Me and My Cars
Me and My Cars

[With Some Side Roads Along the Way]

Not me, but close.

My 1966 Morgan Plus 4 Drop Head Coupe

You should know, I haven't owned every car discussed or pictured in this piece. Not, anyway, in the have-the-title-in-my-wallet sense. But, certainly in my heart, and imagination. 

Those which I did own, I specify. But, if you like automobiles like me, you probably have fantasies and memories of vehicles which drove through your life at one time or another. In one way or the other. 

Here is my list.

I grew up in a car town. No, make that, THE car town. MoTown. Detroit, Michigan. "During the day we make the cars; at night, we make the bars." My first job was in HF I's factory, the first assembly line plant in the world, in Highland Park, Michigan. 

The assembly line I believe is Henry’s contribution to the quest to amass a fortune at the expense of the working man. Think of those archival images of Model T’s coming off the line. By the time I arrived in 1965 after graduating from college the place was so old and so dark. Lit with incandescent bulbs and every surface brown/black with oil, and the whole place a noisy racket and smelling of dirt, oil, smoke, and perspiration. Once you take a whiff, you know . . . I don't know what, but you know. A multi-sensory time travel. 

If the dehumanizing setting weren’t enough, the story goes that Ol’ Henry was such a hump that if you were on the commode he could drop in to see what you were making. Better have something to show the MAN. Later, of course, there were the unions and I am a proud former member of the UAW. When later I worked in the FoMoCo Surface Coatings Division R&D lab, in homage to Henry, the bunch of us crammed into the  lavatory stall to get the boss’s signature on an important document. Boys will be ... 

Here is an historic postcard of the Highland Park Plant. 

I kid. That's not me. 

When I was a boy the annual automobile show at Cobo Hall downtown was a DAY in my life. Every year me and my sidekick, Cousin Kenny, got an eyeful of all the new car models; some concept futurifics; and all those gorgeous, straplessly begowned models on the turntables with their graceful hands pointing out the car features. We came home with shopping bags full of brochures; full color on heavy shiny coated paper. In the mid-1950s I could list for you all the details of every model. (Kind of like how Corvette, Ferrari, Morgan, Jaguar, and Porsche aficionados are today. Or, those baseball fans who can tell you who batted last in any inning of any particular game in any given year. And … batting averages, life histories, and every other stat too. How about those Tigers?)    

In younger days I also made the rounds of the many car dealers, domestic and foreign. My tastes went primarily to the imports. My Aunt and Uncle lived near a foreign car service shop and when we visited on Sundays I would mosey on over and sit in the cars in the service lot. 

I was always on my bike exploring Detroit and suburbs and stopping in on the car dealerships. I remember a car salesman at a Fiat dealership. My bike (French Rochet Track...single fixed gear, no brakes) propped up outside the showroom window and me looking over a Fiat Abarth Zagato. Bright red with those unique twin bulges on the top, carried down to the back. Without any apparent reason he told me to go away and come back when I had some money. No goodwill created there. Thank God that car sales people nowadays are such wonderful enlightened examples of the species. Later when I had a license to drive I made more than a few visits to test drive some imported exotics. A Triumph TR3 and (almost) a Porsche Speedster. 

I fondly remember cars in the neighborhood too. The 1947 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible and the 1953 Cadillac Convertible owned by some of the local young bachelors. 

My father owned a 1947 Chrysler Windsor and the most memorable things about that car, besides the huge back seat, were the dash and the "Highlander" plaid insert upholstery. 

After that we owned a 1953 Chrysler Windsor four door. It was a bright cherry red with a white top and wide white sidewall tires. "Snazzy" it was, indeed. Same interior as in the 1947. I remember when my father bought that car. In those days the dealers affixed metal dealer tags on the back trunk lid. Even at that young age I was willing to forego the privilege of driving around advertising the dealership. I prevailed and saved having holes drilled in our classy new car.

And the very shiny black Hudson Hornet Convertible owned by an old man down the block. I used to go over and watch him wash and polish the car.

Or the Chrysler Airflow meticulously restored by a neighbor in my Cousin's neighborhood.

And the always snazzy Uncle Max and his snazzy fully loaded 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Eight Deluxe Convertible. As sporty as Uncle Max was, he never gave me the time of day. What a prick. Nice taste in cars though. Maybe some compensation going on there?

My Uncle Phil and Aunt Genevieve lived on Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Point Farms. (Phil was a baker [read about my time as his weekend baker boy] and he did very well for himself. "The flour gets in your blood" is something he once shared with me talking about his love for his craft. Aunt Gene was an amazing cake decorator and was in charge of the front of the house, with a small army of sales ladies on every Saturday. I visited them often. Aunt Gene was always most kind to me (the only person in the universe who will ever be allowed to call me "Davie." RIP Aunt Gene.) It also helped that they had a badminton court in the back yard and lived right across from the GP Farms Park. Summer splash time. 

