In this series, we’re celebrating the cars that made us happy. The ones that surprised us and made us smile (even if they made us walk once in a while). They may not be the best on paper, but they proved themselves on the road with more smiles-per-gallon than anything else we’ve driven.
Today we’ve got Jon C and a story of love and loss. He’s certainly not the only one to try and recapture some automotive magic only to realise it often leaves with the car it arrived in. Thanks for the story, Jon.
My first car was a ’96 Chevy Caprice (half fenders in the rear) V8 RWD. I paid a family friend $400 for it. I was living in Rockport, MA at the time, attending school in Middleton, MA (vocational school where I studied automotive), and worked a part-time job in North Conway, NH. All of this added up to a great deal of commuting and the V8 Chevy was not the car for a cash-strapped highschooler. My father purchased an (1994?) Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera with a V6 and traded me for the Chevy.
The Cutlass was significantly smaller and more economical than then Chevy. It was a white International Edition with a luggage rack on the trunk, plush blue seats, and 136,000 miles. The previous owner had to have been the original. There was no sign that the back seat had ever been sat in, not a single missing hubcap or trim piece, nor any imperfection anywhere in or around the car. The idle had a minor tremor that I assumed I could remedy with a small tune up of sorts. As it turned out, one cylinder had low compression.
This car faithfully carried me from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back again week after week. Because I was attending school outside of my town many of my friends lived at least a 20 minute drive away. My car was always the ‘hangout spot’ and subject to many aimless tours of unexplored territory. So many memories were made in that vehicle, so many firsts. The Cutlass ate mile after mile never skipping a beat (just putting a bit at idle) from the twisties in quaint Cape Ann to the long stretches of cambered highways reaching into the White Mountains.
One time at a stop light the idle became rough for a few moments illuminating the CEL. A few moments later the car lurched into the busy intersection, engine racing. I drove back to my school with two feet to find the idle air control had become jammed with soot and grease. This is also the first car I ever drove 100+ mph in. I have not owned any other car as long as that one\, though it’s valiant service lasted under 2 years. I loved taking the Olds out in the elements, as nothing ever seemed to slow it down. In a terrible snowstorm I was driving down a dirt road in New Hampshire with about 1.5 feet of powder on the ground, when I drove over a large rock. It was obscured by the snow and it wasn’t until I had perforated the entire undercarriage that I realized what had happened. Many wiring harnesses were destroyed, EVAP lines ripped, but nothing leaked. I made it back to Massachusetts like that, and to school the next day. I decided that the time had come to send the Olds to pasture so after school I arranged for a friend to follow me to the junkyard (in case some of the electricals forbid me to continue driving its compromised state). Before departing the parking lot, I had the realization that I had no pictures to remember my dearly departed servant.
I staged a small photoshoot behind my school of the car, with its numerous bumper stickers, and my closest friends who shared so many memories in it. Under it’s own power I drove it to its final destination in Billerica, MA. The complete sadness of the ordeal struck me after I witnessed a forklift carelessly toss my car into the air and onto a ‘new arrival dock’ to be raped and pillaged. I ran over, confiscated a hub cap, took a final picture and left. I remember crying on the ride home, feeling empty. Months later I had the opportunity to obtain a similar car. It was a purple Cutlass Ciera, with less miles and a couple years newer. The body was in rough shape with rust holes eating through the dented finish. In a moment of weakness I purchased it hoping to recapture everything I had missed. That car was awful I gave it away some weeks later. I should have known nothing would compare.
The two pictures attached are from the last day I owned the Olds. Me and my friend Jessica, and then at the junkyard. See the missing hubcab? I have it hanging on my living room wall as a testament to the best car I ever owned.