Full disclosure, this COAL is going to feature pictures of a lot of cars that were not my specific cars. The reason has something to do with the fact that my photography efforts during much of the 1970s were directed at something other than automobiles. Or something else period. I don’t know…it was the 70s. I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember a lot of things about the 1970s.
That yellow 2-door 128 in the above picture wasn’t my car. Rather, it was my car’s parking-lot mate on those rare occasions when I was allowed to drive my family’s Fiat 128 to school. That’s my high school lot from circa 1979. More on that in a bit.
In fact, the only picture I’ve been able to dig up of my family’s car is this. I’m not sure what I was (literally) aiming for in this picture’s composition. What I did capture was the Town and Country from last week’s chapter – Big Car – alongside the Little Car that is today’s subject. You can just make it out through the window in its customary parking spot. Since this photo was taken sometime in late 1977, that means that possibly I – a newly-minted driver — parked it there that day.
My birthday falls right at the end of the school year, so I took Driver’s Ed in Spring semester 1977. Just about every kid in high school took it at some point during their sophomore year so that by junior year (11th grade) they had their full license. Maryland did not have a “graduated” licensing system at the time (that came in 1978, after I was already fully licensed). Thus the prevailing practice was to spend part of your 16th birthday at the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) taking your driving test and going to sleep on your birthday night with a fully operational driver’s license.
Needless to say, there was a lot of demand for Driver’s Ed class. My school had two full-time Driver’s Ed teachers. Mr. Freeman and Mr. Papini — full time Driver’s Ed during the day, football coaches by afternoon. Funny how I have forgotten 90% of all my high school teachers’ names…but not theirs.
Much of the time spent in Driver’s Ed class was sitting behind the wheel of one of these. We called them the “stimulators” (because we were 15 and that seemed clever). For some reason I never understood, the stimulators in our classroom were not actually connected to the control panel that could enable an actual simulated driving experience. I’m guessing that maintaining the giant mess of wiring that connected the room of these things was a chore, and electronics wasn’t in Mr. Freeman or Mr. Papini’s wheelhouse…or fieldhouse in their case.
They showed us some movies (mostly we were spared the gory films that are the thing of high school driver’s ed lore), gave some chalkboard lectures, and pretty much unenthusiastically ushered us through the classroom portion of the course. In that regard, pretty much the same as what the rest of our teachers did. But in fact, Freeman and Papini knew that they held the key (so to speak) to another kind of learning. About 30 years ahead of their time as educators (whether they knew it or not), they were facilitators of hands-on learning. They fully knew that the only part of the course that would capture our attention was the part that had us actually doing something with our hands and minds interconnected. That would happen on “the range” and then through actual street driving. The result was that Driver’s Ed was one of a precious few high school courses that actually produced something that had impact on a student’s day to day life. It figures that Driver’s Ed is no longer part of most high school curricula.
The range was my favorite part. For those who haven’t gone through a classic American driver’s ed program, “range driving” is basically driving around a parking lot. In my high school, a parking lot dedicated to Driver’s Ed and hence one where no one parked. Inside the range was the fleet of school-leased Driver’s Ed cars, and on range days the class would pile into the cars – three or four kids per car – and proceed to drive around in circles while the teacher stood in the middle of the circle shouting directions. At least that’s how it happened in my school.
Mr. Freeman, having a flair for both drama and football, liked to wear a helmet (Go Vikings!) while on the range and used a bull horn to amplify his instructions. But he was at his most memorable when he would ride shotgun – still wearing his helmet – and shout at you as you struggled to look cool to your fellow students in the back seat and not plow into the car in front of you. 40 years later, I still regularly hear the man’s voice telling me “Sun! Get your heel OFF THE FUCKING FLOOR!!!”
To this day I still don’t quite know what he was talking about, but I remember it.
What we drove on the range, and later on the actual road, were 1977 and 1978 Cutlases. There was a mix of both years, but more of the new for 1978 “Aeroback” models. Most were green like the one above, but 4 door “salon” models rather than the nicer Brougham above. Given the lack of consumer popularity of those first year Aerobacks, the school district probably got a good deal on that lease.
