Cars for the rest of us.

Cars Surrounding My Formative Years

Jul 16, 13 • by Randy Foster • Featured, Vintage Cars5 CommentsRead More »

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I was recently looking through some vintage car photos on PowerGlide Magazine’s Facebook page and it had me thinking of the cars I remember growing up with. My Mum and Dad had five of us so they had to approach car buying from a utilitarian point of view. They hauled us all over New England and Canada in large Oldsmobiles and Ford Country Sedan wagons.

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Later, after my two older brothers left the nest, Dad bought a ’64 Ford Falcon Futura with a 260 V8 option and a 4 on the floor. My mother wasn’t very impressed with that purchase but she figured that Dad had been good and he deserved something a little on the sporting side of driving. My dad loved that car and it was known around town as the little Falcon that could put a smile on your face.

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My mum just didn’t care for the car due to the shifting issue so Dad traded it in on a ’67 Galaxie 500 4DR Hardtop w/390 4bbl that he had special ordered. He had a couple more Galaxies after that and eventually moved into vans and mini-vans. I took my drivers test in that ’67 Galaxie so it had a little more meaning in my life and I put quite a few miles on it. It was a great car and it survived two teenage drivers with few problems.

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Several parents of my school chums had a few very cool cars as well. Kendall’s dad had a nice ’62 Galaxie 500XL Sunliner Convertible and Kendall and I would sit in the back seat getting wind-blown on our many trips to their camp on Cross Lake. One unforgettable day, Kendall got the bright idea of emptying the rest of his chocolate milkshake out the passenger side of the car while traveling at 60 mph with the top down. We learned a couple of important physics lessons in a short period of time and his dad taught us some new words as well. That was real excitement for a couple of ten-year olds.

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Kendall’s dad also bought the first Saab I ever laid eyes on, a ’65 Model 96. It was a funky little car but was a perfect match for those severe northern Maine winters. It would bust drifts with ease, especially with a good set of snow tires mounted on the front. It certainly was an oddity in my little home town full of big American cars. The era of small import cars had gained a foothold and they would never turn back. Two of my brothers are currently driving Saabs and they have been good cars to have in the stable. Unfortunately, Saab struggled and went bankrupt a little over a year ago. The new owners say they will have models for sale in 2014 and will continue to use the Saab name.

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My friend Martha’s mom always drove a hot-rod Buick Wildcat and drove it fast. I was always more than willing to sit in the back seat of that thing while her mom stuffed her foot in the carb.. Those Wildcats had an amazingly nice interior and anything with chrome trimmed bucket seats and console shifter were a real plus in a young lad’s eyes.

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My first car was a ’65 Dodge Dart GT w/225 slant six and console auto. It was a good starter car but was well-worn when I got it so I was constantly working on it. It was a good experience as it was the beginning of my acquired talents as a first class shade tree mechanic. Like most beginners, I screwed up more stuff than I fixed but eventually I turned the corner and was able to fix most anything with an acceptable amount of success. I have to chuckle as I remember how incredibly simple those cars were compared to the vehicles that occupy my garage today.

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There were many more cars surrounding my early youth, too many to list here. Growing up in an era of such rich automotive design leaves me with the most fondest of memories. I’m very thankful to the hobbyists and restorers who take the time and energy to keep these memories alive and on the road. There is nothing like walking down a line of cars at a local Ride and Show and seeing a car that I was able to experience earlier in life, it makes the skin tingle a little and puts a huge smile on my face.

Will the next generations have such fond memories of their experiences in Celicas, Accords and Eclipses? Will someone write about about the fun times of hanging out with a friend whose dad just happened to have a Pontiac G8 or current generation Boss 302? I have a feeling they will and maybe I’ll be around long enough to read it.

5 Responses to Cars Surrounding My Formative Years

  1. Tony says:

    Nice cars!

  2. Roger Henry says:

    I spent lots of time in the backseat of my grandparents 1968 Buick LaSabre. I remember how my grandma could never use the word “engine”–under the hood was something called “the machine”.

    In my own garage was my dad’s brown 1964 Impala four door–V8 with PowerGlide–not sure if 283 or 327. I will never forget the humming sound that the PowerGlide made in neutral. Mom drove a 1965 Nova two door–same brown color as the Impala–but smaller. I remember when the brakes failed on the Nova. My dad, not one waste money on something as ridiculous as a tow truck service call, drove that brakeless car 15 miles through urban San Francisco using the parking brake only–it was hand actuated.

    But without question, the car most significant to my upbringing is my uncle’s 1929 Model A Coupe. Around 1974 he gave me a ride around Corte Madera Park in Marin County, CA. It was July 4th, and he had it out for that morning’s parade. I was 7. I will never forget the unique sound of the engine, or the whining of those straight cut gears. My uncle parked that Ford (for good!) in his garage several years later due to excessive engine smoke. It remains there today. I am still in love with that car. Every Christmas, when I stop by for a holiday visit, I find an excuse to visit the garage…where I gaze at the heavily dusted but perfectly preserved beauty. I have already pleaded to let me buy it…no word yet. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

  3. Our family always had Fords. Before I came along, they had a ’56 Ford wagon. Around the time I was born, they bought a ’63 Country Squire. I appreciate that car more now than I did when we had it.

