Camaro and Firebirds – Dedicated to the Cars that Got us Here Alive


Vroom, vroom

Vroom, vroom

 

Our cars drive us back and forth from where we are and where we’re going.

Almost everyone I’ve ever met in my life has said that they remember the details of every single place they lived in and every single car they ever owned.  Well, ok – all the men remember all the cars.  My wife can recall the details of every single golf course we’ve played on, but has blocked out most of the memories of our vehicles.  We spend most of our time on this earth in our homes.  The mere act of sleeping can account for a 1/3rd of our lives, (or 50% for our teenage kids).

Most of us fondly recall our cars as well; there are stories and memories associated with every single one we ever owned or leased.  Several of my blog stories have been, or will be, written around one of our cars.  I wanted, however, to write a single documentary story that would list every vehicle Kim and I have owned in our adult lives.  That doesn’t sound too exciting, does it?  I’ll try to spice it up where I can but if for nothing else, this story is at minimum, for me (as are all of my stories).  For if I didn’t enjoy reading what I’ve written, then writing these would be a horrible waste of time.  Time is what we have to make love and memories.  Love and memories take us further than our cars.

Like all teenagers and young adults, cars were important to me when I was young.  At some point in my adult life though, they became simply ‘transportation’.  I think it was sometime in my late 30’s as I became more and more aware of personal finances and the huge impact that transportation expenses has on a personal budget.  This is one of the best written articles about car ownership and transportation costs I have run across.  I hope you take the time to read or bookmark it – Buy or Repair?

I still love a sleek and beautiful sports car!  The finance manager in me though immediately mentally calculates the future value of lost investment opportunity and so I view a beautiful sports car like I would a super model – they’re both gorgeous to look at, but if you buy them, they’ll each either clean out your bank account or put you in a full body cast someday.

In our teen years and all the way through our 40’s, I’d have to say that my wife and I each had a “my car”.  Nowadays, at least speaking for myself, I don’t think this way – now we have “just cars”.  I guess if I asked my wife, she’d say I owned the Ford down in Phoenix and my motorcycle and she owns the two cars we have here in California – an Acura MDX and a Mazda Miata.  I am no longer possessive though of vehicles.  If she wants to ride the motorcycle, I have no qualms with that.  The point for me is that cars are expensive.  We have what we have and I intend to keep them in good running condition and I don’t anticipate purchasing another vehicle for quite a number of years.  I suspect it will be a replacement for the MDX, perhaps after 250,000 miles?

Looked a LOT like this one!

Looked a LOT like this one!

 

Kim's car looked like this one

Kim’s car looked like this one

Back in the day though, we each had a my car.  My first my car was a 1967 Bonneville, shared in this story (read me).  My wife’s very first my car was a Dodge Coronet, a convertible that I think was a 1966 (I rarely validate these memory details with my wife…and besides, unless it could drive a golf ball 200 yards, she wouldn’t remember it).  I recall a couple of special things about this car. Firstly, it always stalled whenever it rained.  She got stuck a couple of times in the rain and it caused her dad to get rid of the car.  The other thing I remember is that Kim wanted to show off one night in the winter at the skating rink by demonstrating how the top went up and down.  She discovered that plastic windows do not like being folded in the cold.  The plastic cracked and broke and not wanting to fess up to the parents, she made up a story – someone through a rock through my window while I was in the rink.  The truth finally came out about 30 years later.

 

My favorite car of ours

My favorite car of ours

Kim’s Crappy Coronet was soon replaced with perhaps one of the fastest cars in Hamilton, Ohio at the time – an original fiberglass body 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400.  We both loved this car!  It might have made our regular treks to Four Mile Creek Park after school a little less comfortable than the Bonneville Boat, but at 330 horsepower, we were getting there in record times, (and rather stupidly we took her up to 120 one day during a ride to Hueston Woods).  The Firebird was definitely a summer car, totally worthless in the winter snow due to all of its weight being in the engine and having rear-wheel drive.  You might as well have been riding a thin-wheel bicycle on a soft beach.  For you classic car buffs, this is a well written piece on the 400.

http://www.oldcarmemories.com/content/view/96/1/

My baby looked exactly like this one

My baby looked exactly like this one

After I dropped out of Miami University to take on my first big paying job at Taco Bell, (detect the sarcasm), I figured I could afford to buy a nicer car.  I sold the Bonneville to my parents’ next door neighbor for $75 and bought a 1974 straight-block Chevrolet Camaro.  The straight-6 was a relatively weak car in comparison to something like the Formula 400, but it got good gas mileage and was a very solid and dependable vehicle.  It was maroon with gold pin striping that was real paint, done by my girlfriend Kim.  So these were the first two cars we owned when we were married – 1970 Formula 400 and a ’74 Camaro.

