(After reading a couple of Ed Hardy’s COAL submissions and loving every bit of them, I decided they were too good to wait a couple of months. So we’re starting a Wednesday morning COAL series. Enjoy the ride…)
Growing up in Southern California in the 60’s provided a car-centric focus that has seemed to be a consistent theme throughout my life. I spent my formative years in Long Beach, where the rust monster rarely visits, Lyons Dragstrip could be heard in the evenings, and them “furrin’ cars” could be found everywhere. My parents believed in personal responsibility, which meant that I could buy any car that I was willing to pay for – no handouts or loans from them.
By the early ‘70’s I was itching for my personal driving freedom and planned my first foray into the California Car Culture. After saving every penny I could from my paper route and working at my friend’s ice cream shop ($1.65 per hour!), I’d saved $800 and it was time to go shopping. But what should I buy?
It was 1973, and the acronym “OPEC” had entered our collective vocabularies, with lines at gas stations up to two hours long and gas purchases limited to either even or odd days of the week depending on your license plate. I had been driving my Mom’s 1966 Mercury Park Lane that was motivated by a 410 cu. in. FE V-8.
The 410 was one of the lesser known versions of the FE, as it was a Mercury only engine in the US; basically the bore of a 390 and the stroke of a 428. The Mercury was my mother’s pride and joy, and the only new car she had ever had, which meant that I had to keep my shenanigans away from the house or any neighbors that might turn as informants against me. The car was terrific for practicing late night drifts on deserted streets, and also great at burning through gallons of premium fuel and bias-belted tires. Wait, did I say “burning”?
Let’s fast forward a few years to 1976 and talk about that Mercury. My Mom had sold the family home and had everything shipped back to Denver, CO. where had she grown up and was moving back to. Her Mercury and a suitcase were the only things left, and she planned a going away dinner on the SS Princess Louise in San Pedro, an ocean liner that had been converted to a floating restaurant.
I played chauffeur to my Mom, my sister, my brother and his wife. As we accelerated over the Vincent Thomas bridge above the Long Beach Harbor, the car backfired, and smoke began wisping, then pouring through the vents into the car. My brother yelled “Fire” and I pulled over to the right side of the bridge. We all jumped out of the car, my brother racing back to the toll booth to have them call the fire department – no cell phones back then. We waited and watched as the smoke grew thicker and boiled from underneath the hood.
The fire department finally arrived and put out the fire, but it was obvious that Mom’s baby was toast, uh, totaled. We stood there, 185 feet above the harbor in our Sunday best trying to figure out our next move. A fireman piped up – “Do you guys need a ride?” “Well sure, why not? What’s a little more..adventure?” My Mom rode inside while the rest of us rode on the back of the fire truck, as they took us across the bridge, through San Pedro and delivered us to the dock of the SS Princess Louise. That was our first Uber ride, a few decades before Uber became popular with everyone else. We had a great dinner, commiserated with Mom, and, being our family, joked about the demise of the “bar-b-que that seated six”. A fuel leak and a backfire apparently don’t mix – who knew? But I digress…
So, back to 1974 and thinking about what car I should buy. One neighbor had a 383 Roadrunner, and another had an SS 350 Camaro. Nice cars – but between my numerous fill-ups of the Mercury and watching them trying to keep their cars topped up, I knew that I didn’t want a V-8 if I could help it. I liked a bit of style but also wanted it to be reasonably economical. VW Beetles were common and didn’t really fit the “style” criteria. Toyota Coronas were also popular, but that would look like I had given up on life before I had even started. So, economical …stylish … affordable …hmmm….
By a sheer stroke of luck, some older friends had purchased a 1970 Plymouth Duster brand new and were ready for an upgrade. Even as a stripper model, Dusters always looked just right. Motivated by the leaning tower of power and a three at the knee, it fit my criteria for a first car. What could go wrong? I just had to wait six weeks and the car was mine.
Unfortunately for all involved, the car was totaled three weeks later and sent to the great car crusher in the sky. Strike one.