Anyway, I vividly remember the times seeing Mrs. Fisher (Fisher Body 
 General Motors) driving carefully on Lake Shore Drive in a Detroit Electric; my estimate, 1916 vintage. I always got the distinct impression that the old lady toodling about in that old thing was not just going for a joy ride. But that she was making a statement. I took it as a hint from her to not forget electromotive technology as an option. 

So now it's the 21st century and look how plugged in everything is.

Speaking about Uncle Phil. He owned a Lincoln Cosmopolitan. Big shot car.

A vivid memory about that car was the time I was seated up front between him and Aunt Gene. It was a long drive from Detroit to the Port Sanilac area in Michigan for a weekend at a family cottage compound on Lake Huron. I fell asleep, and my foot accidentally fell on his. Phil was a scary guy to me. Always blustering and overbearing. (He would typically greet me with a withering handshake, rubbing the cut stub of his middle finger into the palm of my hand. Yuck!) He made a big dramatic display. I was chagrined.

The other memory with that car was sitting in back next to a teenage girl Cousin. She was, as they say, "budding". I stole several side glances into the secret precincts of her sleeveless blouse. Secret thrills of my errant youth. 

She's also the one I embarrassed on a later public occasion. She was going into the water for a swim at a crowed beach. I noticed that the back of her one piece was unzipped. I made a big fuss, yelling at her to, "Quick, get into the water". Naturally, everyone saw her. She took it that I was stupidly naive. Never suspected my devilish intent. Oh, there was payback. Once at lunch with her at her home I was served Lemonade. In one of those colorful aluminum drinking glasses. It tasted to high heaven of dish washing liquid. I drank it; or, some of it. Didn't say anything. It took some years to figure out that she spiked my drink. 

Looking in other directions. More boob fascination.

Is there as beautiful a shape on a car as the "Jayne Mansfield", bullet bumper on the early 1950's Cadillac?

Well, I don't always get it right. Memory is a tricky thing. Though my heart was in the right place, seems that the bullet bumpers of the day were called "Dagmars" (per a comment from a reader). I checked in an Internet search and the only reference to Jayne Mansfied and bumpers is my own photo! That's how history gets made!

Anyhow, you can understand from the accompanying photo how the term "Dagmar" came to be. 

Or the "gun sight" tail lights on the 1955 Chrysler Crown Imperial (one flipped to the side to access the gas filler cap). 

Or the radiator on any Bugatti.

When I was grade school the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild competition filled my imagination. I never got far enough into the process to submit an entry. For a lot of years I would visit the GM Building on West Grand Boulevard to ogle the beautiful futuristic winning models. I did spend a lot of time drawing side view renderings of my own car creations. 

For some reason the scooped out wheel well made a big impression on me. Here is a 1954 Buick Skylark Convertible beautifully showing off that styling point.

In the 1950s American cars were pure styling, with nothing functional about it. Well, maybe, except the light shapes and the grill opening to let air in to help cool the engine. A prime example, those wheel wells on the Buick. Keeping them clean would be a nightmare. The wire wheel bolted on despite the knockoff spinners.

Yet, that style point was all around. Here in a 1961 Fisher Body Craftsman Guild winner by Ron Will. 

Sometime in the early 1950s my brother Arnold came home with a Ford Model A. It was in so-called "original condition," with all its 30 years of use still there. A mixed blessing. But, it seemed really old to me then. Not like cars from the 50s and 60s or 70s seem to me today. I think that was because there were several large steps of design and style in the first half of the century. Several more since the fifties to be sure, just somehow those automobiles still got it going on. (Or maybe it's about when you come into the world. Everything that came before was old by definition.) I also believe there wasn't that great a desire to keep old vehicles up. The newness of things had people trading in and trading up regularly. Like with iPhones and other electronic devices in the current decade.

My brother Arnold was in the US Air Force in the early 1950s, stationed in Germany . He brought back two very nice things with him after being discharged. First and foremost, and still after all these years, his most beautiful wife Hely. Second, a snazzy 1956 Volkswagen convertible. Since he had a special deal as a serviceman, my brother got the car shipped courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Just for the record in case some don't know, the turn signals on that car were semaphores; levers with lights that swung out from concealed niches on the sides to indicate turning.

If you know from VW's there are certain watershed moments in the marque's history. "Marque?" VW, a marque? Well you get it, or you don't. Nothing more to say. The big divide in Volkwagen chronology is 1967-1968. Anybody who knows from anything VW-wise is squarely on the pre-1968 side of things. After 1967 things started to get more "up to date". Meaning, plastic and less original 1950's styling.

1967 was also the last year of the split window bus, and the end of the original first generation styling for the vans. As you will read later, I owned a 1973 Camper and it was still a great vehicle. But, a 1967 Camper, that's the cats nuts (to borrow a phrase from my dad when he commented on the new paint job I did on one of my other cars... "Shines like cat's nuts." Still don't know what that means.)

Also, after 1967, with the Beetles, the old-school bumpers were gone for good and the cars began to get larger into succeeding years. Now, when it comes to Beetles, there are other critical periods along the way, particularly noticeable in the evolution of the rear window. First, and most prized by collectors, the split rear window (1938-1953). 