It seems that Olds offered a manual transmission on those cars. That was standard on the V6 cars and optional on the small V8; but it would appear that by 1977, driver’s education in Montgomery County schools was taught exclusively on automatic transmission cars. I’m guessing that Mr. Freeman was fine with that. Less strain on his voice yelling about the 3rd pedal. I, on the other hand, wasn’t wild about it since that meant I would have to rely upon my dad to teach me how to drive a standard. Since driving the Chrysler (Big Car) was off limits for me, if I wanted to drive I would have to drive the Fiat.
US model Fiat literature from the 70’s seems to be very thin on the ground/Internet. The 4-door one in the 1974 brochure has the same interior color as the one we had, but its paint color was like the 2-door brochure car.
This was a very pleasing red/maroon color. More like BMW’s “Malaga” than the red of our Simca. I recall that there were quite a few around in this color. Other common and outstanding colors were the yellow of the car in the initial picture for this post, quite a few shades of green, and a beige color. I never saw a black one like the one in the brochure.
It turns out that the one Enzo drove was black.
Our 128 was purchased on a cold, rainy, day in December 1974. Papers indicate that my dad paid just over $2400 for it new. The Simca was traded – more like taken off his hands without charge – for the Fiat. There were no options offered on the 128. All of the cars were the same aside from exterior and interior color. Presumably dealers tried to sell add-ons such as rust-proofing, snazzy decals, different floor mats, or the dealer-installed sun roofs that I have seen a on number of these cars. It seems that if one wanted an automatic, the only Fiat solution would have been to upgrade to the larger 124. Larger car, smaller model number…I never understood that.
My parents were probably relieved that no air-conditioning was available.
Anyhow, to me the 128 was 157” by 63” of boxy goodness. Just a little bit larger than the Simca it replaced. Maybe 10 more HP…and front wheel drive. As you can imagine (by now), the front wheel drive thing gave my parents some amount of concern (these were the people who spent years worrying about the limited slip differential on the Chrysler wagon). But they warmed to the idea that putting the driving wheels under the engine (basically the same idea as the Simca, but with the engine in the Fiat being in its “proper” place) was good for traction.
I completely adored the 4 speed manual and learned to drive it without difficulty. I really didn’t give it much thought since if I wanted to drive anything, this would be what I learned to drive. The Fiat’s transmission was smooth-shifting — how could Enzo drive it otherwise? — with seemingly little chance for mixing up gears (a significant concern for me at the time). The clutch was light, at least compared to the other standard transmission cars I’ve owned since. The clutch cable did have a tendency to need constant adjustment as it stretched and ultimately broke. “Replacing the clutch cable” was a frequent repair. Our car also seemed to devour wheel bearings for some reason. But overall, the car was dependable and fun to drive. We constantly heard the “Fix it Again, Tony!” jokes, but really, quality control seemed to be having a good day when ours was produced.
OK, so we did experience some annoying knocking from the rear end for the first year or so. Several trips to the dealer under warranty failed to produce anything until one day when I was rooting around in the trunk and found:
A classic “clavetta bottle” wedged deep in one of the side wells. Cool! Clearly a car not assembled by robots. Bottle removed, noise gone.
Therefore I was behind the wheel of the 128 on my birthday at the MVA. As far as I could tell, I was the only kid there in a standard shift car. The tension was heightened by the fact that one had to queue up on a slight hill to get into the testing area at the Rockville MVA. Stalling the car on your driver’s test would definitely not be good form, so I’d practiced extra to avoid that possibility. Passing the parallel parking test was also a bit more challenging than in an automatic. One more thing to think about…clutching…while trying not to hit cones. Then again, the Fiat was about 2/3 the size of the Olds on which I’d learned to do this. Piece of cake.
Mind you, this didn’t mean that I would be driving every day. I was still sharing my dad’s car, which he needed for his daily commute. My mom — by now also working an out-of-the-house job — commuted daily in the Chrysler. Thus my use of the Fiat was mostly evenings and weekends or the rare occasion where I made a deal to drive one of my parents to work so that I could use the car during the day.
Point is, I was never lucky enough to be one of those daily-driving kids populating the high school parking lot.
I’ll leave it to the car-spotters here to have fun identifying things in my high school’s 1979 lot. Though I will say that the preponderance of VW models (there are 6 Beetles, 3 Buses, and a Karman Ghia in that picture) really reminds me of why nearly all small car ads back then targeted VW by name.
