Of Cars and Trucks

I like cars. I use the term generically, to include all the forms of four-wheeled, powered, personal transportation. I have owned nearly a score. None were especially expensive, powerful, or exotic. Each one was fun to drive. Every last one.

My first was a black 1962 Plymouth Valiant with a red vinyl interior, a slant-six engine, and push button transmission controls on the dash. The year was 1968. I was in college. It was a rather pedestrian (excuse the pun) entree into the world of car ownership, but then, I was a rather pedestrian college kid. I spent weekends exploring “gray roads,” those faint gray lines on maps that indicate “unpaved.” Among my college friends, the car had something of a low-rider reputation, as its semi-elliptic leaf springs had sagged into straight lines and the torsion bars on the front end were similarly exhausted.

In short order after college, I drove a VW Microbus and a Fiat 124 Sport Spider. Sitting over the front wheels of the Microbus and cranking that nearly horizontal steering wheel through the esses of a mountain road is an experience that stays with you. I can still feel the sway, still hear the pitch of that air-cooled four-banger in the back rise and fall as I accelerate out of one curve, then decelerate into the next.

And the Spider! Ah, the Spider! Mine was the color of lemon mousse. A curvy Italian beauty, with tan upholstery and (unusual for the day) a convertible top you could raise and lower without leaving the driver’s seat. I remember one fine summer day rounding a curve in Wilkes County, NC, and seeing a clear, sharp line in the road ahead, separating dry pavement from the thunderstorm I was about to drive into. I braked to a stop on the shoulder. The wet/dry line held its ground. I reached behind me, lifted the top and clamped it into place, cranked up the windows, and drove into the storm, snug and dry.

The Spider was also a great snow car. Snowfall is a big deal in Charlotte, NC, and leaving work with a surprise five inches on the ground makes for an interesting commute. I had to help push several cars out of my parking lot before getting my own turn. The little Fiat needed no help there nor on the hill near my house. I just had to wait for the other cars to slide off the road and give me driving room. Later that night, I double-dated in that car. The other couple were afraid to risk it in their big Buick.

During my graduate school years, I got bitten with the back-to-the-land bug. Attempting to grow a significant portion of our food led, as you might expect, to a pickup truck. My first was an early 60s beater with sprung hood hinges. As I drove, the rear of the hood would slowly rise until it crouched eight inches above the cowl and I could watch the engine in its labors. At the end of the trip, I pushed the hood back into place, ready for its next rising. To my chagrin, that truck also came equipped with a cracked block. It was a short-lived partnership. But that old truck set me on a different path, in which there are just two states of being: Either I have a truck, or I am between trucks.

It is possible to function between trucks. It helps if the gardening bug is in remission. I have hauled long boards on top of Nancy’s station wagon, and her birthday rock (a 300 pound boulder) inside. And, in all honesty, those “between trucks” vehicles each had their charms. The full size Dodge van was great for that two-week camping trip in the American Southwest. The mini-van was just what we needed for the cross country trip that followed Lewis and Clark west and the Oregon Trail coming back east. The Volvo turbo that almost got me ticketed for enjoying the switchbacks down to Leatherwood Ford in the Big South Fork was a blast. For a time, Jay and I shared a Nissan 240SX and, later, a Miata—happy reminders of my beloved Fiat Spider.

Nevertheless, I am no longer “between.” My current ride is a 14-year-old Ranger. It’s my fifth truck and our low-mileage vehicle—140,000 and counting. I rarely even sweep out the mulch and gravel anymore; the next load will not be long in coming.

2 thoughts on “Of Cars and Trucks”

  1. Ah, I remember my Datsun 2000 5 speed that would out crawl the 240Z its successor. We now belong to a Subaru cult.
    I can look up your cars in my “Collectible Automobile” magazine index.

    Dad had an Austin Healy Bugeye Sprite which in a storm on 129 coming back from Fontana Dam filled with water due to not having an easy close soft top.

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