Then the oval rear window (1953-1958), also a lovely thing. After that the rear window was a large rectangle that kept on getting larger, as did all the other glass. I stopped tracking after the move to the rear rectangle. I did try to like it (after all, there was more visibility) but when even that started to get bigger, I was done.

The rig my brother brought back from Germany with him was a convertible. In the most beautiful shade of dark butterscotch brown. As near as I can figure the factory term for the color was "coral red". Maybe burnt umber. But, if you recall the color of the skin on your dish of home cooked butterscotch pudding, you will have the right idea. Here is a butterscotch Crème brûlée that I whipped up just to give the exact picture.

Whatever. It was fab. With cream colored accents on the wheels. The vehicle may or may not have been an export model. It was purchased in Germany and originally licensed there. I mention this because the unit had semaphore turn signals which didn't come over that year on the export versions. 

In those times the convertible bodies were made separately by Karmann (of Karmann Ghia fame, with the still up to date styling of those sporty coupes and convertibles.)

Besides the dated semaphore turn signals, the single most memorable thing about that convertible car was that the top had an inner lining. Most American convertible tops in the 1950s were some sort of canvas supported by the usual folding metal framework, but with no inner lining. When the top was up, the frame structure was visible. The canvas buffeted and there was wind noise. No insulation. 

With the VW convertible, there was a headliner and when the top was up it looked like, and felt like, a sedan. I mention this because it was a point of luxury to have that in a convertible. Unexpected, in a budget priced vehicle like the VW. It certainly made for a quieter ride. (Later, my Porsche 356A Cabriolet had the same treatment and it was very elegant driving, all snug and secure.) The only downside to those interior padded tops was their bulk. On both the VW and the Porsche, folded down, they perched on the back and didn't disappear like you would want for the coolest possible look. But, hey, you have to be cool to be square, n'est-ce pas?

I remember not too many years later a visit to the Ford Rotunda

It was a FoMoCo public relations center featuring displays of cars and technology. The highlight that day was a drive on a specially constructed banked track in a Lincoln Continental convertible. No seat belts. Just me and my Aunt Adele and Cousins sitting in that big old boat hurling at speed around this steep banked closed circuit course. Top down! Those were the days, for sure. I have to stress that, to even little wet-behind-the-ears me, I was totally blown away that Ford would have the nerve to give this kind of dangerous ride to anyone who got in line. Simpler times.

Just because times may have been simple, didn't stop the youth of America from innovating with their rides. At first, one of the single coolest things you could do was to lower the back end. Add bubble skirts, and some glass-pack mufflers. All that on a convertible, and with a continental kit...chick magnet guaranteed. After the lowered rear treatment was around for a while, then came the front lowered---"on the prowl," "on the sniff." Then back and front lowered. Think low rider. Then the back end and front end both went up.The one I never quite got was the front-only raised. It did have a pop the clutch comin' fast off the line kind of look, though.

In a category all by itself, moon hub caps. Chrome or hairline spun aluminum. Full moon's; later, baby moon's. Aero-dynamic!

Here is a photo (Unretouched, I swear! I kid.) of young grandson George and his truck outfitted with moon's. The boy seems to have inherited some of my genetics for cars and other wheeled vehicles. (They're hoping that's the extent of it.)

If you wanted to send the message that you were packing some serious heat under the hood, exhaust cutouts would do the deed. The basic setup was a short branch off the exhaust pipe sticking out just behind the front wheel well under the rocker panel, sealed with a three bolt cap until ready for use. Take off the cap and you get some heavy breathing and a HP boost. Illegal on the street. The work around for that was to have a in-cockpit remote mechanical switch setup. When you must have a race on the street, flip the switch. No need to get out and unbolt the cap; like you would do at the drag strip. After the action, switch it back. No one the wiser.

Speaking of "youth modifications." There was my grade school classmate, Fuzzy. Fuzzy Fachinni. His older brother was first called Fuzzy, and the nickname was handed down the line. Fuzzy was short, with his thick black hair greased heavily to hold a world record DA. Really, just like the Fonz. Before there was the Fonz ... there was The Fuzzy Fachini. In high school he had a hot rod 1949 Ford. I remember all us guys standing around watching him install some clear red plastic fuel lines. The air cleaner was off. When he started the car, whooh! Picture a 3 foot column of pure flame shooting straight up out of the top of the carb. Fuzzy lost some cool factor there. Eyebrows intact. Whew!

Still my all time favorite hot rod, jet black 1950 Mercury coupe. Lowered, chopped, and channeled. No badges or door handles...sanno!

Marvin Coleys 1950 Mercury  
Mercury + 1950 Buick grille

= The Ultimate Hot Rod

Be sure there's a flathead V8 under there.

Here's another photo that you might also like. Nice grill, huh? (Also, notice those long "leggy" cut outs.)