Fiat included. Nevertheless, VW-envy aside, they had a point about the interior room afforded by the small boxy shape. The same had been true with the Simca. To this day I miss that about cars. The Fiat was tiny compared to almost anything on today’s roads, and yet it carried a family of 4 rather comfortably; as long as you weren’t planning to take it on long road trips.
But actually, I was planning on taking it on a long road trip. Long, like about as far as one can drive from Maryland. We’ll see how that turned out, next week.
Did you experience any torque steer? My sister’s 128 3P had noticible torque steer. How a 1300 with it’s tiny stroke managed it is still a mystery to me.
Great article too.
I always had torque steer when the second barrel of the 32/36 Weber carburetor I had on my Isuzu LUV opened. It was fun here in the rainy Pac NW
We called them “stimulators” too. Ours were also built from Chrysler hardware, but our manual shift option was on the column from a shifter that did double duty. I still remember the little vibration that happened in the clutch pedal as you let it up.
Four years really made a big difference – my drivers ed car in the summer of 1975 was a low trim yellow 75 Mercury Marquis. Parallel parking has never been a problem for me ever since.
It is interesting how your parents missed the “easy” choice of a VW every time they bought their small car. But when the big car was a Chrysler T&C, it is clear that your parents preferred to do their own homework and come to their own conclusions.
There’s a whole article to be written someday about why some families (mine, others that I’m aware of) eschewed VWs for other small European – and ultimately Japanese – cars.
And yes, once you learn to parallel park in a full or mid-sized American car, it’s all easy after that. Well, and get regular practice by living in a city.
I learned to parallel park by following the directions in the Arizona (or was it the later California?) MV department booklet you study to get a license. I’m sure there are similar text and video directions all over the internet today.
Also I can’t imagine not getting a car with AC when living in the DC area. The parents in question had already presumably experienced the miracle of unhumid cool driving in that Chrysler. As I’ve mentioned before, even in the early 60’s living in Arizona at over 4000 feet elevation absolutely no one in my very middle class area would think of buying a new car without it, and people had aftermarket air installed all the time in cars they moved there with. And it’s not even humid there. (Yes, I’ve also lived in DC). And in the 70’s my parents living in Arizona had a VW Beetle with AC (it worked fine with no problems), so even that was a thing by then.
Interesting.Please run me through what you had to do to get you drivers licence back in the day.7? I took my test in 82.The same style test my grandfather would have taken in1932. A family member could teach you the you applied for your one and only practical test. No minium driving time and instructions with a pro instruct in England.
The rules here in the US have evolved, and over the past 20 years or so they’ve become more standard from state to state.
Broadly speaking, it used to be (and this goes back to the times I was writing about) that one got their learner’s permit at some point during their 15th year. Getting that required passing a written test about rules of the road, and often a vision test. One could learn (memorize) the content of the written test by reading their state’s “driver’s manual” and/or by taking the classroom portion of a driver’s education class. Once you had your learner’s permit, you could legally practice driving on the road with a parent/adult and/or qualified instructor. After putting in a determined by your state number of hours in practice driving you could – at a determined by your state age (it varied) – take the behind the wheel exam at your state’s registration bureau…and then if you passed that, you got your license. Driver’s education generally served the purpose of providing you with a certificate of driver’s training that qualified you for a discount on your (parents’) auto insurance.
Fast forward to the present, and the rules are similar (with some adjustments – again on a state by state basis – for age) EXCEPT that nowadays the license you get at 16 is a “restricted” or provisional license. Restrictions vary by state (are you sensing a US theme?), but generally they relate to hours of operation and the number and age of passengers while the provisionally licensed person is driving. Sometimes driver’s ed is required to get the provisional license (e.g., it is in Massachusetts) but not in all states. To some extent, driver’s ed still mostly relates to convenience. Most driver’s ed programs provide the practice cars and a formal structure for the classroom portion of the course; not to mention a compressed time frame for accomplishing the whole process…which is important to today’s heavily-scheduled teens and their families. Getting the certificate from the driver’s ed program usually (always?) involves assuring the instructor/school that you have put in an adequate number of hours practicing behind the wheel with a parent/adult.
