Whatever Happened To Crappy Kid Cars?

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Here's a column from the new book, Angels, Chimps & Tater Mitts. It's a blast from the past about a blast from the past.

ImageDriving by the high school parking lot last week, I was struck by the fact that every vehicle sitting out there that could be clearly and easily distinguished from a pile of scrap metal. Most of them were newer than the car I drive. A few were newer than the oil in the car I drive.

What’s up with that?

My first car was a 1961 Buick LeSabre. I paid $50 for it, more than two month’s take-home from my job washing dishes in a family restaurant. The car was big – the front and back bumpers were nearly always in different zip codes. It had a huge V8 engine, but since it weighed slightly more than a truckload of bulldozers, it wasn’t very fast. Of course, every day I drove my Buick it got a little bit lighter, as bits of trim and apparently unneeded engine parts fell off.

I have never had, nor do I expect ever to have, a possession that I loved more. 

My Buick was two-toned when I got it – beige and rust. The first thing I did was wash more dishes, save up another couple of month’s pay, slap a little Bondo into the rust holes, and take my Buick down for a $49.95 paint job. It was not lost on me that the car was worth exactly one nickel more than the paint.

The new color I chose was a sort of leprechaun-on-an-acid-trip green, so my friends immediately co-opted the Simon and Garfunkel song and named my car the “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine.” This was a tribute to the fact that we could go just about anywhere with eight kids stuffed into the big bench seats. For trips to the drive-in movie, we could pack another two or three (four or five if they were girls and had skipped supper) in the trunk.

After a few more mountains of clean dishes, I treated the BBGPM to the ultimate touch of class; an eight track tape player, mounted in the glove box so passers-by wouldn’t covet it and be tempted to steal it, along with two massive black surface-mount speakers screwed to the rear deck. If you turned the volume and the bass all the way up, you could use the vibrations from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to liquefy a cheerleader.

The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine burned a lot of gas, but back then gas was cheap – even for a guy grossing eighty cents an hour. It also burned a lot of oil, so we carried a case of 10W-40 in the trunk, and we were always followed by a friendly trail of blue smoke. During the hundred thousand miles I put on that car, I never got around to replacing the tires.

The engine sang with a deep, throaty growl, owing to the fact that the exhaust system had been entirely replaced by “muffler bandages” and duct tape wrapped around the remnants of rusted pipes and baffles. A beer can jammed behind the left headlight held it in place, since any metal in the area that could possibly hold a screw (or duct tape) had mysteriously disintegrated.

As I looked across the shining ranks of twenty-first century kid cars outside the high school, all of them with treads on the tires and fully-functioning head lights, I had a vision of the Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine rumbling into that parking lot, loaded with eight kids (since we weren’t going to the drive-in theater) and smoking like a crop duster, with Iron Butterfly shaking the sheet metal and setting off car alarms. And I  could not help wondering if these kids with their comfortable, reliable rides might just be missing something.


Copyright © 2007, Michael Ball