Cars for the rest of us.

5 Favorite Cars I Loved Before I Knew Anything About Cars

Jun 19, 13 • by Craig Fitzgerald • Vintage Cars6 CommentsRead More »

Dad and CraigMy old man (pictured above with me at age 3 and his ’67 Dodge Polara in the background) wasn’t what you’d call a “car guy.” He liked cars, but never purposely opened the hood of one the entire time I knew him. We never went to a car show, and we never spent time hanging around dealerships. Yet, for one reason or another, I became infatuated with automobiles. Prior to actually learning about cars in my early teens, there were five cars that I laid awake nights thinking about. This is about as embarrassing as a 30 year old woman having to read passages from her diary when she was 12.

1974 Lotus Europa Special

Lotus Europa

This seems like I’m trying to cop a hipster attitude like “Oh, I knew about cool cars way before they were cool,” but I’m not. There’s a reason I liked this particular car. My parents had a place up in Wells, Maine, and as early as I can remember — probably around 1974 or 1975 — we used to walk past a place where Beach Street meets the Ogunquit River, which is now the Above Tide Inn.

There sat a 1974 Lotus Europa Special. My dad eventually found a Matchbox car that matched it in color — purple — which was one of my prized possessions. That odd breadvan styling is still something that brings me back to the age of seven ever time I see it.

1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

'76Chevy-1_jpg

I have no idea why the 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo had such a profound effect on me, but I loved it more than any car produced in that bicentennial year. Maybe it was the uniqueness of the stacked headlamps, or the formal styling, but man, oh, man, I loved that car.

I drew hundreds of Monte Carlos. I had brochures in my room, and I studied every inch of that car for years. Now, I look at it like everyone else does: Overwrought psuedo-Spanish styling on a chassis long past its sell-by date. But at age 10, I thought it was the finest car I’d ever seen.

1974 Datsun 260Z

260Z

The Datsun 260Z seems oddly specific, since Datsun only sold them for a year here, and they were generally regarded as a flop, thanks to its emissions-choked 2.6-liter inline six.

But in 1974, my cousin Harry — who my son is named for — was a salesman at Haverhill Datsun in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and came to my aunt’s house one day with a bright orange 260Z. My eight-year-0ld heart stood still looking at that car. Everything about it — the tunneled gauges, the leather-tied shifter boot, even the gigantic bumpers — seemed right to me.

1970 Challenger R/T

1970 Challenger

In 1982, when I was in eighth grade, my next-door neighbor bought a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. It wasn’t the kind of fully-restored, Galen Govier-certified Challenger that brings six figures at auction today. It was a $1,500, black-primered shitbox with fat Cragars, a tacked on rear spoiler, and a massive shotgun hole in the driver’s door.

It was the first car I ever did bodywork on. I made a rear quarter out of screen door material, the Boston Sunday Globe and Bondo, which still smells more enticing to me than the most exclusive perfume.

1976 Pontiac Sunbird

Sunbird

I had friends who liked the Toyota Celica, but I always favored one of its “competitors,” the 1976 Pontiac Sunbird. Yes, I understand this badge-engineered Monzas was one of the reasons the American automotive industry nearly went tits up in the 1980s. Yes, I understand it was a product of laziness, cynicism and the attitude that American car buyers were idiots on the part of General Motors.

That mattered not to a 10 year old, who looked upon the Sunbird as an engineering marvel. I favored the hatchback to the coupe, which made me some kind of sophisticate.

Now that I’ve bared my soul, it’s your turn to mortify yourself.

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6 Responses to 5 Favorite Cars I Loved Before I Knew Anything About Cars

  1. Toddler says:

    1969 Corvair – my love of cars started at 6 years old when I ran across a picture of my Pops tearing up the desert in his brown Corvair with the the sweetest mag wheels….

    1969 Dodge Charger – seeing a theme yet? Apparently I was infatuated with Daisy Dukes before I knew what they were.

    1982 Pontiac Trans Am – hey, who at 10 years old wouldn’t love a car that can talk to you and has an AMAZING LED hood light that moves back and forth??

    1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS – because Lane Myer had one. Still my favorite car of all time.

    and finally….

    1986 Subaru XT Turbo – who remembers the commercial of a college-aged son turning up dirt with the AWD holding the road and heading to his family farm? Dad says, ‘I thought we agreed you’d buy a Subaru’. Son answers, ‘But Dad… I did.’ Yeah, and I had one. This was my cool, kick-ass senior year in high school runabout. Still some of the best driving memories I have. The dashboard was all digital and felt like a video game, and it had the neatest looking stick shift that felt more like it belonged in fighter jet.

  2. Timothy W. says:

    Craig – the ’76 Monte Carlo was on a chassis that was only four years old at the time, since GM introduced the new A-bodies in ’73, right? So it wasn’t that anachronistic…

  3. For some reason that 1976 Monte Carlo got me, too. Wish they would just retire the name already. It’s just a sad car now.

  4. Colin Ciolli says:

    1986-87 Mazda 626. My Dad had an ’87 and my first car (that I could legally drive) was an ’86. I am still looking for a proper rust free one to this day.

    1967 Chevrolet Impala. Only a 4 door though. The coupes are cool, don’t get me wrong, but something about a long roof on that sleek coke bottle body that made my little heart skip a beat at 7 years old.

    1974 Toyota Celica. This car belonged to my Uncle Jerome, it sat in the same spot in my Grandmother’s driveway for years. It was red with a black roof, and one of the early famous Toyota “R” engines. Being a young kid, I fell in love with it’s front folding hood, recessed headlights, fastback coupe body style. I can remember it also had a 3 spoked steering wheel and a wood shifter handle.

    1976 Pontiac LeMans. Oh so boxy, oh so cool. A car so ugly, it looked awesome.

    1980-82 DeLorean. Back to the Future, how amazing to see a stainless steel car with gullwing doors as the star of the movie. An instant classic and a lifelong want. Sure they were kinda underpowered, maybe they weren’t the most reliable, perhaps Mr. John Z. was playing drug dealer. Who cares, the car was f&@x!%g cool.

  5. Roger Henry says:

    I fell in love with a 1929 Model A Coupe in 1975. My uncle still has it in his garage, and I am in the midst of what may be a long quest to buy it.

    A friend has an unrestored 34 Ford 5 window coupe in his garage. The look of that car is as special and unique as any car I have ever seen…the grill, the suicide doors…..a masterpiece!

    I have always liked the front end of the 1973 Impala/Caprice sedans. It is a brashly confident look–very American, very Chevy.

    While the next two are groaners for many–I always loved the style of the Pinto “surf wagons” and the Vega hatchbacks.

    Any car with three pedals was, and is, vastly more fascinating than two pedal cars. My friend Tommy’s dad drove a company issued ’63 Bel Air base model stripper–six cylinder 3 on-the-tree. I absolutely loved that car….And Tommy’s dad was a God to me for being able to wrangle three pedals and the column shifter…..Whenever I rode in that car, I pestered Tommy’s Dad with countless questions about what a clutch does, how the gears work, how fast can it go in 2nd gear…etc.

    The first car I drove was a manual. From my early childhood fascination, I already understood exactly how it worked, and drove away smoothly. Today, I still strongly prefer manual transmissions, and have already begun training my 13 year old son about how they operate.

  6. William Robinson says:

    The first time I seen a power wheels jeep I was in serious want. It was 85 and I was six years old. The closest thing I got was an old red pedal car that my step father had found somewhere. It was missing some of the linkage and the steering wheel so my grandfather made the linkage and welded a spoked tri-cycle rear wheel onto the steering shaft. My two brothers and I used that thing up over the next few years.