Memories of My First Wheels

My first automobile was a red 1969 Ford Torino GT with a black vinyl top powered by a 351 Windsor small block V8. Though it had a considerable amount of rust to both rear quarter panels, it had relatively low mileage for a six year old vehicle and the price was only $700.00.

Stevarino's Ford Torino

Stevarino’s Ford Torino

It didn’t take long for the first stroke of bad luck to occur. As I was turning onto the McGalliard extension (pre State Road 332), I punched the accelerator causing one of the motor mounts to break. The torque caused the motor to twist under the hood, pulling the linkages down to the floorboard which caused the vehicle to increase acceleration. My gut instinct was to reach for the ignition key and turn it off, otherwise, it could have been a “run-away situation”. Not too long after getting new mounts installed, the latch for the driver’s side door broke off. There was no way to shut the door, so I used a rope to secure it until Gib, my step-grandfather, welded the latch back onto the door. Whew! Then, of course, the snapped antennae replaced by a coat hanger, so common in those days before antennae were embedded into the windshield.

Being that is was my first car, I had to customize it with cool features. The first of these was a miniature, chrome steering wheel with a thick, black foam grip. I didn’t get the electronics wired correctly at first, as evidenced by the horn sounding every time I took a left turn. After getting that ironed-out, I acquired a set of 4 Cragar rims, complete with wide tires, M60s for the rear wheels. The problem though, was that they were 15 inch wheels and the Torino wheel wells were designed for a 14 inch. Nevertheless, I gave new meaning to the term “burning rubber” as I cruised the streets with always a car-load of joy riders, trying to drown out the dreaded scraping sound every time I went over a bump, with my Craig, 8-track stereo player (a folded match book needed to be inserted next to the tape to keep it from dragging – remember?) cranked to the max. With the addition of the stereo and quad JSL speakers came the theft-proof door lock extensions, first in chrome, then upgraded to the chrome with wood inlays.

 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Roll Gypsy Roll (studio version)

Since I was working at a garage (my first job was at Bartlett Tire Sales), I had use of the garage after hours to work on my car, but after a year or so, I began to yearn for a newer, more powerful set of wheels. In getting the old Torino ready to resell, I re-installed the original factory wheels and steering wheel and actually enjoyed driving it more. Two days before I sold it, a friend of mine who was parked next to me at the Taco Tico on Tillotson, accidentally pulled into my right front quarter panel, putting a rather large dent with a crease in it. I didn’t bother getting it fixed yet still sold it at slightly above what I had paid – a coat of wax makes a world of difference.

73-Challenger-RT

1973 Dodge Challenger R/T

My next auto was a dream car – a gun metal grey 1973 Dodge Challenger R/T with black vinyl top, 340 cu v8, factory 4-barrel carburetor and slap-stick shifter. I still get goosebumps thinking about it or when I see another, especially the newly released versions!

'75 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

’75 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

1973 Datsun 240Z

1973 Datsun 240Z

1980 Yellow Chevette

1980 Yellow Chevette

It became obvious in those years of my youth that my two biggest downfalls involved cars and females. I totalled the Monte Carlo and ended up in traction for 6 weeks in the summer of 1979. I replaced the Monte Carlo with an early ’70s Z28 which had been tweaked so much that I didn’t know the specs required in having it tuned. I sold it shortly there after and purchased a 1972 or 1973 Nissan 240Z with an automatic. Several months later, a local doctor’s son ran a red light and took off the front of my 240Z. Another total loss.

It was winter 1981 when I found a Mercury Marquis for sale for a good price. Though I thoroughly checked it out before making the deal, after one week of use it literally “locked-up” on me as I was turning onto my street after work one evening. The Marquis sold for junk which was barely enough to cover the towing fee. The curse was still alive.

As the price of gasoline rose throughout most of the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s (Carter got the blame but I believe Nixon started the crisis), larger cars grew to be impractical and unpopular, so I found a deal on a compact car. I located a 1980 Chevette that was being sold “as is” for $99.00 down and $99.00 a month – a deal I couldn’t resist. By the time I got it home, steam was shooting straight down onto the driveway – the water pump was shot. Spending about $25.00 for a re-built one, I installed it there in the driveway and never had any more problems from under the hood. It wasn’t too long after when a carload of teenagers from Marion ran a red light and caved in my right, rear fender which came to over $1200.00 in repairs, which the driver’s insurance took care of. I deposited the check and all I did was pull the fender out from the tire by hooking a chain to it, wrapping the other end of the chain around a tree and slowly driving away, which jerked the fender back out. The next winter, the crew at Jerry’s Marathon slid my car into their garage door while I had it in for routine servicing. Their insurance awarded me another check, this on for $300.00 and all I needed to do was replace the headlight. Granted, the car looked like it had been through hell, but it got me through college and down to Dallas, where I sold it for $200.00. That Chevette was possibly the best investment I ever made!

Steve D.

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