My COAL series will start with the Cars of My Youth. These are the cars that I owned in the period between my high school years until my marriage. They were the cars that I bought when I was young and single.
I’ve owned a lot of cars over the years. Not to mention the number of motorcycles that I owned alongside them. In my youth I was always a motorcycle guy first, I didn’t own a car of my own until I was out of high school. Trying to make a list of all the cars that I’ve owned took a bit of effort. I’d start a list then remember some car that I’d forgotten and have to go back and start over.
Back in those days I never bought a car as a project, something that I intended to fix up. I bought them to drive immediately. I usually had to do some repairs on almost everyone, but my intention was always to buy something that I could use as transportation.
These reminisces go back a long time, over fifty years, so I may be unsure of every single detail.
Color My World. My first car, a 1966 Mustang.
Color my World. This was a hugely popular hit for the band Chicago. Chicago was one of the greatest groups during my high school years of 1969-1973. In so many ways our first cars are the blank canvasses that we have colored with our hopes and dreams, however rooted in reality or fantasy. The car that we end up with is our “tabla rasa” which we will color with our expectations of the life experiences that we hope will accompany the ownership of this vehicle. So much hope!
My first car was not my first vehicle. I had owned several motorcycles prior to this. I had been satisfied driving my Dad’s cars whenever I needed four wheels. During my high school years, I had owned a Honda CB160, Suzuki X6 Hustler, Honda 305 Superhawk, Kawasaki 650 twin, and a Kawasaki 500 Mach Three.
I had been a huge Cadillac fan for years, ever since growing up as a little kid in Oakland California during the ’60’s and ’70’s. The city had provided a constant parade of Caddies of all vintages. My Father and I used to hit the low buck used car lots around the city. In the back row, there were always plenty of clean 1950s and 1960s Cadillacs. I had my heart set on a 1956 model Coupe de Ville.
The year was 1974.
My Father, on the other hand, thought that I should buy a more age-appropriate car, like a Camaro or Mustang. Even though I was paying for it myself, I thought that I would heed his advice. I decided to find a nice used Mustang as my first car. They were cheap and plentiful at this time. I located it the way we all located cars for sale in those pre CraigsList days. I would look in the classified pages of the Oakland Tribune. There was a great section entitled “automotive bargains under 500$”. Where else would I look?
It sounded pretty good in the two-line classified ad: Mustang 1966 coupe. V8/4 spd. duals, runs gd. 300.00. Ads were always kept short, so there was a whole type of cryptic shorthand that was used. Kind of like a vintage analog version of Twitter!
My Dad and I set off to see the car and test drive it. It did look okay. It was straight, with an obviously cheap respray of nonoriginal green paint. The finish was quite dull. “Why was the car re-painted?” I asked myself. At the time it was only about eight years old. The interior was nice and clean, with only a cracked driver’s seat cushion. There was a neat little Ford four speed stick between the seats. Outside, I could see the tips of the exhaust pipes peeking out ahead of the rear wheels. Under the hood was a clean little 289 V8 crowned with the original two barrel carb. I fired it up and it sounded wonderful.
The seller went with me for the test drive. “You’ll have to slip the clutch a bit to get started,” he advised me. “Why?” “Because I put in an automatic rear end for better cruising.” I suppose that my youthful naivete prevented me from asking him why he did that. What was wrong with the original rear end? But who cared? It could always be switched back. Three hundred bucks didn’t seem like a lot of money, even back then. Believe it or not, another couple of hundred bucks could have gotten me a convertible, or even a fastback. But the coupe would be good enough.
After I got home I started coloring my Mustang. I was finally going to get the opportunity to apply all the automotive knowledge that I had been soaking up over the years. I’d been reading a multitude of car and hot rodding magazines religiously each month. During this time I actually learned a few valuable lessons that I promptly forgot over the next few cars that I bought.
The first thing that I did was to pull that huge horse out of that front grille. I replaced it with one of the smaller Ponies that were used on the sides of the fender, offset to the left side. Very cool looking. I removed the filler cap from the tail light panel by rotating the hose to locate the cap in the trunk. I was planning to fill the hole but never did. It might have been a good idea to vent the trunk, well, the open hole could take care of that! Of course, I never filled any of the holes that were left after I removed the trim.
The front gravel pan was dented up really badly when I bought the car. I removed it to straighten it out and found it was covered with a thick layer of cracked Bondo. I took it to a sandblaster to have it stripped. The counterman asked me why I just didn’t buy another one from a junkyard. It would have been cheaper and quicker. How would I have known that?
I wanted to lower the car but didn’t know how. I didn’t want to mess with cutting the springs. The car had come with two 13 inch, five lug wheels on the front, while the rear were the original 14 inch wheels. It gave the car a nice rake. I decided to swap out the rears for another pair of 13 inchers. It gave the car a nice low stance. I topped those off with a set of stainless steel Pinto hubcaps. I had found both of these items at a local wrecking yard. I thought that the final result looked pretty good.
I drove it that way to watch the second run showing of American Graffiti, playing at a theater in Alameda. Like Kurt in the movie, I still didn’t know the formula for finding a girlfriend, and I watched the movie solo. I guess I needed a little more color in that area, too.
I figured out how to stitch in a square patch for the seat cushion. Some routine wrenching followed; changing out the clutch, replacing the water pump, and switching out that rear end. I ended up spray-bombing the front end in grey primer. Earl Scheib was still charging 29.99 for a full paint job, why didn’t I just go there? Good question. I don’t think that I even kept this car for an entire year, I just didn’t want to.
I found my real dream car on a used car lot on Broadway Ave, I spotted it while riding the bus on a rainy afternoon into Downtown Oakland. Over thirty years would pass before I even thought of Mustangs again.