Growing up, I was part of a “no-car” family. My parents were older and had both experienced the Great Depression, and as a result, if public transportation was available, then a car was an unnecessary expense. If the bus couldn’t get us to where we needed to go, then we had several relatives we could rely on. My Mother’s favorite partner was her older sister; my Aunt Winnie. Winnie was a divorced, single, working woman, at a time when that wasn’t typical. Perhaps the best description of her, and I say this in no way demeaning and with great affection, was a “tough ‘ole broad.” She was a realtor, and contrary to the stereotype, didn’t drive an older Cadillac or Lincoln to chauffeur her clients. There must have been a company car for that – Winnie drove beaters.
The first car I can remember her driving was an old ‘53 or ‘54 Chevy. It was also the car in which I experienced my first accident. Winnie wasn’t the best driver, likely contributing to my Mother’s life-long fear when getting into a car. In this case, she was making a left-turn and thought she could beat the oncoming traffic…she didn’t. While I was maybe four or five, I can still remember the “clang” (I’d call it a moderate fender-bender) and Winnie grabbing her forearm (it was broken), and all the panic that ensued – and not understanding most of it.
The Chevy was replaced with a ‘60 Lark 2-door. Couple of things I remember about that car; 1) it always smelled like smoke (she was a life-long smoker), 2) the 259 V8 was strong and Winnie’s lead foot shoved me back in the seat on more than one occasion, and 3) the interior had what I would later call a “kit-car” feel. After having had the opportunity to sit in several Sixties Studebakers later in life, those all had that same kit-car interior feeling.
All of our other relatives drove used cars also – so when the opportunity came for me to ride in a showroom-new car, it made quite the impression – one I remember to this day. Winnie had a yearly one-month temporary job at the Ohio State Fair, in their administration office. Jack Schmidt Olds, one of the city’s largest and oldest Olds dealers, provided courtesy cars for the fair – and the admin office had several – brand-spanking new 1965 Olds Starfire convertibles, white with a red interior.
Every other car I had rode in up to that time coughed, rattled, and clanked. The Olds amazed me with its silence. What I assumed was the 425 “Super Rocket” V8 moved the Starfire like an electric locomotive; forceful and silent. If the weather was too hot even with the top down, put it up and turn on the air conditioning – wow. And that beautiful red interior, with no lumpy seats, and new car smell. What an epiphany…
Those memories still reside over sixty years later – what are some of yours?