I really liked that car for its dependability, that is until ‘someone’, (I can’t mention names for fear of ruining marital bliss), drove it from her employer in Cincinnati to Hamilton with the temperature gauge in the red the whole trip!  The thermostat had sealed shut and so no water was being circulated through the engine block.  Without some way of cooling itself, any engine will soon shut down with permanent or temporary damage.  In the Camaro’s case, it shook fairly violently, likely in need of a full valve job.  I never let ‘someone’ forget that she killed my nice car.  There are some acts that just cannot be forgiven – incest, rape, kicking one in the nuts and killing a man’s car.

Mine wasn't even close to being this nice

Mine wasn’t even close to being this nice

I drove the epileptic Camaro to Tri-County Toyota and traded it in for a vehicle I thought was a decent trade, a 1968 orange Ford Mustang.  The Mustang ended up being a piece of crap, I have to admit.  Soon after buying it, the transmission went out.  My stepfather Joe got me a new transmission from his buddy at the shop where they worked together on their midget that they raced on Friday nights in Lawrenceburg, IN (a midget is a car, not a person – learn the difference here).  Only one kink in the new transmission – reverse was in between 2nd and 4th gears.  Needless to say, I had to be careful when shifting.  Once when drag racing, I accidentally hit Reverse and ended up in 1973, that’s how touchy the shifter was.

Corolla - ours was gray

Corolla – ours was gray

I didn’t hang on to the Mustang for very long, perhaps a year.  As the shifter grew more and more difficult to move, I decided it was time to buy our first very own brand new car.  I drove the Mustang back to its previous owner, (Tri-County Toyota), and traded it in for a brand new 4-door Toyota Corolla.  Oops – when you trade in a car, you better make certain there is nothing left in it.  I am sure that Mr. Mechanic is grateful for the partial ounce of marijuana he found hidden in the passenger air vent (I later heard that not much got done that week in the Service Department, however employee satisfaction was at an all time high….and the snack vending machine had to be refilled twice).

The first RX7 looked just like this one

The first RX7 looked just like this one

This was a time when gasoline was just beginning to become a bit more expensive so I thought I had done a good deed by buying the Corolla.  My wife however felt it looked like a ‘house wife’s car’ so one day while I was working at HP Deuscher, she showed up around lunchtime with a sleek metallic charcoal, rotary engine 1980 Mazda RX-7.  She told me she had traded in the Corolla and I about hit the roof.  She hadn’t really sealed the deal yet, but she might as well have.  Her heart was set on owning that car so it was only a matter of a couple of days before we were signing over the Corolla.  We now owned 2 sports cars – a Firebird and an RX-7.

It wasn’t all that long after buying the RX-7 that we became parents with our first child, Mitchell.  Anytime we went anywhere as a family unit, or perhaps to take Mitch to Grandma’s for babysitting, he got to ride in the child car seat in the rear of the Firebird.  The RX-7 was only a two seater.  Mitch was born in ’81 and this was the same year I began night school at University of Cincinnati.  So I began driving from Hamilton to Cincinnati 2-3 nights per week after work in a 10-12 mpg gas guzzler.  This wasn’t such a big deal when gasoline cost perhaps 35 cents per gallon but when it approached $2, it became a very big deal ($2 is about $5.25 per gal today).

As much as we loved our Firebird and our 2-seater, we realized that with a child, it wasn’t very practical so we decided we needed to sell one.  We opted to keep the RX-7.  Selling the Firebird was easy.  She had a fairly new paint job, (original factory burnt orange), and beautiful Cragar rims with nice Goodyear tires.  It was a sharp looking car and very fast.  It was so fast that I talked a mother out of buying it from us for her 16 year old – that’s how fast she was.

Ours had Cragars

Ours had Cragars

At the same time that we were selling our bird, my dad was looking to make a change in vehicles.  Vans were really cool back in the day and he owned a nice looking 1974 Chevy which he had fixed up the inside really nice.  It had paneling, plush carpet, electrical hookup, hidden storage compartments and a bed large enough for two adults.  All told it could sleep two adults and a couple of small children.  We were interested in it so that we could use it as a camper on the weekends up at Hueston Woods.