Plan B was scouring the streets for cars with “for sale” signs, newspaper classified ads and the local Thrifty Nickle. As a car crazed teen, I actually enjoyed working on cars and any problems were just challenges to be overcome. So how hard could it be?
One Saturday the ad popped up – “1967 Porsche 912, needs some assembly”. What luck!
What I imagined I was buying
I raced out to Anaheim Hills (about 25 miles away from where I lived) to the address given. Lo and behold, the garage door opened and I gazed upon…the shell of a Porsche 912 surrounded by boxes of parts.
What it actually looked like
I’m not talking about a box of engine parts, I’m talking about a regular Amazon warehouse of literally anything that could have been unbolted from that car.
Although I love a good challenge, someone had obviously given up on their project. And who knew if all of the parts were even there? Although it may have been possible to resurrect this Lazarus from the dead, I realized that I’d rather drive my car than talk about what I was building over the next several years. Strike two.
After more searching and more newspapers, the heavens opened and there it was – “1967 Camaro, six cylinder, three speed, good condition”. A six cylinder Camaro? Did they even make those things? I drove out to see this unicorn and was greeted by a bone stock stripper in surprisingly clean condition. It had exactly two options, an AM radio (“The Real Don Steele on 93-KHJ!”) and three speed floor shift. It was also wrapped in pale piss yellow paint (chicken yellow in more polite company; Butternut Yellow in Chevrolet speak) – bummer. But didn’t the Rolling Stones sing “You can’t always get what you want”? And if I really didn’t like the color, Earl Scheib (“I’ll paint any car for $29.95!”) was always available!
Another six cylinder unicorn
$800 changed hands, and I was now the proud owner of my first car. They say that you never forget your first, and even today I can easily recall the feel, the smell and the adventures of the chicken yellow Camaro. I’ve had over 30 cars since, but I can still smell the salty beach air and warm breezes of summers flowing through the open windows.
High school graduation – I’m on the left
Although the number of cars in my history suggests that I change cars as often as I change my socks, the truth is that I tend to keep my main cars for a long time, and others show up to provide a little variety. The chicken yellow Camaro stayed with me for eight years and another 133,000 miles. It didn’t stay stock for long, but that’s a story for another COAL.
I am really looking forward to this series. I spent some time in this car’s alter ego, a 68 Mustang with a six and a stick and painted a color I didn’t really like much. Though I liked it better than the similar light yellow Ford offered too. So I can relate. Except for the 8 years part, because I got itchy.
I hope you gave that first Uber driver a good review. “The back of the vehicle was roomy but not all that comfortable. But the driver and other passengers were friendly. Next time I will know what a red Seagrave is when I am awaiting a ride.” 🙂
JPC – that’s exactly the review that I left! Unfortunately, we didn’t have this interwebs thing, so I had to write all of it on the inside of a matchbook cover. I”m sure that it’s still posted inside Station 29…
Hey Ed- Thanks as usual for a great read. I have a particular yarn for the first-gen F body cars too, but a story for another day. 😃
Can’t wait for the rest of this story and also the other thirty. Thanks.
wasn’t the Edsel Citation engine also a 410?
was that different?
The Edsel 410 was an MEL engine, essentially a slightly stroked 383. Neither of those is as well known as the 430 and 462 that stayed in production quite a bit longer.
whoops, yes they were
That’s what threw me off. I thought the 410 was an MEL engine.
Both correct – there was a 410 MEL and FE engine. Interestingly, the car before the Park Lane was a 1958 Villager station wagon with a 383 MEL. Not exactly the first thing people think about when you mention “383”
Nice COAL, thank you . As a little kid my neighbor had a 68 Camaro with a six. A typical Canadian car, where you bought a base model off the lot and the only extra is a 2 speed PowerGlide.
I think these are great first cars, loads of classic style but insufficient power to get into big trouble.