In nearly all states, all of these restrictions expire for those over the age of 18. If you’re over 18, and can prove that, you can simply go to the registry and take the written test and the driving test. If you pass both, you’re licensed with no restrictions.
I can’t imagine it’s less complicated in most western European countries. I recall hearing some stories about how getting a driver’s license in Germany is relatively equivalent to what most Americans go through to get a Master’s degree.
To your point about how the content hasn’t changed in 50 years, I would agree. I recently (within the last 5 years or so) watched both of my kids go through driver’s education, and the content is largely the same as what I did in 1977/8. They did have to learn about the various restrictions that would be on their under-18 licenses and the car control classroom portion talked about things like ABS that of course didn’t commonly exist back in my day; but otherwise, the same. That includes the huge attention given to parallel parking as an indicator of being fully capable of operating a motor vehicle. Both kids announced that they’d never parallel park after leaving driver’s ed…and that’s proven to be 100% accurate for both of them.
Funny how I was surrounded by foreign brands all my life growing up in blue-collar Chicago, but not one single Fiat. Even in the Italian neighborhoods, I don’t recall seeing any Fiats. When I attended university in Colorado – nope, not a single Fiat. When I lived in Kansas – nope. When I attended university in Germany – nope. When mentioned, there was a single unanimous conclusion: Fiats are bad cars. I recall seeing little two seater Fiats, and for about six months, there was talk about the Fiat Ritmo in all the trade magazines, yet – nope. Nada. Nothing.
As for my driving education – it was during the summer at high school and we were crammed into a Spirit Of America Chevrolet Impala. White coupe with navy dashboard and burgundy seats. Little red, white and blue, striping. A patriotic tank of a car.
Was that a 1976 Bicentennial Chevy model by any chance?
No – GM issued those cars starting in 1974. I guess they imagined them to be popular. Pontiac offered similar option during the same years. It never seemed to have taken off. Perhaps Florida where white cars are necessary…
Thanks Jeff, for bringing back great memories of high school driver’s ed and driver training (I don’t know why only the classroom “ed” portion was described in the possessive, but that’s what we called it). I can still see the simulators in my mind’s eye, but don’t recall much about them. I think the view out the windshield was in black and white, though. The cars – a full-size ‘72 Ford replaced on the last day by a brand new ‘73 Coronet – have stuck in my memory much better. Driving those in crowded and hilly San Francisco was a challenge at times. By the time our kids got trained, public school training was long gone and they got a private instructor with a 4 door Civic, not to mention wide and lightly trafficked suburban roads.
As for the 128, a friend had one in that same “rust” color. I say rust, not because it had rust, which took a long time to take hold in California, even on Fiats, but because I think the color was officially called “rosso ossidato” or oxidized red. Someone at Fiatvwas either oblivious to their reputation, or had a sense of humor. I think my friend had clutch cable woes as well. But it was an exciting car to drive. Rev-happy engine, good shifting, and that unique European combination of soft-suspension, precise steering and decent grip which made for easy driving at the limit on real roads.
I had a 1973 Fiat 128SL, bought new from Nemeth Motors in Irvington, NJ. I put 40,000 miles on it before trading it in…. on a 76 Buick Century 350 Colonnade coupe. Now that’s a reversal! Yes, my Fiat ate wheel bearings and clutch cables. Plenty of other troubles, too.
High School parking lot photos always interest me, as they seem to say a lot about the times and the socio-economic demographics of the particular spot. This one seems to be an almost even mix of full size, intermediate, compacts and trucks. 4 years later and 300 miles to the North, mine skewed heavily toward compacts after the gas price spikes just after these photos were taken. Sure, there were the gearheads with older Camaros and Mustangs, but the new-for-’79 Fox Body Mustang was widely represented along with more Monzas and Sunbirds than you could shake a stick at. Rabbits were plenty, but Beetles were few. Japanese and European models weren’t well entrenched yet in my area. The number of full-sized American cars in these photos looks like about 3X what you’d see just a few years later. My Driver’s Ed car was a Plymouth Horizon.
Indeed. Schools being an excellent indicator of our communities…and high school parking lots being even more fine-tuned indicators of who’s attending the schools.
Here’s one more photo (from a different angle…same year) that I couldn’t find a way of working into the article. We have more VWs, a Mustang, a Ford wagon, a Honda and a Vega…all within a few spaces.