So when we sold our Bird, we bought the van.  I drove it to work and school.  It got maybe 20 mpg or better on the highway, so we noticed a slight improvement in gasoline costs.  What I remember best about this van was not its cool looking interior or the sharp blue paint job with the awesome Crager rims.  No, what I remember best was the awesome noise it made while shifting gears.  It was a manual 3 speed, (3 on the tree), and when the clutch was depressed, you could hear a very loud noise that sounded like 2 large polished pieces of steel rubbing against each other, very quickly.  This was caused by something called the throw out bearing.  It had been going bad for months and months but did not affect the operation of the vehicle, so we never changed it.  It was still making it’s loud noise when we traded it in for a brand new 1982 Toyota Tercel.  (here is a vid of a similar sound)

Ah...the Mirth Mobile!

Ah…the Mirth Mobile!

The Tercel, (or “tin can” as my wife liked to call it), was mine and Kim was still driving the RX-7.  The Toyota turned out to be a very dependable car.  I have always loved manual shift vehicles.  This was a standard 4-speed and got perhaps 34 mpg, a huge step up from the Chevy van and much needed for my commuting to evening college.  We ended up keeping that car all throughout the Louisiana years, (and no, it did not have A/C), finally selling it to Kim’s brother, later after moving back to Ohio – my kids affectionately named it the Mirth Mobile.

1984 626

1984 626

Meanwhile, Kim decided that she finally had to relinquish the RX-7.  On too many occasions we had to put a child seat in the car and decided it just was not practical so we traded her in for a new 1984 Mazda 626.  This was the old style, boxy 626 which looked much like a boxy Toyota of the time.  Dependable, Kim’s 626 hung in there with us until we decided to trade her in for the minivan in 1989.  This was despite the fact that I almost stripped a spark plug in a chamber while changing the plugs when the car was hot.  I was ignorant about the fact that plugs should be changed when the car is cool.  The contraction of the metal was enough to allow me to get the plug started but I quickly felt I was stripping the inside because spark plugs generally screw in pretty easily – I was feeling resistance.  Luckily my step father Joe was there to save my ass as he came over with some taps and re-threaded the chamber for me (huge sigh of relief and a very big thanks for having someone who knew what the heck he was doing).  (And yes Joe, I still miss you).

Me, all raring to go in my first minivan

Me, all raring to go in my first minivan

In 1989 I got the nod from my new company P&G, (pack and go), to head south to Louisiana.  We took this as a queue to upgrade to the brand new 1990 Mazda MPV, our very first minivan, a 7-seater capable of transporting the Wyatt family unit across the Mason-Dixon Line multiple times over a five year period.  So the minivan was now Kim’s car and I was driving the Tin Can, (Mirth-mobile).

Yes, this is the baby - sold her on Ebay in 2001

Yes, this is the baby – sold her on Ebay in 2001

While living in Louisiana, we had an opportunity to buy a nice used 1982 Mazda RX-7 from a coworker of mine.  The price was right and it fulfilled Kim’s need to not look like a mommy from time to time.  This little baby was mentioned in my ‘Two More Laps’ evening.  We kept this nice little car all the way through the move to Ohio when we sold it on Ebay in 2002 to a guy from Pennsylvania.  I advised him not to drive it all the way back given it had never gone on such a long journey before.  I hope he made it ok and that the car’s still doing well.

The newer 626

The newer 626

We moved back to Ohio in 1994 and hung onto the MPV minivan until 2000 when we bought a nice dealer demo of a 1998 Mazda 626.  The minivan had a need for a brand new transmission and rather than spend a couple thousand dollars on a vehicle with 150k miles on it, we opted to give it to my brother-in-law who thought he would fix it up – he ultimately gave up on this dream.  This 626 was a sweet car, top of the line Mazda at the time with all the bells and whistles – leather seating, one of the nicest vehicles we ever owned.  We ended up keeping her all the way to 2005 when we shipped her from California to Ohio when my mom was in need of a new car.

Nice car, but unable to handle a head-on crash

Nice car, but unable to handle a head-on crash

Transitioning over to ‘my’ cars again, mentioned earlier, I relinquished the Mirth-Mobile in 1996 after moving back from LA to OH.  It had 140,000 miles on her at the time.  The paint had begun chipping away, unable to survive the extreme temperatures of the South, but it still ran fairly well.  It was time for a new car for me.  I hadn’t ever owned a Mitsubishi before, but my dad had one and loved it.  Kim and I visited the Mitsubishi dealer in Fairfield, Ohio and right there in the showroom was something that caught my eye; a brand new 1998 Galant.  It was white with special rims and had a nice blue leather interior.  The best part?  It was a standard shift!  This was my first successful attempt at negotiating to a lower price.  I loved that car, but it didn’t hold up to being struck head-on by a drunk driver in 2001.

