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Those were the days ... Lessons learned about cars in the summer of '66 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, April 25, 2014 8:31 PM

It was the summer of 1966. I had graduated from high school, been awarded a scholarship to West Virginia University and was working as a part-time regular at Kroger’s. Since I was making my own money, my dad and mom had allowed me to purchase a used 1961 MGA convertible. It was silver with wire wheels, red interior and had a 4-speed manual transmission. It was so much fun to drive! I loved driving it on the curvy roads outside the city and shifting through the gears.

There were a couple of disadvantages to my little sports car, however. First, it was so small that other drivers sometimes didn’t notice that I was on the same road that they were. Second, the car had dual carburetors that were hard to keep adjusted and I was not a mechanic. No, I didn’t know much about cars others than that they required some gas in the tank. If I turned the key and the car started I was a happy guy.

One day, I was playing “speed racer” on a curvy stretch of highway when the engine made a sound, smoke started coming from it and the engine stopped. Turns out the engine had blown up because cars not only require gas in the tank the engine also needs oil in it!

My dad was gracious enough to help me with the process of trading in the MGA for another used car and co-signing for a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. It was light blue with a white top and white interior. It was a much larger car with a V-8 engine, automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes. It was a sweet-looking automobile!

About a week after getting the car, I had a day off work and spent a few hours washing and waxing it. Mom, dad and my little brother, Mark, left earlier that day for some vacation time. By the time I finished, I had that Bonneville looking like a brand new car. When a friend of mine stopped by to see if I was interested in playing baseball with some of the guys I was quick to agree and offer him a ride. I looked forward to showing my new car to the rest of the guys.

Our ballpark was actually a big field adjacent to some farmland. We had fun and had worked up a thirst by the time the game ended because it had started to rain.

We didn’t have anything with us to drink so we decided we’d go somewhere to get some pop to quench our thirst. The other guys piled in their cars and got a head start on me and the two fellows with me. Since I didn’t know where they were going I was driving faster than I should have been to catch up. I was probably doing about 60 mph or faster when I got to the top of a small hill and saw the car of one of my friends apparently stopped in the middle of the road not far away. I was used to being able to stop my little MGA by downshifting and hitting the brakes but stopping that big Bonneville was a different story.

BonnevilleThe road was narrow with banks on each side. There wasn’t enough room to pass my friend’s car so I did the only thing I knew to do – I pressed hard on the brakes and held on hoping I could stop in time. Unfortunately, my car began to slide on the rain-slicked highway. We skidded on some gravel adjacent to the pavement and plowed into the bank. The car turned over two and a half times, landed on its top (fortunately the top was up because of the rain) and stopped just a couple of feet behind my friend’s car. He had stopped his car to rev up the engine in the hope of trying to “burn some rubber.” When he looked in the rear view mirror and saw my car barreling toward him, he froze.

I remember seeing the windshield burst and the steering wheel spinning before I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, I was upside down and my body was wedged between the steering wheel and the crushed left side of the car (we didn’t have seat belts or air bags) in those days.

My two friends had managed to get out of the car and were yelling that I needed to get out because the car was leaking gas and might explode. Their warning got my adrenaline going and I managed to get out from under the steering wheel, scoot on my back and turn my head sideways enough to get out on the passenger side of the front seat.

I remember sitting down on the bank next to my demolished car and being so angry to think how much time I had spent washing and waxing the car that now looked like a crushed accordion. In a few minutes it began to sink in that my friends and I could have been seriously injured or killed. It was incredible that none of us were. After coming to my senses and as the shock wore off, I caught a ride with my friend who had frozen at the wheel as he watched the accident take place. We didn’t have cell phones back then so he took me to his home and let me use the telephone. I reported the accident to the insurance company who in turn called a tow truck to get the car. I also called the police, but since it was my car, I had already reported the wreck to the insurance company and since no one was hurt, they didn’t feel any action on their part was needed.

Shortly after getting home, the telephone rang. It was my dad. He asked me, “How’s that new car of yours doing?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him what had happened and didn’t want to ruin their vacation so I just said, “It’s doing fine, dad. It’s doing fine.”

I sure wish I had still had those cars and they were in the condition that they were when I first got them. I think I paid between $1200 to $1400 for each of the cars. While writing this article, I checked the internet and found a 1961 MGA like I used to have for sale with an asking price of more than $26,000 and a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible that looks a lot like the one that I destroyed with an asking price of $36,500!

I learned some valuable lessons that summer of 1966. Even little sports cars require oil in the engine and Pontiac Bonneville convertibles aren’t the kind of car you play “Speed Racer” in. Come to think of it, my dad must have learned something too – he never again co-signed or helped me buy a car…


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