Our 1956 Olds was a solid and trouble-free car, which explains why my Dad kept it for more than a year. I remember him looking at new ’57 Oldsmobiles and coming away unimpressed. Nevertheless, a change would come soon, as Mobil transferred my father to Mexico City, Mexico. It was time for a new car, which turned out to be a metallic turquoise-and-white 1958 Plymouth nine-passenger station wagon with many new “firsts” for us: The first power steering, the first factory whitewalls, the first fins, first push-button transmission selection–and the first station wagon. The Plymouth was a good choice for our family of five. It got us to Mexico City with no problems, it was great at holding the players and equipment of the little league baseball team my Dad coached, and it was great for our annual return to my mother’s family farm in Illinois. It did exactly what big American wagons excelled at, and was a fine long-distance cruiser.
The Plymouth kept piling on the miles, and eventually it was time to move on. This time, the move was to a new 1961 Mercedes 190 just like the 200D in this photo I shot just outside of Kelso, Washington. It had the same light-green paint with matching wheel covers and those narrow-stripe whitewalls. My father had the Mercedes dealer dress it up a bit by installing chrome wheel trim rings and the chrome trim normally restricted to upscale 220 models–but the real icing on the cake was its rolled and pleated green-leather interior. There was even a rolled and pleated cover for the rear package tray (which was all the rage, at least judging from the cars featured in Rod & Custom magazine).
That car was a revelation, with great handling and a great ride. The unboosted steering was precise but not too heavy. It was also my Dad’s first car with a four-speed transmission. It was a good car that served us for a couple of years until Mobil moved us again, this time to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
My Dad picked up a nearly-new 1963 Chevy Bel Air from a fellow Mobil employee who’d been transferred overseas. It had the new 230 cu. in. inline six, a three-speed manual and no power anything. It looked good, with its deep metallic green paint and more-restrained Bel Air trim, and could lay ridiculous amounts of rubber for a six; in fact, during one of my vacation visits to San Juan my father mentioned that the Chevy had wiped a cam. Imagine that!
And so we became a two-car family for the first time. My mother’s car was an ex-Hertz rental car and pretty much a stripper. It didn’t even have a heater, but that was then fairly common for cars in San Juan. It had the 170 cu. in. six and probably a two-speed auto. That Falcon may have been compact outside, but it gave up very little interior room to the Chevy. Its unit body construction was rattle-free, and the doors closed with a thunk; the same could not be said for the Chevy. What’s more, I could out-drag my friend in his 1957 MGA 1500 with the Falcon.
After a short stint in Puerto Rico, it was on to Paris, France, and yet another change in our rides.
Before getting the Falcon, my Dad had bought a used ’57 Buick Limited from Anderson Buick, in Aledo, Illinois. The car had belonged to a wealthy farmer, and as such had a very dusty interior and mint-green paint in need of compounding and a wax. It cleaned up just fine, and the upholstery, having worn clear plastic covers from day one, was like new. The thing was gargantuan, with a 127.5-inch (3,238 mm) wheelbase and 4,500 pounds (2,050 kg) of curb weight. While the 300-horse, 364 cu. in. nailhead didn’t exactly struggle to move the beast, acceleration was, shall we say, stately. It had power everything, and all of it worked.
It was way too much car for the tight confines of San Juan, but–having cost $4,483 when new–it just couldn’t be passed up at the $500 asking price. Only 2,250 Model 75 four-doors left the factory in 1957. All ’57 Buick hardtops were Rivieras, just as all Olds hardtops were Holidays. For those of you not familiar with the term “hardtop”, it derives from “hardtop convertible”, or pillarless sedan, a style introduced by GM in 1950.
Once we’d settled into the suburb of Vaucresson, my father bought a used 1963 Citroën DS-19 from another Mobil employee. It was a great car to drive and one of the fastest cars on French roads. (Check out the Levi Californians that I’m rockin’)
In the mid-1960s there were very few sports cars running about France, but plenty of 2CVs, and Renault 4Ls like the one in the background of this photo. The Citroën embodied too many “firsts” to list.
The Spanish referred to the DS-19, especially a gray one like ours, as “Tiburon”, or shark.
But it was a frail thing, one that even factory mechanics using factory parts found nearly impossible to keep running for any length of time. So it had to go.
The Citroën was replaced with a used 1966 Simca 1000. The aluminum trim on the front indicates the GLS trim level. This was a nicely finished car, and its diminutive size made it much easier to hustle around Paris in than the DS-19. It was a bit tight for family trips to Spain or London, but those days were over–and in summer 1968, so too would be our Simca ownership, as my father was transferred back to the States.
Next: Who knows? Maybe “Cars of My Girlfriends”…