It all started with the Vega. It was late 1974 – early 1975, and my dad bought a very slightly used Chevy Vega from a young man who worked in his building and was buying a bigger car to use in his car pool. At last, I had my own car. The fact that Vegas were already starting to look like one of Chevrolet’s monumental disasters didn’t mar its shiny blue paint not one bit. One of the things I liked best about it was that I could put my Great Dane in the passenger seat (after I slid it back as far as it would go and tilted the seat back almost flat) and go driving around and get all kinds of weird looks. The dog took up the whole right side of the car, got drool all over the windshield and dashboard — fun stuff like that. I just loved that little car. And it was good to me, too, for a while.
It started getting some hoo-doo in its voo-doo during the summer of ’75, shortly before I packed up and flew off to San Antonio for Air Force Basic Training. My mom and I decided to take a “grand tour” up to Oklahoma to visit relatives before I got myself sequestered in the military life, and we took off in that Vega. Somewhere north of Dallas, on the return trip, we were cruising along — I was driving because we had decided that I was better at driving through the cities in my “fearless indestructable youth” phase (plus I had quicker reflexes than my mom on her best days), when all of a sudden the bottom dropped out of the power. The engine just stopped. We were coasting. I pulled off on the shoulder and stopped. Tried to start it again. Nothing. My mom and I gave each other the “what the hell?’ look, and then we sat there for a bit trying to work out what could have happened. It was hard not to panic, after all, we couldn’t just call someone. C’mon. Phones in cars were expensive. This was a Chevy. Not a Rolls Royce.
Eventually, the car started again, and we drove on. And it stalled again. We made it to my aunt’s house in Irving finally, and phoned the popster. He was as mystified as we were, but told us to just take our time on the way back to Houston. As long as it was starting again after it “rested” a bit, he would rather have us bring it home than take it to a repair shop in the Dallas area. And that was the beginning of the end of my love affair with the Vega. It had developed a chronic tendency to vapor-lock when traveling in hot weather. Something happened when the gasoline heated up in the gas lines in the engine compartment. It turned to vapor and the engine ran out of fuel momentarily. Always in traffic on a busy expressway. Gahh!
I had a few decent cars during the years I was in the Air Force and for a while afterwards, mainly because my first ex-husband was a car-swapping fool. Every couple of years we’d get a new, or newer, car, or truck. Then in 1984 I got the Plymouth. I should have known that another car that resembled the Vega would be equally cursed.
I admit the fondness for vaguely sporty looking little hatchback cars was a weakness I had. Obviously the same poor judgment I showed in choosing husbands was probably at work here. I hadn’t had the thing a full year before the clutch went out, for the first but not last time. Still, I loved driving it. I drove it back and forth from Kentucky after I moved up there in 1988. I enjoyed the freedom of finally having a car that was paid off. For a few years. Before the expensive breakdowns started occurring with increasing frequency. My second ex-husband replaced or rebuilt the carburetor several times over the span of a couple of years. Then it went through a timing belt breaking phase, and he replaced the timing belt about every six months for a couple of years. And we had to replace the catalytic converter, etc,etc,etc. But since he was an incredibly thoughtless spender, we never had money to actually replace the car with something better. I was only lucky that he was able to at least work on, if not completely fix, all the glitches it developed. But finally it reached a point where even he couldn’t track down the problem with the vacuum leaks that caused it to start stalling out every time I took my foot off the gas. I had to learn to stop by down-shifting once or twice, and then, keeping my foot on the gas while clutching with my other foot, I had to use the handbrake to come to a full stop. This was brutally stressful in traffic situations. Fortunately I was living in a rural area and working in Frankfort, Kentucky at the time, and traffic there was almost non-existent by comparison to where I live now. I can’t imagine trying to drive that heap around here in that condition.
After the Turismo I had a couple of cheap used cars that basically fell apart within very short periods of time. When I came back to Texas on the last legs of a 1984 Jeep Cherokee, my dad graciously turned over the keys to his 1985 Chevy Cavalier. “The air conditioner doesn’t work any more, but it still runs just great!” Yeah, that’s right. No air conditioning. In Central Texas. I was overwhelmed with emotion. And it wasn’t joy. I started looking for something I could convince my dad to buy for me. It wouldn’t be easy. He had a lot of the Scott in him. Pinched pennies till they shrieked in pain. But I found something. One of my previous junker cars had been a Subaru wagon, which, along with all that was wrong with it, was actually a comfortable ride for me. It fit me. I found another one.
It was already 16 years old, but the previous owner had maintained it well and had it detailed before he traded it in. The engine compartment looked like that of a brand new car. We took it. It even matched my dad’s pickup and my brother’s work van. (It used to have a complete paint job. The photo is of it in its current sorry state.) The air conditioner worked! It had an automatic transmission, which I found much preferable to manual shifting since I started having more back pain. It ran like a Timex for the fist three or so years, and then the air conditioner started ejecting coolant almost as fast as the service shop replaced it. The original owner had retro-fitted the A/C to use the new less-environmentally-damaging coolant, fortunately, because none of it was staying in the compressor. Then I started having over-heating problems. Running — or trying to run — the air conditioner just exacerbated the over-heating issue. The repair shop replaced hoses, radiator, clamps, etc, and ran gallons of Blue Devil through the thing, with only temporary abatement of the problem. Gahhh!! I can’t go anywhere in hot weather, especially if I want to arrive relatively dry (if I arrive at all). Again, I can’t afford to replace the car, and can only afford band-aid repairs at this point. The irony is, I love to drive. I drove this wagon to North Carolina in 2005 to get The Old Guy and bring him home. I had Her Royal Highness with me, and we had a wonderful trip. Or I did. The dogs didn’t complain. I’d like nothing better than to be able to take a nice long road trip like that every year or so. I’d love to drive out to California to visit my cousin in Bishop over the Memorial Day holiday and go to Mule Days. Ah, well. At least I have a dream.