There were some friends and associates who drove some pritteey, pritteey, pritteey fancy rigs. [In the parlance of that ever so humorous Mr. Larry David. Hey, Larry. How's Jerry Seinfeld?]

In the high school years a school mate lived near me and I remember him getting to drive this big, heavy Jaguar Mark VII to school once in a while. The car was gray with cherry red leather upholstery. I have never since been in an automobile as plush in ride and interior as that behemoth. The feel and smell of those cushy wrinkled leather seats, the sight of the burled walnut dash, the soft rumble of that DOHC straight 6, the floating on a cloud ride. So foreign, so mysterious, so exotic. Those were the enthusiast days when motoring was a joy in itself and the right vehicle was a fully sensual experience.

Then there were these brothers who lived in that longed for garden of wonderfullness, Grosse Pointe, whose father was a FoMoCo executive. They drove a 1936 Ford Deluxe Phaeton to summer classes at the University of Detroit [speed reading courses were all the rage then]. The vehicle was painted a medium gray with red interior. Breezily breezing is the kind of warm weather ride you got. That car was in very, very excellent condition; both mechanically and cosmetically. Not like the kind of jewelry you see at the Barrett-Jackson auction; but a really nice "daily driver." I speculated because dad was with Ford, they may have had an inside deal for parts and refinishing.

Last, also in summer school, was the prettiest girl that until then I had ever seen. Her name was Heide: a blond angel. She and her (not so much) sister would show up from the rarified precincts of Bloomfield Hills in either a big black Cadillac limousine or, alternatively, some big old tank; also a black limo, but 1940's vintage. Alas, Heide had a boyfriend as good looking as she was; I didn't see I had a chance; that is, with Heide. But, a ride in one of those limo's would have been nice too. All that, it was never meant to be. Heide, if you are reading this, I love you! From afar.

You know, you can have a from-afar relationship with a car the same way you have a relationship with a beautiful woman whom you've never met directly. There's my Heide. Also, Paris Hilton, Carla Gugino, and Marisa Tomei; to name some of my top tier faves.

I made it a habit to visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. An absolute must see when visiting Detroit. A collection of just about everything American; especially industrial. Of course, cars. I remember at a very early first sports car show seeing up close my first Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Coupe. German racing silver. Red plaid interior. Wow! Even now, wow!

On permanent display there is a one-of-a-kind 1930 type 41 Bugatti Royale. The biggest thing you will ever see. Yet so graceful. And exciting. Think Mae West meets Marilyn Monroe.

Once at a family party one of the guests came in a gray 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible, red interior. I still prefer the 1954-56 styling. The fins on the '57 were just not right. Oh, and that porthole on the side of the removable metal top ... lose it. That didn't stop me and my pal, Cousin Kenny, from asking for the keys and taking it for a spin. Pretty snazzy tooling around swell Grosse Pointe with the top down.

I am reminded of the time, also at a family get together, that my Cousin Theresa's husband, Richard Mazur, "let" [I hear tell Cousin Richard is doing very well for himself financial-wise. Didn't get there by throwing too much money around. Eh, Richard?] us polish his big white Buick convertible. No tipping required. It was just a treat for me and Ken to put our hands on that classy big rig. We used Simonize. And, if you know anything about the old type Simonize, you know what "elbow grease" means. 

You're supposed to put a patch of wax on a small area of the car and immediately start wiping it to a gloss. Well, I had a better idea (my first time out with the product). We would apply the wax to the entire car, then wipe it off. Signs of brilliance even at that tender young age. Well, I don't think we ever got to finish it. When that stuff dries it's bulletproof. The pisser was that I thought it would also be a smart idea to wax the windshield too. I like to be thorough. Richard was not impressed. I never saw that car again; not much of Richard either. He must have been cursing us up and down on his drive home having to look through that cloudy windshield.

Then in my teens the reigning drag strip street machine “Triple Threat.” A jet black 1958 Chevrolet two door hard top packing three 2-barrel carburetion with a progressive linkage. Progressive linkage lets you drive on on carburetor in regular street mode. But, when you stomp on it, all three carburetors fire up at once. Economic, and boss. 

1958 was the 50th anniversary year for GM and they went full tilt on all the models with probably the most chrome ornamentation ever and, the likes of which will never be seen again.

In the mid-1950s there was an intersection on the east side of Detroit with a gas station on every corner. Price wars! One summer the price per gallon got down to 14.9 cents. Ken and I pooled our allowance money and took his dad's Plymouth Fury for a day’s spin. Cruisin'.
My friend John Medicus' dad worked for GM. Mr. Medicus was in the paint area; starting out pin striping wood spoke wheels and moving on up to be on the team that developed the first Corvette. [Ken and I used to visit the old General Motors Building on West Grand Boulevard and one day got to sit in the a first year 1953 Corvette! How cool is that? Pure white with a red interior.] 

