Mac and I each owned a car — and I use the term loosely — when we married in 1967. We sold my Pepto Bismol-pink Rambler to a friend for a song, and that song was, “How much can you afford?” We left the Rambler parked in front of his house while he was out of town. When he returned, the car had a dead battery and three flat tires. For some reason, our friendship cooled soon after that transaction.
The vehicle we kept was Harriet, a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville. Her engine was big enough for rapid acceleration, a trick that enabled us to watch the gas gauge plummet as the car’s speed increased. She also had a tendency for frequent breakdowns, which caused Mac to swear and kick the tires. Good thing the tires were retreads. In those days, so were his shoes.
We soon moved on to other cars, all affordable and all beaters. The ones that lasted more than a few months or had real character were given names. What could be more boring than riding around in “the car”? I’ve forgotten some of our character cars, but others were so memorable they’ve stuck in my mind like gum to a sneaker — like the Green Bomb, an ancient Olds that traveled within its own cloud of black smoke. I knew just when to put dinner on the table, once I caught a whiff of Mac’s imminent arrival. We possessed the Bomb only a short time, just until we got our $100 worth.
I have a theory that green cars last longer, because a number of our golden oldies were moss green. Or maybe they were just mossy. One such beauty was our first car with air conditioning. We bought it in the heat of summer, and our 10-year-old son climbed into its cool back seat and exclaimed, “Paradise for only 500 bucks!” Thereafter, the car was known as Paradise. Repair bills could have easily earned it a totally different title.
My parents bestowed several hand-me-down cars on us, none nearly as old as the models we could afford. The first was a 1973 Plymouth Valiant called Prince Val, of course. It was sky blue when we got it, and rusty, with a junkyard-fresh white fender, when we sold it years later. As we affixed the For Sale sign to the rear window, my dad advised us to advertise it as very reliable. “After all,” he said, “what could be more reliable than a car with 275,000 miles?”