Friday, June 17, 2022

Happy Father's Day, from your family of vehicles

 There's no doubt my Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle is part of "my" family. Not unusual. People, guys at least, have a tendency to adopt their vehicles as extended family, of the automotive variety.

As with so many other things, I inherited this tendency from my father.

My bother recently dug up and scanned old family photos showing our family posed with cars my Dad owned through the years. Dad is not in the photos, of course, since he was behind the camera.

Collection of family photos with cars.
Dad's Chevys: at top brother Phil and me with the 1953; 1957 with Mom; 1954; 1959 on ferry; and 1958 with sister Terry. 

Dad was a "Chevy man," so of course the cars are all Chevrolets. He worked as a service technician for a hospital equipment company, putting on almost 50,000 miles a year between hospital and doctors' offices. So, every year, he was entitled to a new company car.

He always chose from the company's available Chevrolets. The company cars were plain, less expensive models, and the colors could be odd. I remember my mother was aghast when the 1957 arrived in an unflattering brown.

What I hadn't remembered, until my brother came up with the photos, is that we kids sooner or later got posed with each car. My brother and I show up first, then, eventually, our two sisters.

Was Dad documenting our growth, or the car he was driving that year? Maybe he considered it getting two subjects for each film exposure.

More likely, the cars really were just part of the family.

Family posed with car.
The 1963 was our first with air conditioning and it was red! With sisters Laura and Terry we filled it with six people.

Over the years the cars entertained us. I remember the thrill of discovering that the new 1957 Chevy hid its gasoline filler inlet behind a piece of trim on a rear fin. That was real sophistication, to a six-year-old.

The 1959 Chevrolet, with its Corvette-inspired round speedometer and other dials, fulfilled every boy's dream of what a sports car should be. If you looked into the trunk, however, it was shocking how much cargo space was robbed by the sucked-in rear-quarter body panels that shaped the horizontal fins that year.

Driving so many miles my father naturally got well acquainted with his cars. He drove them hard, and sometimes they drove him crazy.

As he travelled he would stuff folded business cards into the gaps of the dashboard, trying to muffle the squeaks, rattles and groans. The '59 spent at least one day I remember with the hood up and my father hammering wooden wedges anywhere he could find a potentially noisy gap in the bodywork. My brother and I were enlisted to bounce up and down inside the car, attempting to recreate the annoying squeaks.

My favorite was Dad's 1968 Chevrolet Bel Aire, and not just because I learned to drive in it. A plain family sedan, it wallowed and plunged over dips. The rear end sagged with any load in the trunk, so my father had overload rear springs installed.

What a transformation! With stiff springs and a couple hundred pounds of my father's work materials in the trunk, handling was neutral and the car finally had a backbone. 

The day would come, after I headed off to college, when my father would abandon Chevrolet, irritated by quality problems. He wrote a letter to General Motors announcing that from there on out he would be a Ford Man.

This meant that, in 1974, his new company car would be a hulking Ford LTD, a vehicle seemingly so massive and so isolated from the road that it appeared to me uncontrollable.

I preferred MGs. But the LTD was comfortable and quiet and easy to drive no matter what your level of incompetence. I once drove it all day long without realizing I had the emergency brake set.

The car didn't seem to care. And, lucky for me, Dad didn't find out.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous6/17/2022

    Aah, the good old days when cars were built like tanks and got the same gas mileage. But at .25 a gallon, who cared ? My parents always drove battleships..Dad had a 1971 Chyrsyler LeBaron with a 440 4 barrel and mom drove a Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a 455 4 barrel. Their cars were so big they wouldn't fit in the garage and still close the door. My Camaro did, so I got to keep it out of the weather. I used to ask my dad WHY he needed such big cars, and he'd always reply- aww, they're not big. Maybe not compared to the Queen Mary or the Titanic, but they were top of the line cruisers in their day. But I will give those huge cars one thing: they would go through the snow if you took your time.

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  2. You may enjoy a YouTube channel called "Rare Classic Cars". The host owns dozens of those big old cars few people considered collectible. He says the Fords were some of the nicest riding cars of the period, though they did wallow about the most too.

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