For those of us who call ourselves car people, our personal holy grail of collector cars is not necessarily rare, fast or exotic; there may only be a single qualification that drives us to seek it out: It’s just like our first car.
Years later, some try to find a duplicate of car № 1 and make a daydream of our past selves real again. The luckiest manage to find the exact vehicle again (whether it’s a good idea is debatable) and might see the reunion of themselves and their baby recorded:
But even if the search is merely for a twin, there’s no certainty it will work out. For me, the white whale is a green wagon: a 1963 Plymouth Valiant V-200 Suburban like my mom’s, the first car I got to drive.
The problem isn’t the rarity of the make and model. ’63 Valiant wagons aren’t that hard to find, even after almost 60 years.
That is, unless you want a V-200 in Metallic Green Poly. For years I have kept my eyes open and ears tuned for a car with the right boxes checked on its build sheet, but no dice. The sphere of the search has grown, fed by the internet, yet the Valiant of my dreams remains as unknowable as this version of the factory postcard, which only exists online, because I recolored it in Photoshop. In my quest, I’ve settled for near misses on six separate occasions, only to pass them on to new owners because they didn’t satisfy down to the most obsessively searched detail.
Dad loves to tell the story of how Mom got her Valiant. He was friends with the folks down at Hiway Chrysler-Plymouth, and liked to stop in now and then for conversation and to check out the cars. One morning he pulled in to see the new ’63 models. After church that afternoon, he told Mom, “I want to show you something, and piled the family into the Belvedere. Ushering us into the showroom, he asked Mom what she thought of a sharp green V-200 wagon parked there, equipped with push button automatic, full wheel covers, whitewalls, and a nifty chrome roof rack.
I’m sorry to say, I don’t have a dedicated picture of the Valiant. I guess it was too busy working for us to sit still for one. The wagon put up with Mom’s famous lead foot. It also suffered through three boys’ worth of driving lessons and erratic learning curves. On my first day as a legal driver, I took Mom to the A&P, and decided to drive around the parking lot while she shopped. I embarrassed myself by bouncing a back wheel over the corner of a curb (a mistake I still make). I also clipped the garage doorway and bent a wheel arch that same summer.
The Valiant just kept running, serving us with working-class aplomb for the next half-decade. I wasn’t embarrassed to drive it to school, even at the worried age of 16, because it cleaned up so well. My oldest brother Terry eventually took it to college, though the tinworm had begun to attack. That’s him in the front yard on his high school graduation night in June of 1964.
Fast forward to the early ’90s. I was running an ’80 Pontiac Phoenix, paired with a series of oldsters: a BMW 3000S, then Mercedes 280S 4.5 among others, and I saw an ad in the Auto Locator for a ’63 Valiant, across the Hudson in Westchester. The price was right, and I drove it home with plates borrowed from the Mercedes. It was a 2-door, base model, “V-100” but had power steering, and was repainted in refrigerator white. On the way, a brake line sprouted a leak, and I used the parking brake and transmission lock (click-click-click-clack!) to stop it by a conveniently located auto parts store, where new line, a tube bender and a flaring tool were used to get it home. I enjoyed that car for a number of years.