Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Clinging to the past in the weirdest freakin' ways.

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, my family experienced a serious decline in coolness as it pertained to automobiles. Dad, back when he was Unmarried, Independent and Slightly Cooler Dave, had purchased his first new vehicle-a 1967 Chevy Impala Super Sport. He ordered it from the factory, at Gray Chevrolet in Stroudsburg. It had a 327, a 4-speed, no air and crank windows, but it was BAD-ASS.
(Like this, but stock SS hubcaps. It looked as if it had been poured.)

Up to that point, it represented everything Dad wanted in a car. These were the days of straight-line, quarter-mile racing and Saturday night cruising-Imported sports cars were still weird to the average red-blooded American Male, and most were out of their price range anyway-besides, there was still no substitute for cubic inches.

Dad would later buy a 1965 El Camino alongside the Impala, his first 'truck'. Like so many others, he'd come to find the folly in his assumptions regarding the Mullet of Automobiles.
(EXACTLY like this one. I just got a chill for a second, and was about five years old just now.)

The El Camino came from my Great Uncle John, My granddad's brother. Uncle John was tough. He had sat under a roof beam of a bomb-collapsed barn in Italy for almost a week before he was found by his fellow Allied troops. He quit drinking cold turkey with the help of my Pap. Tough.

Uncle John also had a '53 Vette. A daily driver, it was far from pristine, as the 'convertible' top of the time was a cast-iron bitch to remove or replace, and it had been rained on and in more than once. However, it WAS a Corvette, with the pedigree of being first and the famed Blue Flame engine and all. As Dad was walking away with an El Camino, sans the $800 Uncle John had asked for it, he pulled a Columbo on Dad (Kids-Google "Columbo")-he stopped dad and said "You know, if you wanted the Corvette, I'd let you have it for the same price."

What happened next is one of those things women don't understand and men lament for the rest of their lives over beer with friends. Dad did the responsible thing and said "I'd love to, but I have one boy and another baby on the way, a new house being built....I better say no, but thanks." And in that moment of decision, Dad's Universe and Destiny changed forever.

($800. Let that sink in, and then go check a few auction sites to see what these go for, restored, today.)

Eventually, the El Camino got traded for a proper truck, a '72 Ford F-100 2wd that got stuck everywhere, but mostly our driveway, and Dad began to pine for a 4wd one day. Meanwhile, the Impala began to lose its luster and getting us to the bus stop every day was getting difficult for Mom. Points, condenser, and old carbs will do that. So Dad traded the '67 in on a more 'family'-oriented car-a 1974 Chevy Nova, Copper with a beige interior, and beige vinyl top. I won't even insult you with a picture. Despite having a 350, it was gutless, having been beleagured with early emissions equipment. When it was offered to a car-crazy 14 year-old Yours Truly, I said no. That's how bad it was.

In late '78 Dad ordered his last new vehicle-a 1979 Ford F-150 with Four Wheel Drive. Autumn Red and Wimbledon White, it came in without the white inset color, and had to be painted at the dealership. It had a 351 Cleveland and auto trans, and a catalytic converter that netted Dad about 7mpg. Somewhere along the line someone may have told him to whack that cat with a hammer and dump out all the innards, and Dad may or may not have done that. I may or may not have helped.
(Just like this, but White Cragars instead, eventually even the rust would be the same pattern).
I loved the truck. It had power, Dad kept it immaculate, the 4wd would get me anywhere (including in trouble more than once, tearing off mirrors, running boards, etc. offroading), and you could carry a party's worth of friends in the back, back when you were still invincible and could do that. My maturity came all at once one night, on a wet road (when I almost killed about a dozen of my friends after I got the truck sideways), but that's another story for another time. I 'bought' the truck when I was in my early 20s, as much as a kid with no money buys a vehicle from his dad-that is, payment was deferred until further notice. I sold it, then tried to buy it back a few years later when the guy who had bought it tried selling it to me for more than I had sold it to him for. It ended up in Bushkill, a few miles away, and I never saw it again. I still miss it sometimes. Dad bought a '90 Ford F-250 after that, which was also cool (and I also bought) but it was never quite the same.

Most memorably, however, was the car that replaced the Nova-a 1981 Chevy Caprice Estate Wagon. You KNOW already it had the simulated wood-grain sides, natch!
(Not the same color but you get the idea-showroom brochure photos are the stuff dreams are made of, no?)

If the Nova was gutless, the Caprice (or "Cappy" as Dad called it-I think he meant "Crappy" though) was the Nova's fatter, slower sister-the one that was exempt from gym class. It had a 305, choked out beyond belief with both emissions equipment and early computer controls. It had vinyl seats, was missing the third hideaway seat that would have made it a serious cruising contender, and the whole thing smelled like my brother's diabetic farts most of the time (they're different, trust me). You could still roll down the back window and let the Carbon Monoxide roll right in. My buddy Brendan's dad had the same car, and I found out first hand what Carbon Monoxide feels like in your system, hauling a load of lumber in the back with Brendan, as we rolled down from Wilkes-Barre at 70mph. Luckily we had the sense to stop and catch our breath.

All this considered, my friends, in the days before my first car, loved it. My friend Jeff dubbed it "The Nimitz" for it's size likeness to the famous aircraft carrier. When it was time to cruise, everyone piled in. Before I even drove, I had my first date in it, with my dad driving. Sooooooo 80s.

So with all this history considered, what do I want most to recapture my youth? The wagon. Yeah-I want to embarass my new family in it-to pull up to activities and sports practice and have them blush and deny they know me, like I did. They're out there still-sometimes outrageously expensive, sometimes just right. I'll find one. I always find one, whatever 'one' may be. Stay tuned.

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