A mechanic guy my buddies and I hung out with after high school in the late seventies had two beater ’68 Camaros. He fixed one up nicely and the other with the manual six was a typical midwestern rusty beater where we listened to hair rock, drank Millers, and smoked ditch weed.
The second picture really brings back memories. If it wasnt for the Maryland plates, that Savannabeige ’67 VW with pop-out rear windows looks like my first car, which I had during the first oil crunch.
Great COAL! Trying not to spit out my coffee laughing.
A great read, and a good choice as a first car. Looking forward to 29 more COAL’s!
Your mom’s “baby”, her only new car, ever, and she was in it when it went down in flames?
I’ve bade goodbye to two new cars, but never that way. It must have been a bit of heartbreak for her. Glad nobody was injured, or even stuck for long.
Great photos and great writing with excellent metaphors! The time period photos bring everything back to life. OPEC! I wonder if anyone is taking automotive appropriate COVID photos today to share in 50 years.
This is shaping up to be a great COAL series! Looking forward to the next chapter.
Great start to your COAL series. I’m looking forward to reading all about what you did to the Camaro, and what other cars have come and gone. I remember shopping for my first car as well, and I can still remember the smells and the sounds and the adventures. You never forget your first.
Sigh. The first Girl I ever developed a crush on (6th grade), went on to get a car around junior year (around 1976) in high school (she worked at a Wendy’s after school). And she drove a ’67 Camaro with an R/T on the grill, faded red, black top and stock wheels. I got to ride with her only once, and it had three on the tree. She didn’t abuse it, and in my fading memory it had just one tailpipe and nothing memorable about the exhaust note. I never saw her again after high school, but ’67s like this one brings back a pleasant memory.
Any COAL that starts with a 1st-gen Camaro has my attention! Great start, looking forward to more…
And I LIKE butternut yellow. Had a ’72 Blazer in that color.
Me too. I always had a thing for the more muted pale yellows over the McDonald’s arches shade of yellow most seem to prefer on sporty cars.
I have a 1:18 scale Baldwin Motion Nova in Butternut with black stripes, it’s one of my favorite display pieces.
It seemed like there were a ton of similar “weak” colored cars built around the 67-70 era. Around here, NW Ohio anyway. A neighbor had an identical looking Camaro that she bought soon after they were introduced. Us kids had a nickname for it, “Weak Ass Yellow” or “Way”, as in “Too bad it’s WAY!”. Other weak colors were “WAG(green)”, and WAB(Blue), My most disliked one was WAG, I really hated Seafoam green, or whatever the name of it was. About the same time, BSG (Baby Shit Green) or “Avacado” showed up in our garage, and i hated it too, but not as much as WAG. To this day, I hate weak colored cars. A friend of mine bought a very nice old Charger in WAY on Ebay and was thrilled to see the car was actually white. He wasn’t a big fan of white, but compared to WAY, it was light years better.
“Weak Ass Yellow” – where were you and your perfect description 46 years ago? Great description, and WAG, WAB and BSG are too good. Might have to steal this..
Nice, clean looking car, does a nice job of exhibiting the flowing lines on the first Camaros. And I like the matching sash over your graduation gown. What were you, one of those smart kids? Looking forward to the modifications.
Welcome! Great story and good choice for a first car! I’m jealous both for the car and for your growing up in SoCal in the 60’s and 70’s. Those were the days there (I hear)! Do you still live there?
Thanks Jon. As you’ll see in subsequent COAL’s (spoiler alert) I did move away. My brother stills lives in Long Beach in the same house he bought in 1971. I do think that it was a great place to grow up, but there’s a few too many people these days for my taste. But I still get to visit and get my family and beach “fix”!
In 1967 my drama group had our banquet on the SS Princess Louise.
(Those the days for something “fun” to do we would drive up to Hollywood Blvd or Sunset Blvd as to just drive back and forth. I taking my parent’s 1964 SS Impala. Then Whittier Blvd was also known for Fri and Sat night cruising ….. recall riding up with a buddy in his 1968 Camaro, driving back and forth along with the mob that would show up to do the same. The movie AMERICAN GRAFFITI portrays car cruiising on how it was.)
