In rural Ohio in the middle of the last century, there was no event anticipated with anywhere near the level of intensity as a fifteen year old male’s next birthday. Mine was in the spring of 1963 and I planned for it like a general plans an attack. I’m a little surprised that I’ve forgotten some of the details that I once knew so well but I suppose that the passing of five decades could account for a little memory fade. There was a written test to get a learner’s permit that allowed you to drive with a licensed driver beside you. Then there was a driving test that included parallel parking to get your license. Some amount of time had to pass between the two. I no longer recall what that time was but I do know that I barely exceeded it. I took the test in Dad’s 1961 Comet then, as soon as we got home, pulled back onto the road in my own car. A couple of months before becoming a licensed driver, I had become an automobile owner with the acquisition of a 1953 Chevrolet four door sedan. I’m sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.
The Comet was an automatic and a compact. I think it may have had power brakes but not power steering though I’m far from certain about that. In any case, driving it was easy compared to the 3-on-the-tree Chevy. Dad wasn’t fond of riding in the Chevy and, although he was one of the most patient people in the world, I think my lack of skill with the clutch was an irritant to him. Pretty much all of my “learning” had been in the Comet. Armed with my brand new license, I spent that first afternoon starting and stopping on empty country roads near home. I eventually reached the point where I could launch the Chevy on level ground without killing the engine or spinning the tires most of the time. Then I drove to a bridge I’d previously selected for its somewhat steep approaches. I drove back and forth across the bridge several times with a stop and start on the upward slope of the approach on every pass. By the time I returned home I felt there was a chance I could actually drive the Chevy in public without embarrassing myself too much.
My car was a green and white Bel Air that looked a lot like the car at left. Exceptions were that mine was a 4-door and it never looked nearly that shiny while I owned it. Late in the summer I threw a rod and did my first engine swap with something out of a wreck. During the winter, the front got a little wrinkled when I was intentionally doing donuts in the snow and unintentionally found a guard rail in my path. When the rods in my junkyard engine started knocking in the spring, the Chevy was done.
This car was ten years old when I bought it for $150 and it was beat. I don’t recall how many miles were on it but there was a fair amount of rust and other signs of wear to go along with those short lived rod bearings. In those days, pampered garage kept vehicles could somewhat avoid the rust and there were rumors of engines that ran 100,000 miles but most people I knew didn’t believe them. Today there are plenty of good looking ten year old cars on the road and 100,000 is deemed break in mileage. Yep, they sure don’t build ’em like they used to.