My 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
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
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
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
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
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.