We had a 1970 Fiat 124 that was a blast to drive. Whenever someone sat in it the first time they always commented on how roomy it was inside despite looking small on the outside. It was one of my favorite cars ever, and it’s quircks only made it more lovable. It cemented my like of small cars. It handled well and could be tossed around.
My family had a 128 sedan, too. Unfortunately, several oversalted road, rust-belt winters later, the subframe collapsed. Fiat bought it back for $400.
It’s a real pity. A simple (but attractive) three-box design, if the 128 had been built by, say, Toyota, it could have been more of a game-changer than the seventies Honda Civic. But it was just another in a long line of Fix It Again Tony cars and, by 1983, Fiat was gone, left for the huckster Malcolm Bricklin to sell the X1/9 and 124 Spider (under the names Bertone and Pininfarina Azzurra) in the US for a few more years.
And then came the Yugo….
I remember sales for those Fiats really taking off in the mid-1970s with the “Oil Crisis, along with lots of other imports.
I’d forgotten how Fiat straight-ahead took on VW in those ads:
That whole straight talking with a sense of humor style was pioneered by VW’s US agency Doyle Dane Bernbach and really revolutionized all advertising from then on.
Here’s the whole story I just found. It also covers some VW history, but it leaves out how the whole thing almost didn’t happen when the Allies were in charge after WWII.
Hadn’t seen a 128 for many years until I visited Sicily – 127s , 124s 128s – cars that had long since dissolved here in the damp UK.
Our driver’s ed cars were Dodge Darts in 1972.
And of course, the teachers were the football coaches. Always, and in every nearby school. It must have been a tradition of sorts back then.
The emergency braking course was memorable. You drove past a pylon at 20 (?) mph and slammed on the brakes, locking them up. If you skidded to a stop in the shortest distance you were the winner.
Anti-lock braking was an unfathomable concept.
So can I venture a guess that this was Walt Whitman High School? I thought I recognized Whittier Blvd. I took driver’s ed there in summer school back in 76. Your year got the good vehicles. We got AMC Pacers and as I recall, someone (not me) wrecked one while driving on the streets on their first drive off the parking lot. I don’t think that student returned the next day after the wreck. And who didn’t just love the Rockville DMV? I think every kid was forced to learned how to parallel park in the family yacht (68 Plymouth VIP) but then took the test in a smaller car (71 Dodge Dart). A few weeks after I got my licence, I learned how to drive stick on a VW Beetle. Thanks for the sparking some good memories.
I remember the Pacers 🙂 Yep, just a year or two before me. And I seem to recall some story about a kid wrecking one. Maybe that was why Freeman wore the helmet by the time he got around to my class.
Enjoyable article! I have absolutely no experience with Fiats of this vintage (not even Ladas), so I want to see my schoolmate’s restored Fiat 124 Sport Coupe before he sells it.
As for the simulators – we had them too, in Slovakia in 2016 when I started my driving school attendance. In our country they are mostly based on Škoda Felicia or Fabia interiors. In my driving school there was one based on Fabia II interior with screens substituting windshield and rear-view mirrors.
Fabia, like most of VAG vehicles, has mostly the reverse gear located in the place of first gear, but you have to push the shifter down. In this simulator, though, you could shift into reverse this way or the more common way, from neutral to the right and down.
As I observed this and pointed it out to the assigned teacher – hey, this thing has two reverse gears! – his reaction was – were you smoking something or what? 😀
You must have gone to a more upscale school than I did, your 1979 parking lot has newer cars than my 1986 parking lot did 🙂
A FIAT would have been a pretty cool choice for a high school kid though, your parents made sure the little car was a little as possible.
We didn’t have driver ed in highschool, not sure if that was a Canadian thing ever. Frankly I’m relieved, because our football coach was a pretty sadistic guy I would never have wanted him teaching me anything I actually cared about. If I’d messed up, he would have had the other kids in the car drive over my toes or something. 🙁
It was certainly an Ontario thing. It was offered by the county board of education as an evening or summer school course. I took drivers ed at my own high school in the summer of 1980; in-class was done by an English teacher from another school, while in-car was with professional driving instructors. The summer course was on manual transmission, the others automatic. Our car was an ’80 Rabbit, the auto cars were Volares and Fairmonts as I recall.