One summer in college John, another friend and I drove over to New York City for a week of adventure. We got to use his dad's car. A 1963 Chevrolet Impala Convertible. Dark maroon metallic with black bucket seats. Since Mr. Medicus had executive pull at GM he got to select his vehicle and, after a few thousand miles driven as a company car, he would take delivery of the vehicle at a substantial discount. The big deal on the car was that it had factory air conditioning. In the mid-1960s air conditioning was a pricey option. To have it on a convertible was over the top.

At one point we owned a Plymouth Valiant. Ours was silver 4-door with red interior. Plaid inserts, too. Push button automatic transmission.

My dad gave me some license with the car and so I made some "youth modifications" of my own. Red checkerboad for the egg crate grille. Replacing the sharp oval tail light lenses with flat red plexiglass. Not so bright, but ever so cool. And the really unique touch ... the wheel wells, the gas tank, and the rear differential in bright red. Not noticeable by day, but at night illuminated by others' headlights ... stunning. But, still, it was a Valiant. What it lacked in real cool factor I made up for in my imagination.

When the tranny went on the Valiant we limped it in to the dealership to trade (up) to a 1964 Pontiac Tempest. (Pictured is the GTO. Speedy version, but same lines.)

Bright solid cherry red with black "naugahyde" interior with bucket seats and a shifter (no, it was automatic.) on the floor. And it was a two door hard top. No pillar between the front and rear side windows. A super cool feature. [Also ours was not a GTO. If it were, I don't think I would be here to tell the story.

It was a regular thing to pick up an "ad hoc" drag race on weekend nights prowling the town . Sometimes on the quite stretch of 8 Mile Road east of Gratiot or on the premiere road, Woodward Avenue on the way up to Ted's drive-in going north of Detroit. You would pull up or be pulled up on by another car, challenges exchanged, and the game was on. After waiting for traffic to disappear, both drivers would come to a full stop in the middle of the road and, on the count of three, put the "pedal to the metal" until one car was distinctly ahead of the other. No prize. Just lucky to survive to tell the tale. And an ego boost ... or, bust, more often than not.

I once borrowed my Cousin Ken's 1964 Pontiac Bonneville hard top for a Saturday date. On the way to fetch the lucky young lady, I took the opportunity to test the car's speed in a short street race. Hurtling down the street car to car, who should we pass going in the opposite lane: John Law. I took the next right and pulled over curbside and turned off the lights. Well guess who comes up beside me. The policeman asked me what exactly I thought I was doing. I flatly stated that I was trying to escape him. He let me off. Honesty is the best policy, my sainted mom used to say. True that. (If I was really bold I would have turned into someone's driveway instead of stopping on the street. I'll remember that next time I have to elude the law after a too quick ride down the lane.)

My most shameful automotive memory was one night on Telegraph Road coming back to Detroit after a night of drinking mass quantitiies at Mr. Winter's. He was the father of a college friend and entertained the boys lavishly whenever we came by for a visit. Mr. Winter lived on a small lake near Pontiac, Michigan. There was even a wood hull Garwood speedbout parked at the dock outside the house. He was a true original, and eccentric guy. Lived completely free to follow his interests. I think he had inherited money from a family member who was to have invented the rocker arm (?); or, something or other essential to the internal combustion engine. He was a car guy. In his museum garage there was a jet black Jaguar XKE, a 4 door Lincoln Continental convertible with an blown engine. (Not broken, blown; supercharged = blown.) Also, an American Underslung roadster. Fully restored. Same color scheme as in this picture.

Also, this most exquisite Indian motorcycle, jet black and spotless everwhere. It was supposed to have been an award winner. Named, "Black Beauty."


Mr. Winter also had in storage a large new motorcycle parts inventory, enough supposedly to build several complete additional Indian's. Boy, talk about coveting your neighbor's property. The last I remember about Mr. Winter was that, out of an interest in late 19th/early 20th century farm equipment, in his travels to search out pieces to collect at country auctions, he became an autioneer. His younger son I think may still be in the business.

Well, back to the tale. My friends and I were driving home late one night on Telegraph Road. Mr. Winter kept a custom refrigerated cabinet just for a half keg of beer with a tap on top. Our state was slightly well lubricated that night. You should also know that this was a notorious road for accidents. "Bloody Telegraph" was the nickname. We were in two cars. I had this bright idea that we should pull up alongside the guys in the other car and moon them. My first and only attempt. 

Well there we were, one fellow in front on the passenger side and me in back. Pete was driving and was having a big laugh at the sight of the two of us exposing our backsides to the shock of our buddies in the other car. Well, Pete forgot to keep his eyes on the road straight ahead. Not too far ahead was another car stopped at a red light. He slammed on the brakes, but not soon enough. We smashed into the back end of the stopped car; thankfully, not too badly. As we sat there pants down terrified in our seats, this old man comes out from the other car and peeks in to have a word with the driver. Me and the other perpetrator just sitting there hoping the gentleman would not notice how we were wearing our pants. Youth! Pete came to the fraternity dinner dance the following night with a gigantic busted lip. It was in the dog house for me and the other moonie. I remember cracking wise about the wonderfull full moon visible just outside during dinner. Ha, ha. Pete was not amused. No irony that night.

