The first car I ever lived with, was a 1973 Chevrolet Vega Notchback Sedan. It was bought by my dad as a commuter car, and was thus equipped with the luxuries of an automatic transmission and an AM radio. That was it. No power windows, power door locks, power seats, A/C, cruise, nothing.
Now, when I got the car handed down in 1979. it had already lived well past its’ professionally-predicted life-span. The Vega had a cast-aluminum engine, common now, but a rarity in the 70s. People weren’t religious about changing engine oil, and that would kill the Vega’s engine. My dad, being totally OCD about maintenance of machinery, made sure it got changed regularly. So the part that should have killed the car, its’ engine, was still going strong.
The body? That was another issue. The body was made of non-coated steel, and in the Chicago heavily-salted winter, you could WATCH the car rust. The only advantage was, the car lost about 30-40 pounds per year as we sanded and ground away the rust, replacing it with fibreglass and Bondo. So the car actually performed BETTER with age!
As the car aged, my father grew less willing to spend big money on repairs to the vanishing body. When the inner and outer door panels rusted away from each other, my dad glued them back together with roofing tar. Yes – roofing tar, the fibred kind to provide some binding force. Flapping fenders were restrained with bailing wire. When I passed it back in 1987 after getting my Cavalier, there was NO original body below the tops of the wheel wells. Fibreglass, bondo, lacquer putty, roofing tar, pieces of flattened tin cans, all sorts of things – but no original sheet metal.
By the time I inherited the car in 1979, the mechanicals had been beat up pretty good, as well. My sister drove it for a few years before I got it, and she was HARD on the poor thing. By the time I got it, there was a quarter-turn in the steering wheel that did NOTHING, the throttle linkage had broke and been wired back into service, and the suspension was gone. The one thing that never failed (other than the power plant) were the brakes. They remained great to the day the car was traded in for my dad’s 1989 wagon.
This was the car I drove into the city to go to college, fighting with the rest of the idiots on the Chicagoland freeways. When I started working downtown, I drove it forth and back to the commuter train station, a 2-mile too-short-to-warm-up sprint. I drove her all around Chicagoland, from Wrigleyville in the north to Aurora in the southwest, in rush-hour stop-and-go residential traffic and at 70mph on the freeway. (Which was quite a feat, considering the engine was spinning as fast as it could (“redlined”) to get there.) And despite all the car’s faults, it only stuck me once – when the temperature dived below -20 degrees and I left it out on the street by a friend’s apartment. (We towed it home behind our huge 1970 wagon, me in the Vega with no heat and temperatures in the negative teens! ) Other than that, the car soldiered on, gradually disintegrating, until the day in 1989 when my dad traded it in on his (still going) 1989 Celebrity wagon. And less than a week later, the dealer sold it to some gent as a “starter car” for his teenage daughter!
That Vega was ugly, slow, cheap, poorly equipped, and an all-around beater. And I loved her for every minute we spent together. It’s true – you never forget your first love.
Watch for Part 2 of Cars I Have Known – The Wagon With Its’ Own Zip Code…..