Around 1972, I bought a 1969 Camaro Rally Sport convertible (327 with a 2 barrel) for $1900. I put $1000 down and financed the $900. I still own it to this day.
Six cylinder pony cars were once very common in the 60’s. They’re not so common today because un-natural selection has been going on. This occurs because auto motive enthusiasts prefer the V8 models and they select those to be saved and maintained. The six cylinder examples were often stripped of their parts or used as parts cars. For a long time even the V8 models were pretty inexpensive and so was gas, so why pick the weaker model? My own relatively recent experience with my ’70 250 cid. straight six Mustang bears this out. While it had enough power, the fuel economy was almost the same as the small V8. Performance parts like headers, and multi carb set ups were rare and very expensive. I found a three carb conversion kit that was priced higher than I paid for the car. The seller was asking 1,500.00! There is nothing easier to work on than a straight six in a pony car and their simplicity can be appealing. I currently have a ’07 Mustang six coupe and a ’96 Mustang 4.6 GT. The newer Mustang with the 5 speed auto and 200 hp. rating is almost as quick as the older GT and beats it in mileage by 3-4 mpg. The GT though, has more torque and a great sound ( Flowmasters) and still gets 25 mpg. on the freeway. I’d pick the V8 every time.
There’s some degree of naturalness to it, the small block Chevy is the most common V8 made, and lasted decades longer than the I6. Even without performance aspirations being the motivating driver to have one there’s some legitimate practical ownership advantages of having an engine with such ubiquity that you can count on for indefinite parts availability to keep it going. Your Mustangs are a great example of that, the 4.6 SOHC is far more ubiquitous than the 4.0 SOHC, the slight mileage penalty might ultimately be worth the tradeoff in the really long term.
A basic ’67 with standard trim is one of my favorite Camaros. Most like the ’69 the best, but I feel that they got it right the first time. Great car!
I’m with you Aaron, the bulged wheelarches, the flat but sculpted hood, the big round lights and little round lights and the matching small front and rear bumpers put the 67 over the top for me. It’s so much more elegant than its macho muscle car demographic deserves, and I think the basic trim showcases it better. The 69 has all elements that make the 1970 Riviera or Toronado one year wonders look “off”. Though I do prefer the 69 (Non-RS) taillights.
I still have my first car, 14 years this July! Your shopping experience reminds me so much of mine, the Duster and 912 could be combined into my “almost” first car I all but exchanged money for before the car (74 Cougar) went to live up on a farm in the country at the behest of the owners dad who was tired of it decomposing in the driveway.
Ed, you kept me laughing. You are a great raconteur. I happen to like the yellow exterior paint. Probably most Camaros were not ordered in this color which makes it all the more rare. I had difficulty discerning which one was you in the graduation picture (Ha!).
Cool car, cool writing. Im looking forward to this COAL series
Thanks for the comments everyone. Hopefully, this will become a “hump day” tradition for the next several months. This was the intro, but I think that the rest are…more fun. Stay tuned for our next episode of “Personalizing A Blank Canvas” – next week at the same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.
I test drove a yellow 67 Camaro convertible 250 3 speed on the floor that was in good condition back in 1976. I believe they wanted $2400. That was a bit too much at the time unfortunately, otherwise it would have been my first car. Ended up with a year old 4 speed Vega that served me well.
Heh. “The Real Don Steele on 93-KHJ!” as a Santa Ana kid that jingle is still burned into my brain thanks to my older sisters and the ancient tube radio they commandeered that only got AM.
Great read Ed. Liked the pics. That Roadrunner and the Camaro were both fun to drive. I never knew you toasted your Mom’s car. Loved that stereo system in that car. Also, I don’t remember you had another car before THE Camaro. But that was a few years ago.
Like the rest . . . . Looking forward to the next read.
No Paul, nothing before the Camaro – only the “might have beens”. You’ll remember the next COAL much better..