Now, forget about all that...

I have had the pleasure to own a nice string of cars over the years. Here is the list and few thoughts on each.

My first car was a 1953 Hudson Jet which I bought from my older brother Arnold when I was 16 and just obtained my driver’s license.

Arguably, the Jet was one of the first of the US compacts. Unibody construction and economical on the mileage. I paid my brother $450, all my savings from working in a butcher shop on weekends at Gratiot Central Market. My dad told me that the car wasn't worth it, but my brother needed the money. What ... huh? Ouch! But, it was through my brother that I got the job; so, now in my wiser years, I chalk the high price up as his earned commission.

Like all kids everywhere and at all times, the temptation to add what's called "youth modifications" compelled me to strip the front hood and back trunk lid ornaments and fill in the holes with Bondo putty. That hot rodded customization never got past primer stage. 

I nearly veered off into a life of juvenile delinquency in that car. Shortly after getting my license, there I was, racing through the woods on Bell Isle one summer night. The police pulled me over and my license, the ink barely dry, was suspended. They didn't search the car to find the stash of fireworks I quickly shoved under the seat. 

Fireworks . . . I remember my dad packing me and my Cousins into the car for a trip to Toledo, Ohio just before the 4th to buy fireworks with our saved allowances. Legal in Ohio, not in Michigan. Imagine a kid buying a whole box containing a gross of what we called M80s and Cherry Bombs. Let's put it this way, in either configuration one firecracker was something like a good chunk of a piece of dynamite. My dad was a good man and a caring father. We just lived in a less controlled time. And there were no seat belts on the way either. I remember too, my Cousin Ken lived in the suburbs about two blocks away from the police station. One afternoon we set off this firework that shot up a hundred feet into the sky then exploded really like a stick of dynamite. We stayed indoors the rest of the day. Kids, huh!? Stupid innocence.

My first brand new car was a 1966 Morgan +4 Drop Head Coupe. That's the actual car is pictured. How about that?

I went on a waiting list and in 6 months took delivery from Metro Motors in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Mr. Curley Ellis was the sales agent. It was quite a treat to take the car though the tunnel to Windsor on Saturdays for maintenance (I would stop by the duty free shop to bring the boys a nice bottle) and tag along to the pub for lunch. Canadian beer is the very best. At the pub (segregated — men-only and ladies-with-escorts) the waiter would come around with a tray loaded with slim glasses of draft for 15 cents each and all you did was tell him how many and pay the price. He would come around again and again and replace the empties. Pay as you go, hopefully not before you were went.

Even in the Mid-1960s sports cars on the road were rare. When you owned one you were in a special unofficial club. I remember how when you saw another sports car driver on the road you honked and waved. If it was another Morgan, well … you would stop and have a chat. If the other Morgan owner was female, you could have an extended conversation at the nearest motel. (Fat chance. Back then I had never seen a Morgan owner who was female.) Not especially pointing at the ladies, but these days all you need is cash to buy just about any type of exotic transportation your heart desires. If one of those philistines sees another sports car on the road, all they do is sniff a bit and size up who’s got the flashier rig.

For those who may have heard the urban legend, Morgan’s are not built on wood frames. The chassis is steel just like any other such car. The ash wood framing was built up on the chassis and gave support and shape to the body. "Coach built" is the term. The Morgan Car Company has a long history, still building in the same way, only now with an additional line of very exotic and very expensive handmade super cars using the latest materials and technology.

I sold the Morgan shortly after moving to New York City. A friend kept the car at his home in Connecticut. He was tempted to buy it himself, but didn’t. He later bought a Morgan +8, the same as mine only with a ten times more powerful engine. (I understand there is a trend in some circles to what is called “slow car.” There is no denying that raw speed is a kick of its own, but there is the simple pleasure of running through the gears in an automobile with just enough for a peppy ride but designed with a nicely balanced power to weight ratio. Besides, where you gonna go at plus 80 mph?)

When I bought the Morgan my Cousin Ken, who was a Corvette guy, was puzzled over my seemingly impractical choice. Well, it was. The heater made more of a sound from the fan than any real heat. No windshield washers (I rigged up my own with some tubing, glass laboratory T connectors and a one way squeeze bulb). And rain leaked into the passenger compartment. Sometimes at speed the fasteners at the top of the windshield would work loose and the top would fly off. Did I mention that the Morgan was notoriously harsh riding. Even had a hand crank to start the engine in extremis. 

Well, as you know, a car is more than a practical conveyance. There’s the see-and-be-seen factor. The joy of ownership. The satisfaction of belonging to a select club. And, of course, the impression it makes on the ladies. But, mainly, it's the driving experience itself. 

