My First Car

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

Tricycle. Bicycle. Car. On the sidewalk, around the block, on the open road — wheels bring freedom. Taking possession of the keys at age 16 opens up a wide new world. No wonder most of us are happy to recall our first car, as these metro Detroiters did via e-mail with 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.”

Now: “I drive a company car, but own a 2003 Ford Thunderbird convertible. It’s powder blue with a black soft top and a white hard top and is very, very pretty.”

Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz 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.”

Now: “A Cadillac STS-V.”

Graham Beal

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].”

Now: “I’m about to get a Volvo C70 (convertible).”

Neal Rubin

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.”

Now: “I’ve become a true Michiganian, which is to say I own two cars. The one that makes me swoon is a turbocharged 2005 red PT Cruiser woody convertible. The way I baby it, you’d think it was made of rock candy. Drive it in the rain? But then it would get wet.”

Brooks Patterson

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.”

Now: “A 2008 Chrysler 300.”

ken cockrel

Ken Cockrel Jr., interim mayor, 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.”

Now: “Because I have five children, we drive two minivans: a 2000 Chevy Venture and a 2004 Mercury Monterey.”

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).”

Now: “Today, I drive a Range Rover Sport (bought when Ford still owned Range Rover). It’s black, fast, and fun, though the gas mileage is horrible, so I might consider trading in on something better.”

Patrick Liebler

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.”

Now: “As a father of four, we have the obligatory Chrysler Minivan. We also have a Ram pickup (and are thrilled to see gas prices come down).”

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.”

Now:  “I own a beige 2003 Chevy Astro, which gets better mileage and hauls antiques and junk and kids. But love is not what I’d call it, more like utility. (Yes, my dad worked for GM.)”

Deborah Silver

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.”

Now: “I don’t have a car. I have a fleet of trucks. My Ford F-350 dump truck is my favorite. My Sprinter, with its Mercedes diesel engine, is easy on gas and transports an enormous amount of material — divine.  I own two box trucks with hydraulic lift gates, and use them every day.  I routinely drive a Chevy Suburban, in which I haul my corgis [dogs], plant material, flower arrangements, and pots out on approval.
My trucks are the backbone of my business; they deliver. They enable me to work long after they’re paid off.

“I’m a Detroiter, so of course I look at cars as sculpture crossed with performance. If I were to go out tomorrow and buy a vehicle, it would be the Ford Flex. There’s no other design on the road like it; it’s unusually great-looking. I bet it runs like a top.”

Peter Van Dyke

Peter Van Dyke, account supervisor, 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.”

Now: “I drive a black 2008 Dodge Avenger.”

Victor Saroki

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.”

Now: “A 2008 black BMW 535i.”

Victor Saroki

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.”

Now: “A 2007 BMW 530i.”

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.”

Now: “I drive a 2006 Ford Explorer; it will get me anywhere in any kind of weather. And last year, my husband and I bought a Mustang convertible to cruise in during the summer.”