From the Archive: Notable Detroiters Recall Their First Cars
Like a first kiss, our first car is an indelible — and usually fond — memory. We asked 14 metro Detroiters to recall the wheels (clunkers included) that set them in motion
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED AS "MY FIRST CAR" IN THE JANUARY 2009 ISSUE OF HOUR DETROIT.
Cynthia Ford, community volunteer, wife of Edsel B. Ford II
Then: “My first car was a 1969 Cougar. I did love it. I was in college, and my father and I spent several days looking for just the right car. Initially, I thought I wanted a VW wagon (it was the ’60s after all). We were looking for something reasonable in price, but safe. And nothing in those dealerships fit into our price range. We ended up at the Lincoln Mercury dealership where my father had bought cars in the past and found this beautiful used Cougar. It was so much more elegant than the VW I thought I wanted. I just thought it was the prettiest car I had ever seen — and I felt terrific driving it.
“I still remember it vividly — and fondly. It was cream with a dark-green leather interior and dark-green pinstripes.”
Bob Lutz, former GM vice chairman
Then: “A blue 1948 Volkswagen. [I loved it] at times, when running. It cost the equivalent of $500 in 1952 Swiss francs.”
Graham Beal, director, Detroit Institute of Arts
Then: “My first car was a 1953 Riley 1 1/2 Litre [below], classified as a ‘Tourer’ in England. I absolutely loved it, even though
I spent a great deal of time fixing it. It was black with a black, cloth-covered top. In 1966, when I bought it, I paid £80 ($200) in the exchange rate at that time].”
Neal Rubin, columnist, The Detroit News
Then: “My first car was a steel-blue 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88. The 1960s was a decade of innovation for Oldsmobile, none of it reflected in my car, which was about 40-feet long and chugged roughly the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 707. At least the Olds had wider seats.
“I adored that car, quirks and all. It had carburetor issues, for instance, so in cold weather I’d have to pump the gas pedal 35 times to get it to catch when I turned the key. Not 33 times, not 38 — 35 did the trick.
“It had pale-blue [vinyl] seats, guaranteed to be ice-cold in winter and painfully sticky in the summertime.
“When I took possession, it was basically a four-door paperweight. The transmission had begun shedding parts in the middle of Denver’s equivalent of Woodward Avenue. For the price of a new transmission ($200) I had myself the ‘flyest’ 10-year-old ride in Littleton, Colo.”
Brooks Patterson, Oakland County executive
Then: “A 1954 two-door Ford with “Miss Pig” painted on the side, which should have served as a warning. I hated it, but it was all I could afford while in college. It was light blue (damn near robin’s-egg blue). It cost $400.”
Ken Cockrel Jr., councilman, Detroit
Then: “A burgundy 1976 Chevy Monza. It had a big V-8 engine. When I put the pedal to the metal, it was fast. But it was not the most fuel-efficient car.”
Marsha Miro, founding director, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Then: “I loved those VW vans, but settled for a VW station wagon. It was 1969. I worked at the Gertrude Kasle Art Gallery in the Fisher Building and thought it would be good for transporting art and lots of other stuff. I loved it. It was silvery beige, cost $1,800, and $1.80 to fill up. I think it got 20-some miles to the gallon (my best so far).”
Patrick Liebler, executive director, The Whitney restaurant, vice president, the Liebler Group
Then: “A gray 1986 Dodge Colt E. It was an ugly little car, but I loved it.”
Marisa Gaggino, owner, The Heritage Co. II
Then: “My first car was a 1977 silver Chevy Nova. I loved that it was mine, but hated that it was a gas hog. (It was a 305 eight-cylinder.) I bought it from my neighbor for $1,200 with money I earned waiting tables at Big Boy.”
Deborah Silver, owner, Detroit Garden Works
Then: “My first car was a loaner from my mom and dad — a red 1965 Dodge Dart with a push-button transmission. Love doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I had in 1967. Not only was it beautiful, it represented freedom — the most beautiful thing there is. The first day I drove it to school, my senior year in high school, there was only one other car in the lot. I hit it while trying to park right up next to the night maintenance man. The real cost of my Dodge Dart was my mom scraping together the money to repair that car door without my dad finding out.”
Peter Van Dyke, vice president, Berg Muirhead and Associates
Then: “I loved my Ford Probe [above]. My friends nicknamed it the “Van Dyke” mobile because of its VANDYKE vanity plate. As a high-schooler in the late ’90s, I had the appropriate bumper stickers: De La Salle Collegiate, U of M, and Wayne State University; Dave Matthews Fire Dancer; and an Italian flag. It was gold/tan and cost me nothing. It was gifted to me by my uncle, David DiRita. My brother James and I shared it until he went to college.”
Victor Saroki, architect, Victor Saroki & Associates
Then: “A 1978 Pontiac Firebird Formula. I’d shared a family car for many years and saved my money to buy a new car when I was a junior in college. It was white with blue pinstripes.”
Ben Bailey, meteorologist, Fox 2 News
Then: “A 1982 Volkswagen Jetta. For what I could afford to spend, it looked great. I would only buy $2 and $3 worth of gas at one time (a high-school student’s budget), and my math skills were questionable, so I ran out of gas several times. I started carrying my rollerblades in the trunk. They got me home more than once.
“It was red with tan burlap seats (at least they felt like burlap), and cost a whopping $1,500.”
Mary Conway, reporter, WXYZ-TV
Then: “I learned to drive on a ’62 Chevrolet Impala, but the first car I actually owned was a ’66 Chevrolet Malibu. It cost $300 (in late 1979). It was maroon and a V-6 ... I would love to have either of those cars now. I smile every time I see one, because it brings back great memories. My dad ran a gas station in Wisconsin, so we always drove older cars.”
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