The current baby

The current baby

Soon after selling the RX-7 on Ebay, my wife began getting the sports car itch again.  While looking through the online classified ads, we stumbled on a brand new ad for a 2000 red convertible, sports package Mazda MX-5 Miata.  The ad boasted that the car had only a couple thousand miles on it and had never even seen the rain.  They were asking a price below the Kelly Blue Book price so I called them up, (it was Sunday morning), and asked if I could come to look at it.  I had told my wife that if it was as nice as they claimed, that I would give them the asking price on the spot without Kim’s seeing the car.  It was even more beautiful than advertised.  Only now are we driving it as a second vehicle in California on a regular basis so it still has less than 25k miles and is still a gorgeous vehicle.  After all these years it still has the remains of a new car smell inside.

The short-lived MDX

The short-lived MDX

Before shipping off the Mazda 626 to my mom, we had gone out and bought a brand new 2004 Acura MDX 7-seater.  This vehicle is a sturdy, well designed SUV and it possibly guarded the lives of one or several passengers one day when a man unknowingly ran a red light and broadsided my wife while driving herself, her mother, sister and two nieces to a salon appointment when they were visiting us in California.  That was in 2006.  The ’04 MDX was replaced with a new ’06 MDX which is still with us as our primary vehicle.  130,000 miles and still going strong.

 

MDX - the current go-to travel vehicle

MDX – the current go-to travel vehicle

The Mitsubishi Galant that was totaled in 2001 was replaced with a new Ford Escape, 2001 4-cylinder manual shift 5-speed.  Coincidentally, both of our cars were replaced as a result of getting totaled at the fault of another driver.  We still have both cars to this day and both have been arguably the best cars we’ve ever owned.  The jury is still out on the Acura since it needs to log another 20,000 miles in order to win that recognition, but the Ford has 207,000 miles, gets 30+ mpg, little maintenance and still is going “Ford Tough”.

Still with us at 210,000 miles!

Still with us at 210,000 miles!

Not to spoil the image of my wife’s desire to have a toy, I have a toy too.  Around 1996, my wife informed me that it was ok now if I wanted to buy a motorcycle.  My life insurance was all paid up and she had already claimed all the babies she wanted from me, so I could go out and get the toy I had been wanting for years.  I found a garaged 1981 Yamaha 400 Special with only 2,000 miles on it.  I used it for commuting when I could up until replacing it in 2006 with a new Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom.  I sold the ’81 for $200 to a guy I worked with.  The V-Star now has about 18,000 miles on it and I use it for all local commuting and errands in California.  Likely I will not replace this and even will give up riding in a few years.

Giving my niece a ride

Giving my niece a ride

Unless someone decides to crash into one of our vehicles, we should be set for a few years.

Cars; we grow up yearning for the day we can get our driver license.  We recall with great fondness our first car, whether it’s a Porche Boxster our wealthy parents bought for us or a crappy 1967 Pontiac Bonneville in need of a timing belt.  We remember the car we borrowed for the senior prom, the first fast car we ever drove and the times we made out with our girl and boyfriends in our cars.  We are grateful when we survive a serious auto accident and we celebrate by getting back behind the wheel.  We recall with tearful joy the days of strapping our kids into the car seat and we laugh at ourselves today because when we were strapping those little guys in our minivans, we were often wishing we were hopping into our Firebirds and Camaros.

Most of the time these days I’m riding my motorcycle.  There are times though that I find myself occasionally missing the days of SUV’s and minivans with fast food wrappers under the seats, chocolate stains on the rear cushions and M&M’s trapped in the airvents.

Beginning our journey in the Camaro

Beginning our journey in the Camaro

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4 comments on “Camaro and Firebirds – Dedicated to the Cars that Got us Here Alive

  1. ginjuh says:

    I love how often our grandparents chose to pose with their cars for photos. It dates the picture in as much as hair styles.

  2. […] mentioned briefly in Camaro and Firebirds (read me) we all remember quite vividly the places we’ve lived and the many memories that are […]

  3. […] and to drive straight through.  Kim had her 8 cylinder Firebird and I had my 6 cylinder Camaro, (link), which got better gas mileage so we decided to drive it for our trip.  To this very day, if I […]

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