Never saw one of those simulators before, but it’s funny to think for about a grand these days you can build something like that complete with a panoramic windshield display.
In the early 90s, we had Ford Tempos for driver’s ed, which was probably for the best considering their dynamic qualities. I was paired with this girl who had no business getting her license; on day one she backed up the school stairs, and almost hit a pedestrian crossing at a stop sign… from a stop. Like, the pedestrian was literally walking past the car when she decided it was a good idea to go. Good thing the instructor had a second brake pedal.
I don’t really remember what parked in my high school parking lot; I only knew 2 guys with cars who both lived in the opposite direction from me, and you didn’t really go out the lot exit the way the building was set up unless you were specifically going to the lot.
But of the 2 guys with cars, one had a 9-year-old Hyundai Excel and the other had a 9-year-old Fox body Mustang. Funny how we thought both cars were absolute crapboxes back then, and they were, but that Fox would probably still fetch a nice price now.
Anyone else notice the E-body steering wheel on simulator?
When I was in high school, I couldn’t have imagined a teacher using an F-bomb in a student’s presence.
Late 60s high school daze… I remember the simulators (ours had a three on the tree) AND I remember our extremely patient driving instructor, Mr. Grover P. Nutt.
My first new car was a ‘74 X1/9 and that kicked off my love of Fiats. Just about bought a new 128 in ‘77 for my wife, but held off. With that 1300 motor, the car could barely get out of its own way, but I could tell it was fun to drive after the test drive. I’ve owned 5 Fiats – currently own an ‘81 X with 235k miles and a 2012 500 Abarth – and my ownership experiences have been very pleasant.
When I took Driver’s Ed, our school’s car was a 1978 Dodge Aspen four-door sedan in a burnt orange color, with a matching vinyl roof. In retrospect, the only thing that stands out about the car is that the school district somehow avoided purchasing the cheapest version of the Aspen.
As for the Fiat 128 – Consumer Reports initially rated it as the top subcompact. By 1975, it no longer recommended the car, noting that while the 128 still tested well, 128 owners responding to the magazine’s annual reliability survey repeatedly complained about reliability issues and poor dealer service.
My best friend in high school drive a 1974 128 SL. Despite the bad reputation that Fiats had earned even then, I don’t remember him complaining about any particular problems with it.
I loved every thing about this post.
The lead off photo sucked me in this morning, with me spending more time than I probably should have before leaving for work today looking at all the cars. I loved that wee re two different generations of both Camaro and Mustang, with a GM H-Body hatch (Chevy Monza?) also in there for comparison.
There must be something to football coaches and drivers’ ed, because my two main drivers’ ed teachers were also the main and assistant coach. (Mr. Eufinger was also one of my favorite Social Studies teachers as well – great man.)
I look at my younger nephews and nieces and lament that they will probably never get as excited about getting their drivers’ licenses as I once did!
Another great piece, Jeff – thank you.
Wow. Driver’s Ed. Memories. I grew up in Kalispell, MT at the tail end of the era where you could get your full on driver’s license the morning of your 15th birthday (16th if you didn’t take driver’s ed). You could enroll in driver’s ed at 14 and a half, and were then granted a “Learner’s Permit” that allowed you to drive with your parent’s or another legal age guardian in the car. We didn’t have “stimulators”, so after some book learning and a few films (which were fairly modern and lacked the gore and scare tactics of the OG films many remember), we moved on to the actual driver’s ed cars and took to the road. Our cars were a motley crew consisting of late model compact sedans with automatic transmissions. There was a Pontiac Sunbird, Ford Tempo, and a Mazda 323. It wasn’t long before we migrated from the Junior High parking lot to the large neighborhood surrounding the school… then on to other residential areas, busy city streets, secondary roads, and on to the highway. We didn’t have a freeway, so it was a mixture of two, four, and five lane highways, some divided and some not.
For whatever reason, Montana seemed to put a LOT of emphasis on parallel parking, so instructors were always having us stop and parallel park in random areas. With the fairly quick pace that the course ran at, there were a couple of butt puckering moments as the curriculum advanced faster than a few of my classmates’ abilities. In a two lane passing test, where all three of the cars were leapfrogging each other on a fairly empty highway, one of the other cars bumped me in the rear at ~50mph as the other driver accelerated to pass, but never moved over to actually go around.
