time they had a 1960 Dodge Dart. My grandfather retired the following year after a long career with Continental Baking Co., in Detroit.
He and grandma retired to a small town in southeastern Michigan along with their shiny, new 1967 Olds Cutlass, equipped with a V-8 and an automatic transmission. The Olds made one trip out to NM and shortly thereafter my grandparents proclaimed they were, “just too old to travel.” (Interesting philosophy in that they were probably barely 60 at the time.) I remember riding in the car during our periodic visits.
The Olds was the last car they ever owned. When grandpa died in 1984, it had approximately 30K miles on it. From the belt line up, it still had most of the factory shine. Further down, however, it had been ravaged impressively by the tin worm. My dad and my uncle sold it to one of their cousins for a couple hundred bucks, this after convincing me that low miles notwithstanding, it was not worth hauling out to New Mexico to “fix up.” I was a little put out at the time, but 3+ decades later, it is clear they were absolutely right.
My maternal grandparents lived in Detroit and Dearborn. Grandpa bought a new car approximately every 3 years, as was the pattern for so many Detroit area folks of the time. My earliest recollection is of his 1965 or 1966 Chevy sedan. It was a copper-ish color, but I don’t remember anything else about it. It was followed by another Chevy, 1969 or 1970, that, if memory serves, had a vinyl top and power windows. I remember riding to the Henry Ford museum in it.
His next car was a fairly well-equipped Dart or Valiant, the only Chrysler product I remember him owning. It was an appropriate for the times brown, with a vinyl top….about as brougham-ish as one could make a Dart or Valiant.
The Mopar was replaced by the first of two Olds 88 coupes, in this case, white vinyl over dark blue. The blue one was replaced by a white vinyl over maroon model in the early 1980’s. This was grandpa’s last car. Once he decided he had no business driving (he was well into his 80’s by then) he sold the car to a neighbor, who drove it for many more years. As family stories go, he always had someone lined up to buy his cars because he took such good care of them. He kept the salt rinsed off and hit them with Pledge almost weekly.
Again, thanks for a great article.
Phenomenal post Jason! These personal stories really hit home for me and it’s one of my favourite parts of CC. I am amazed at some of the parallels your maternal grandparents story has with mine. Even there ages are almost exactly the same. You’re lucky to have such a detailed history of your grandparents past vehicles.
My maternal grandparents both served in the war. My Grandfather was with the RAF in England, while My Grandmother worked on a Canadian Forces Base back in Canada. Like your Grandparents, they married right after the war and started having kids. Although my Grandfather was handy, he was never much of a car person at all. I don’t know, much about what they owned, other than he had a preference for Plymouths in the 60’s and 70’s, and he owned an early 60’s Corvair which my mother learned to drive on. I remember him cursing the belt design on that car even years after it was gone. Later when my mom and dad had were dating, my Grandfather helped her out with her first new car purchase, and got her a monster 1973 Fury 2-door. He figured all that size would keep her safe.
For a long time my Grandparents didn’t own any cars while I was growing up, until they inherited an ’87 F-150 from my great uncle who had a stroke and was no longer able to drive. That lead to a bunch of car purchases, the last few, I actually helped them out. My Grandfather passed away some time ago, but my Grandmother is still alive. She gave up driving when she was in her mid 80’s, and I sold off her low mileage 1999 Taurus Wagon. Unfortunately, the car’s undercarriage was so rusted, the auto recycler was the only viable buyer.
My Grandmother is in her 90’s so I really should ask her more about the cars they drove over the years. Other than a few vague details, I don’t know much about the earlier years. The one car my Grandmother fondly speaks about is the 1934 Desoto Deluxe my Great Grandfather owned when she was growing up in Toronto. It was a car he was very proud of, and to this day she can still tell me all about what he’d do to store it during winter time. I can almost feel my Great Grandfather’s pride through her stories.
My paternal grandparents, on the other hand, were a fair bit older than my maternal grandparents. They both came from large farm families in Italy, they never learned to drive or owned a car, even after they emigrated from Italy to Canada. But they did help my dad with a few car purchases, in return for his transportation services.
My maternal grandfather never has been much of a car person despite his having owned all the vehicles outlined here. I think I stumbled upon part of the reason one day when he fussed about my mother’s desire to acquire antiques. He said “when the hell does you mom want all this old stuff – I grew up that kind of thing and it was rotten then; I sure don’t want it now!”.
He and my grandmother were delightfully frugal people and cars were their only real splurge. However, they lived several miles outside of town and this was their best way to ensure not walking and his getting to work.
There’s no way I could do a comprehensive story about my paternal grandfather as he bought and sold cars for years. He did have a ’29 Whippet for a short while and later used a chopping ax to scrap a nice ’39 Packard.
You’ve got some long-lived grandparents there, Jason. If they’re anything like my parents (same age), the year 2000 was a far-off dream when they were young, and they were among those of their generation who got to see it.
That’s quite a tale of the cars; I doubt I could compile an inventory so well for my own grandparents if needed.
As OliverTwist noted above, one special charm of CC is getting to know cars via their owner-drivers.
BTW, I’d never heard the tale of mustering-out WWII servicemen getting checked for Too Much Money. There had been profiteering large and small (I’m not making judgments), so I guess Uncle Sam did what could be done to nab the worst offenders.
Thanks sincerely for the writeup!
From what he has said on several occasions, this was the very last thing he did prior to his official discharge. I’m guessing there was enough opportunity for some to really reap the spoils of war or to win a boatload in gambling.
One opportunity for gambling (which he didn’t do) was upon his return to the US. He landed in New York and was put on a train for Los Angeles. Getting to LA, somebody had an “oh crap” moment as they weren’t supposed to be there. So after three minutes in LA they immediately got back on the same train and returned to New York. He said nobody could walk after being on a train for five days.
My Grandfathers first car was also a Model A, but being about 20 years older his was purchased new. The next one I’m aware of is a ’39 or ’40 Mercury, and I’m pretty sure we have at least one picture of each from that until the ’88 LeSabre that was his last. I’m guessing there would have been at least one more car in the ’30s but I don’t know that for sure.
Another pleasure to read, Jason. Your family tales are the very definition of automotive folklore.
Thank you. Hearing the stories from others (such as those above) certainly helps make cars much more three-dimensional so I’m happy to be able to return the favor.
I love these stories. I could do something like this on the maternal grandparents, but the other side of the family would be more of a highlight reel.
An aunt and uncle were married in 1948 and drove a hand-me-down Model A until 1951, when they were given my grandparents’ 1935 Ford. They considered it a huge upgrade.