Now, after all these years, Kenny is writing me about all the wonderful news items he finds about Morgan’s. It’s not easy being ahead of the times. It also seems that the car is a strong link to old acquaintances. When I finally located my long lost friend Joe Palazzolo (couldn’t for the life of me remember how many l’s and z’s) the very next thing he does is send me a framed 16X20 photo portrait of the car. Kenny had sent me the slides we took on our weekend drive to NYC from Detroit (me posed in a beret with the UN in the background). And very recently a work associate from FoMoCo emailed me with a set of pictures of the Morgan factory. Out of the blue. Why, I don’t know. Apparently I gave his daughter a ride in the car (didn’t lay a hand, honest). It probably made her day. Maybe even changed her life. Some things are unknowable.

My first New York City car was a Citroen 2CV. Actual is pictured.

It’s something that you either get it or you don’t. Centrifugal clutch; it would automatically disengage at idle. Right headlamp turned with the wheels to see around corners. Full sun roof. A suspension that was like floating on a cloud. 40+ mpg. And a body with probably less impact protection than a sardine can. Directly opposite the kind of confidence you get from driving a full size SUV.

Soon after moving to the New Jersey suburbs I found a 1958 Porsche 365B Cabriolet in the local classifieds. Less than $2,000 then. Today, if you want a nice example, pony up $125,000+. 

Totally different driving experience from the Morgan +4. 

When I arrived at the seller's the car was under a cover like some kind of jewel. Owned and apparently meticulously maintained by a dentist. (When I took it to a repair shop they were reluctant to hoist it up lest the suspension would fall off. The car was completely structured out of sheet steel and rust was the big bugaboo. It turned out that the dentist was more cosmetic than practical. The underside was fairly nicely rusted. Lesson — look under the hood . . . and under the skirt, if you know what I mean.) Nice, nonetheless, and many miles of delightful motoring. Two tops, convertible and hard top. Just like the Morgan it was jet black with a cherry red leather interior. So very different from the English vehicle though. Smooth, refined. Shift lever action so light and, well, vague. (The Morgan’s shifter, stiff and notchy. Crrr-unch.) Both a true blast to drive. I couldn’t say which was better. Just each different in very unique ways. One British and one — how they say — Teutonic. The "coach built " Morgan drove like a buggy; very loose in all the joints, with a scary amount of flex in the chassis. The Porsche was one solid hunk; my first taste of a taught, one piece feel in an automobile. But, you’d really have to drive them to see the difference for yourself.

The kids started to show up and I just couldn’t conscience driving them around in those things. (We once drove 14 hours straight in the Porsche to visit the in-laws. Baby Kate in a kiddy seat on the floor on the passenger side. Besides the questionable safety factor, there was a leak coming in from under the dash dripping on our little precious. I was crestfallen at the indignity I had inflicted on that innocent creature. By the way, she grew up just fine in spite of me, and is now raising her own little precious.)

So next was the 1972 Citroen D Special.

Brand new. Four cylinder, stick. Very high tech with a hydraulic suspension; very comfortable ride too. Slightly underpowered. Citroen first introduced that body style in the mid-1950’s and it stayed in production into the late 70’s. And it is still a great looking car. Very aerodynamic shape. Dealer service network however, almost non-existent.

The gas crisis of 1974 also arrived and it got me thinking about being strapped to too much of a high tech vehicle, so we traded for a 1974 Land Rover 88.

From Zagata Motors in western New Jersey. Mr. Zagata was an off road and camping enthusiast and his own Land Rover cab coupe was painted in Zebra strips. Parking on the streets of Brooklyn the LR proved itself the sturdy beast I expected it to be. However, 17 mpg was a shock and top speed only 55 mph. Trade off, the satisfaction of somehow imagining myself close to a more rugged, self-reliant life style. Everybody would constantly question my sanity for having an off-road vehicle in the city. You take a ride around  those mean streets, then decide for yourself. And, now take a look at all those 4WDs and SUV whizzing by these days. Impractical, or forward thinking. You decide.

I sold the Land Rover to cover expenses training into a whole new career field. Living in NYC there isn’t really much of a need for an automobile. So I went carless for several years until it was time to find new digs outside the Big Apple. [My own take on why they call it that is because it is so full of temptations. You know … Adam and Eve … the Apple. Only bigger. OK, not such an original idea, but just in case it is really my original thought. Give credit where due.]

The vehicle of choice for a sojourn across the great USA was a Volkswagen Camper Van. 1973 vintage.

Bought it in South Dakota based on pictures and telephone calls. No disappointment. Rust free, beautifully restored to original and a souped up engine. That baby could boogie. For a VW van anyway. We spent three months driving west and camping in deserts and mountains to finally land in Phoenix, Arizona.
I have to say that van was probably my favorite of all the vehicles. So much living in it. If you fondly remember "getting it on" in the back seat of some old sedan, just imagine what get's on in a Volkswagen Camper Van with a full bed and privacy curtains.
We happened to be at a campsite in the mountains overlooking Boulder Colorado Thanksgiving-time in 1994. Bathroom facilities and a really hot tub a short walk in the cold snow, mountain lions reportedly prowling the premises. We got pretty good at camp cooking on the trusty Coleman stove and even hosted a friend one morning for breakfast around the small table in the van. Also, since it was that time of year, we met up with Santa (the real one, mind you; it was Boulder after all: that town where fantasy and reality are thoroughly mixed) and we have a great picture of the Big Man posing in the VW. I'll post it as soon as I can get into the file of film images.
On another occasion coming back north to Phoenix after the Tuscson gem show, our natural high from being around all that rarified crystalline energy was flattened by a most vigorous hail storm. Imagine all that roof on the van and all that hail. Fortunately the storm didn't put any real dents into the situation, but the din did give us a fright.
There is still a great vintage VW following in the rust-free states. After a few years ownership we sold it and recovered all the money we invested. Not too shabby. The van was wonderful in every way. Except in driving in city traffic, the manual transmission was a handful.
Soon began looking for a more everyday driver. The 1977 Mercedes Benz 300D was the ticket.