I’m not known as an early riser (then or now), but I was up at the DMV before they opened on the morning of my 15th birthday, first in line. I took my test in a Chevy Luv with a 4 speed manual. It was a very easy shifting and forgiving transmission, so everything went smoothly. And yep. Being able to parallel park was probably sealed the deal. Looking back, ehh… 15 years old for a driver’s license with pretty much no restrictions (it was listed as “Provisional”, which pretty much amounted to your parents being able to legally take it away from you, and not much else). Yoiks! I’m guessing that the low age requirement was a leftover from earlier days and having many rural communities, though the area I lived in was never very rural. Needless to say, the age went up to 16 and restrictions increased sometime after I got my license in the late summer of 1993.
And yes. Thank you for this well written piece, Jeff!
It sounds like your driver’s ed experience in Montana was a bit more NASCAR than mine 🙂
“He didn’t slam you, he didn’t bump you, he didn’t nudge you… he rubbed you. And rubbing, son, is racing.” (Harry Hogge – Days of Thunder)
It’s interesting that MT would even bother much with parallel parking. I mean, how often…..
Haha! I never really thought of it that way, but yeah… Slow motion NASCAR with little 4 cylinders bleating and detonating as they hunted between too few gears in their 3 speed autos and struggled to gain speed. That’s probably the saving grace, as pinning the accelerator in any of the cars at speed netted only very gradual increases in velocity.
I have no idea whose idea it was or why MT used parallel parking ability as THE metric to gauge overall fitness for driving, but that’s how they rolled 28 years (gulp. has it really been. that. long? I’m getting old!) ago. Streets in many residential areas still use parallel parking there, but I slipped into doing it the easier way years ago; that being pulling in forward and hopping the curb with right front tire, then back down off the curb once the tail end is in.
A most enjoyable CC!!!
Great pics, good memories!
I didn’t have a car in HS, but about 3-4 times as a senior, my mom smiled at me and said, “you know, I won’t be needing the car today, if you want to take it 🙂 ” If? Are you kidding? “Thanks mom” and I quickly took the car before she changed her mind and started thinking about it…
As DougD observed, your HS was more affluent than mine. It’s 1979, and I spotted a 79 Mustang and (a no older than) 78 Camaro–that’s up there for High School–cars that were both new and cool. I don’t recall any of those—with one notable exception–a BMW 320i, not just newer and cool, but an expensive imported car in a burb where expensive imported cars were rare–and even in neighboring Port Jefferson, they were not common. It was driven by M, an Iranian expatriate kid whose father (had) worked on the F-14, which was manufactured on Long Island, and which the Shah bought 80.
My school only offered driver’s ed to seniors–most kids already had a license by then–i did, but we were encouraged to take it for one semester. We had a 1981 or so Chrysler Newport (the downsized last Newport). It was bog slow…. We drove both in the parking lot, on the “circle”, and in the world.
Great CC Jeff, thanks!
Great memories – I had two 128 sedans (two and four door) and a 128SL coupe during the eighties. A blast to drive – all of them.
Great memories of driving that “stimulator”. Went to high school in Baltimore about the same time as you and we also got to drive the streets with the Olds Cutlass which were dealer demos so it was fully loaded. While you got to enjoy the Fiat 128, I was dreaming of owning the Fiat 131 Mirafiori or the “Brava”. The boxier the better!
I have told the story before but maybe I’ll tell it more accurately this time. I grew up in Arkansas and we can get a provisional license at the age of 14 that would allow us to drive with a licensed adult in the car. I bypassed that stage and waited until I was 16 to take the test for a full license. This was in a lightly populated county that had a State Trooper come to town once or twice a month to give the test to all who showed up for it. I took my written exam after studying the state-issued manual and passed with flying colors then I went out for my driving exam with the State Trooper. I remember that the most important rule was when pulling out from the parallel-parked initial position to use the turn signal. I made sure to do that, and we did some ordinary maneuvers including a parallel parking operation around the county courthouse. I did okay on that.
An old farmer who had never been licensed had signed up to take the exam, and the trooper asked me to give him his written exam while the trooper gave someone else a driving exam. The farmer had not studied the state manual so he did poorly on the written exam exam that I gave him. When the trooper reviewed those results, he gave the farmer the state manual to study before coming back for another try.
In Toronto in the 60s we did not have driver’s ed in high school but there was a course called “Pro Drivers” that was quite popular, even though you had to pay for it. I took it in the summer and I think it was a week long. Mornings were classroom and afternoons were in-car instruction with 3 students per car, all downtown city driving. My student car was a 1965 Rambler Classic with automatic. I think it was the only time I have driven a Rambler. Your could also take the course on weekends during the school year. It was actually quite effective training, but a big reason for the popularity was that there was a discount on your insurance rates and it was also rumoured that the Ministry examiners were easier on students from this course. I know I passed on my first try and I could not parallel park.
My parents bought a used yellow 128 from Babak, a Persian student at Goddard College in 1977 or so. There are lots of hills in Vermont, and hill starts were a very important skill. After driving the 128, I had a chance to drive my My brother in law’s 1600 bug. It is the only time I noticed how much torque the VW had. I really liked the 128. Much nicer than a bug, especially in winter due to the poor heat and poor defrost in a bug.
Our Drivers Ed was taught by Mr. Leighton Wass, a Mainer. The car was an orange Opel wagon with an automatic. The interstate was 14 miles from school and I don’t remember ever getting there.
I was a few years before you (first license in 1974, driver’s training a few months prior)..we didn’t have simulators, just some classroom instruction and then out on the course in the parking lot of our high school. Went to school in Virginia, and man was I bummed when they cancelled school because it got too hot (our school didn’t have air conditioning…it no longer exists…in fact only 2 of the 5 schools I went to before college do, only the first (1st grade) and last (senior year only in a different high school than I started in) so driver’s ed was also off. If ever I didn’t want to have classes cancelled it was when I was up for driver’s ed. The cars had aux brake pedal but no duplicated wheel, guess they trusted us to steer but not stop. The cars were from the local Chevy dealer, and of that era, a bit hard to see out of (guess like today’s cars) like Monte Carlos and the like, hard to see out the back to do parallel parking and such.
A couple years later, finally graduated high school and needed car for college as I was a commuter student all 4 undergraduate years…we now had moved to Vermont, and I wanted FWD, but that wasn’t too common yet, especially in a used car a student could afford…but I bought a 1972 Fiat 128 Wagon, but it was a big mistake. Didn’t know too much about cars and didn’t check underneath, but I’d bought a rustbucket. A couple months later the car threw a gear in the transaxle, and the repair shop told me they couldn’t be sure they’d be able to get it back together after replacement due to the rust. So I junked it….a sad beginning for a car crazy guy.
I had the car such a short time I don’t even really count it as one I’ve owned, but I do have some (mostly good) memories of it. Trying to get it inspected, one of the headlights wouldn’t turn on low beam…interestingly my youngest sister had exactly the same problem with one of her cars (bought for college too), but she’s 12 years younger so this was quite a bit later…it took me awhile to figure it out (wasn’t too good with cars, but maybe a bit more with electrical stuff even though I lacked the diagrams). It had a manual choke, you had to remember to adjust it as the car warmed up (which could take awhile up in Vermont), and the car had a tiny (maybe 10 gal?) tank, it required premium fuel but it got very good mileage (a couple years after the gas crisis, this was important for a student budget). It was a 4 speed, learned to drive automatic but my Father taught me to drive manual in an afternoon or so.
I probably picked a pretty appropriate 1st car, but didn’t know enough to check for rust. We’d spent the previous 6 years in Virginia, where rust isn’t as big a deal, so I didn’t really appreciate the extent it could spread (my Fiat was 4 years old when I bought it as a rustbucket). We’d lived in Vermont previously (in the mid 60’s) so my Father knew rust, his ’59 Beetle was also a rustbucket by the time it was totalled in 1968. Guess I could have bought something more conventional (maybe RWD) but in better shape, guess I put too much importance on the FWD….could have bought a Beetle with RWD but engine over driven wheels, but otherwise, not much choices in used cars in 1976 that would have had good traction (I lived about 30 min from my school each way).
Have only had 4 cars since then (47 years driving). The Fiat really made my average ownership duration go down, but have made up for it since then…my current (only) car is 21 years old this year.