    When I was 4, my parents bought a ’67 Mercury Park Lane fastback. This is the car I fell in love with and would buy a version of 40 years later. (I just sold it, and miss it, despite the fact that the car is only a mile away and the new owner texts me pictures when he takes it out. Already have my eyes on a 67 Park Lane convertible that I’ll be getting soon.) My mother found the 2 door made it difficult to haul around a bunch of kids to swim team practice, so it only lasted two years.

    The next car was another keeper – ’69 Country Squire with the 429. I will own one of these beautiful beasts one day. I love station wagins and HATE that so many people today attach a stigma to them. Many of the very few wagons available today are better looking than their sedan brethren. The new Mazda 6 wagin (Europe and Japan only) is freakin’ gorgeous. I always wanted Ford to do an AWD Fusion wagin based on the first generation platform (on which the beautiful Mazda 6 wagon was built), but alas, no… That car was known around town as the fastest station wagon, as my brother used to race it for beer money and win.

    When gas got too expensive and my siblings got their own cars (’65 Mustang for my brother, ’62 Mercedes 220S from my grandfather for my sister), my mom bought a ’74 Mustang II (Motor Trend Car of the Year!), which was the first car I ever drove legally. Despite a fairly anemic 2.3L I-4, that little car really did handle well as I blasted around the streets of Ocean Springs, MS.

    In the meantime, my brother traded his Mustang for a ’76 Pinto Wagon (his girlfriend’s idea – and no, she did not become his wife) and my parents sold the Mercedes (as a parts car – DON’T GET ME STARTED) and bought my sister a ’72 Gran Torino w/a 302 2V. That was a beautiful car with a beautiful “face”, surpassed only by the second generation split bumper Rally Sport Camaros of 70 1/2 – 73. I got to drive the Torino quite often when my sister came home from college.

    Then came my first car. My mother bought a ’79 Mercury Bobcat (same 2.3L I-4 as the Mustang II), but was approached by an older friend who was interested in selling me her ’68 VW Beetle convertible. My mother made me a deal – I’d buy her the VW and she’s give me the Bobcat (which was less than a year old). I drove that car my senior year in high school and all the way through college. It was awesome, and I woudn’t mind having one again today.

    Other cars of note from my childhood:

    ’63 Pontiac Bonneville convertible – belonged to Paul Midgette, father of my first “best friend”.

    ’70 1/2 Camaro Rally Sport – driven by my sister’s friend, Cindy Landers. Her father, a former NFL player (Wild Bill Landers, they called him, if I remember right), bought her the car and taught her to drive it FAST!!

    ’67 OR ’68 Pontiac Firebird convertible – My friend Davis Purcell’s dad kept it in the garage and took it out rarely. I would just sit and stare at it when I went to visit.

    Opel GT – Our neighbor, Mr. Breeding, had an orange one. I called it the mini-Corvette.

    ’73 Pontiac Grand Am – The Groses lived across the fairway from my family. Theirs was white, but I cannot remember the interior color. I would walk to the bus stop by their house so I could look at it. I was completely confused by the 6.5L emblem on the trunk. My current classic is a red ’73 with a 455 (7.4L emblem on the trunk.

    ’69 Chevy Nova – A 307 with a two-barrel carb and a power glide and aluminum slot mags. Bob Capers and our friends and I had some of the most memorable times of our lives on it. Rebuilding that engine was the first sign that I should pay others to fix my cars…

    ’73 Mercury Bobcat – the other half of the Bobcat Brigade belonged to my friend Brenda Matthews. It was bright orange and had a blue Ocean Springs Greyhounds license plate on the front. Sometime in the late 80s, I was walking through a junk yard and saw it (sans wheels) on top of the heap, still dispalying that Greyhound license plate.

    I could go on and on…

    Let’s hear from you others about the cars that bring back your childhood/youthful memories.

  4. Steve Strieter says:

    I was fortunately infected with automania by a fairly wide variety of cars growing up in the ’50s & ’60s: ’49 Stude, ’50 Ford, ’53 BelAir, ’55 BelAir, ’57 Plymouth wagon, Triumph TR3, Bugeye Sprite, ’61 Hillman Minx convertible, ’57 Fairlane, ’57 BelAir, ’60 Valiant, ’56 & ’61 Buicks, Chrysler 300C, ’64 Corvair, ’66 Sport Fury, Camaros, Mustangs, Barracudas, and the obligatory Darts & Novas & ElCaminos, as well as a steady variety of mostly Chevy trucks. Mom & Dad weren’t really gearheads, but had friends & relatives who were, and Bob Raynor’s TR3 in particular was an early exposure to nearly reckless and insanely enjoyable antics. Most of these cars were, as the saying went, driven with brio by the grown-ups to get wherever we were going. Having revisited the handling of some of those cars, I’ve concluded that many adults back then were markedly less fearful than nowadays…