D for diesel. I was originally looking for a trusty Volvo but someone along the way said the MB was the better choice. A little skittish about the diesel; where do you get the fuel? Once you own one you begin to see the stations that, before you had the need, you didn’t notice. (Sort of like not ever seeing stores that sell monkeys until you wrap your mind around owning one. When I retire I plan to open a store that places cage captive, mature chimpanzees to worthy homes. Just back up the truck, open the front door, and let your new buddy loose. Live the barrel-of-monkeys experience! I kid.)

Well, back to the Mercedes. Bought it from an airline pilot. He had a neatly printed log of everything he ever did to the vehicle. It’s great to buy a pre-owned vehicle with that kind of documentation. At 177,000 clicks it was still only nearly broken in. MB diesels are famously bullet proof and live to 500,000 and beyond. My car was non-turbo and just about the slowest thing on the road. We drove it for another 100 thousand before selling it to trade up to the big boy, a 1982 300SD.

With 160,000 miles, more room for Big Dave in the seats. Longer wheel base, comfortable, and a turbo. Starts in half a crank and jets down the trail. I still prefer the smaller 124 body 300D for its tight agility. The bigger 126 chassis is plush. That 300SD stickered at $37,000 in 1982! We're talking plush.

That’s it so far.

I do have fantasies about future auto possibilities, however. Click here for a view.

The song below kind of catches us up on the current situation in Detroit. It remembers a time when a kid like me could bicycle free everywhere. Summers, I would leave home in the morning and come back for supper. Just roaming around on my bike, exploring. Not a care in the world.


kate said...

I love this post! What fun to your life in cars. An eclectic and sophisticated assortment! And I remember that zebra striped land rover, you jogged a memory loose.

Anonymous said...

The "1964 Chevrolet Impala Convertible" is a 1963. And a beauty. :)

David D. Wronski said...

Thanks for the correction. Updated.

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Jorge Velazco said...

Uh, the protuberances on the pre-Nader front bumpers of cars were called the Dagmars. Dagmar was an early American TV personality and looking her up will show why the prots were called Dagmars. I do not know if in England of those days they were called Sabrinas.

David D. Wronski said...

Thanks, Jorge. You are 100% right. Funny how memory can be tricky. But, you can sympathize with how I got the reference to Jane Mansfield. It does fit.

Article has been revised thanks to your correction.

(Nothing found on "Sabrinas". But, and again, it would have been appropriate.)

prentz said...

Wow, lots of 'stuff' crosses paths here! I had a MkIX Jag that I thought I'd restore- HA! Salty roads weren't kind to those big Jags! I did have a MkII I drove for a while, $185 with chrome wire wheels- owned by an airplane mechanic that couldn't get it running, not used to working on 'auto' engines! An that Morgan? I knew a guy in college that had one, got hit one time and had to go to a wood craftsman in NYC (I lived just up the river in Nyack at the time) to get the framework fixed.
My 'Detroit' auto history started with two grandfathers that moved to Detroit around 1910, grandpa LeSuer worked for Henry Ford's Chief Engineer, Edward Gray- maybe in was in that picture you were kidding about! Actually, it seemed he worked privately for Gray and had worked as his 'draughtsman' from their days together in Oil City at Gray's Riverside Engine Company. Gray is the guy that designed those huge 'Gas-Steam' power plant engines, one of which is in the museum. I'm sure Gray kept grandpa busy drawing up those plans. More on all of that at
Grandpa Rentz became a chauffeur on arriving in Detroit (both grandfathers came from farms as most did back then). At one point he became the chauffeur for a wealthy tobacconist, Charles Gauss. Gauss donated the funds to build the 'Historic Trinity Lutheran Church" in downtown Detroit a few years after grandpa worked for him. He got is money not from selling tobacco products though, he had made some smart real estate purchases years earlier, land that Henry Ford bought (at a nice profit for Gauss!) for the River Rouge plant! Ford played a big role in both grandparent's lives. Photos and stories about that at
Fun reading your blog! Love this kind of stuff!

David D. Wronski said...

Prentz ...

Thank you for your comments. The links you've shared are absolutely fabulous. Such well documented and arranged histories of your family's significant connections to the backbone history of Detroit.

I've reentered your links to encourage readers to visit your sites: