12 October 2011

First Car Meme

1. What was your first car? Model, year, color, condition?
2. What adventures did you have in it, good or bad?
3. What happened to it, what’s the end of the story?

I got it from Miguel at Gun Free Zone who got it from Rock In A Sea Of Chaos who got it from Jay G, but it started here.  

And now, without further ado, I present to you...the 1972 Fiat 128 saloon! (music, confetti, applause)

Now the first car I drove was a 1973 Mercury Marquis Brougham, and oh what a car that was! It was the family car, though, and Dad sold it off before I got overly attached to it.

Just before selling the Merc Dad bought a white 74 Fiat 128 with serious front fender rot that had been poorly repaired with fiberglass matting and a bad clutch. One Thanksgiving we pulled the tranny before dinner and reinstalled it with a new clutch right after desert.  Soon afterwards he got this one from my high-school driver's ed instructor. It was green, and by green I mean US Army olive drab green. When we got it the wheels were yellow. Revolting doesn't begin to describe it.  Otherwise the car was in exceptionally good shape, especially for a car that had spent 10 years in Midwest winters.  Did I mention the driver's ed instructor and the auto shop instructor were good friends?

He bought these two cars because we needed a way to haul six of us around more economically than the aforementioned glorious Mercury (which sucked down dino juice at a truly alarming rate with its 428 V-8 motor...damn but I loved that car), and we could actually drive two Fiats cheaper than one Mercury. It had a bad shudder whenever you would try to back up with it and it would eat rear tires like they were free.  Dad figured out that the clutch cable adjustment was causing the shudder, and after several unsuccessful trips to the alignment shop he and I finally got the alignment straight on the rear end of the car using a carpenter's square and a tape measure as our alignment tools.

For about a year everywhere clan Card went we went in two Fiat automobiles.  That eventually turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, though (I think my mother's opinion strongly reinforced this decision), so a 78 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon (we bought it at a state auction, it was silver and thankfully did not have the fake wood trim) soon replaced the Fiats. My older sister got the white 74 and the green 72 was MINE!!!

The first "mod" was to paint those hideous yellow wheels silver, which I did often (whenever yellow would show) and without removing the tires. The second "mod" was to install speakers on the rear deck for the AM radio. My sister's 74 broke a clutch cable and left her stranded right before she moved away and Dad junked that car, but before he did I snatched the tan interior (which was in far better shape than my black one) out of it. I should have got her motor, too, it was bigger, but I didn't have a place to do it.

Then came an under-dash FM radio/cassette player, and boy wasn't I rock-n-rolling then!  The local A&W was having some sort of promotional at the time (they were more like Sonics then, with in-car dining and car-hops) where they were giving away these little multi-colored puff-ball critters with googly eyes and big feet and funny hats, I made instruments for them to "play" out of card stock and stuck them on the rear package panel between and all over the speakers to make my own band.  And what a band it was, too, there was nothing they couldn't play!

I drove it about a year, from halfway through my junior year to halfway through my senior year in high school. This car never met a dirt road it didn't like, in any kind of weather. I never even once got this car stuck, and one of the trips we made was down a mud farm road to a fishing pond. The guy behind us in the 4wd truck didn't make it. It was just so light that it wouldn't sink into the mud.  It was also good at whipping 180's on the gravel roads, just pop off the throttle in second gear and jerk the parking brake up when you slung the wheel to the left, slam the throttle and the brake lever back down and just like magic you were in the other lane going the other way.  Very useful in the games of auto tag...that I lost horribly any other way (don't try this at home, kids).

Certain other adventures were classified, and are likely to remain so. Suffice it to say that my girlfriend's dad hated the huge Mercury with its front bench seat that could seat four teenagers across, but he liked the tiny Fiat with its front bucket seats that could hardly fit four teenagers in front and back seats together. He really shouldn't have.

The top speed, downhill with a tail wind, was a bit over 90 MPH, which we achieved regularly just to see if it could still do it.  The Weber carburetor was water cooled and heated, the engine coolant circulated not only through the intake manifold but also through the carb. On cold Iowa mornings the car wouldn't even attempt to start even though I plugged in the block heater every night without fail. I parked it on top of the hill and coasted down in the morning, when I got about halfway down the hill I'd pop the clutch out in second gear and the car would finally start by the time we got to the bottom...usually. When it didn't it was a long walk to school.  In the winter I would have to block the radiator off with a piece of cardboard that had a 4" square in the middle of it to keep the Weber from icing up. In the spring and fall I'd have to start and end the day with the cardboard in place and pull it out in the afternoons when the temperature had climbed to keep the engine from overheating. Yes it had a thermostat, but that seemed to be more of an accessory than an actual functioning part.

It also ate clutch cables with distressing regularity (that must have been a feature of the 128, remember that's what my sisters car had gotten junked for) and I got real good at fishing a piece of bicycle cable through the clutch cable sheath and securing it at both ends with cable clamps (in fact this little car helped me to hone many of my mechanical skills) until I could get to Omaha, 70 miles away, which is where the nearest Fiat dealer was, and order a new one. Two or three weeks later I'd drive back to Omaha and pick it up, install it in the parking lot at the dealers (about 15 minutes and a Crescent wrench) and drive home. (That's the way we did things before the Internet, kids, there was no ordering online and having it delivered to the door. That's one of the great things about living in the modern age.)  I never got smart enough to just buy two and keep one as a spare, but they were too damn expensive to do that anyway - especially since my career at the time included hair nets and name tags and the cooking of do-you-want-fries-with-that.

Eventually rust claimed the attach point of the front suspension sway bar on the right side and both front inner fenders cracked from the bottoms to the tops. The entire front end of the car would pitch up when I accelerated and pitch back down when I braked, and occasionally the right front tire would pop back and hit the firewall when I hit the brakes hard. I would have to pop the clutch to get the wheel back where it belonged.

As soon as my Dad saw that he declared the car unsafe to drive (which it certainly was) and decreed that it would no longer take up space in his driveway.  I bought a 67 Chevy pickup from Dad (for practically nothing and sold it back when I shipped out) and Frog went to the junk man who had the same car in a 3 door station wagon that had been munched in the rear. He was planning on sawing the back of this car off between the doors and welding it to the front of the wagon (which he would saw off just in front of the rear wheels) to make a stretched limo, and even he didn't know why.  Whether or not he got it done I don't know, I shipped out to the Navy the very next winter and only went back to visit after that.

If he ever did get it done the back half of that car might still be roaming the roads in Southwest Iowa, if it didn't find its way to a beer can factory instead.  The junk yard is long gone (as is the A&W) and I don't have any idea where the junk man is, so there isn't any way to tell.

Rest in peace Frog. You sucked, but I still remember you with the degree of fondness reserved only for first cars.

(Youngest Daughter thinks this car is CUTE! but then again, her "first" car was a Dodge Aries station wagon.)


Da Curly Wolf said...

99 Ford F150. I miss that truck

Larry said...

I miss the 67 Chevy, too. Dad traded it for a Charger when I shipped out, and that was my brother's first car.
Later on I found that same truck at a used car lot where my parents lived. I should have gone ahead and bought it, but by then I had my old 62.
Thanks for dropping by CW!