Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Short History of Cars

1951 Fleetwood
Cars have always been a big part of my father's life. He once bought a house on Upton Street- one half of a duplex actually, but it came with, count 'em nine garages. (You can still see the garages- tiny little stalls from the alley between Van Ness and Upton Streets.) Before he had his own car, my Dad would steal my Papou's car- a circa 1930 maroon Chevrolet with black fenders. Papou kept it in a garage about a block away from where they lived on Macomb Street so my father had to swipe two sets of keys- one for the garage and one for the car.  My Papou never understood why that car got so little mileage per tank of gas.  He even took it back to the dealer to complain.

My father can tell you about every car he has ever owned starting with the Model T Ford he bought on the sly with the money he earned from picking up golf balls and selling papers. His father thought he was too young to have a car, but that didn’t stop my dad. He lied about his age, forged his father’s name, and got a permit when he was only fifteen. His friend, Fred Brown hid the car at his house until it was too late for my Papou to stop the deal.

After the Model T, my dad upgraded to a 1927 Chevrolet-2 door coupe convertible and from then on it was convertibles all the way. He wanted to modify the Chevy so he went up to the Friendship depot and got a straw bench from a retired streetcar. Then he cut the trunk lid, reversed the hinges, and made his own rumble seat.

The next car was a 1932 Desoto with black fenders. He bought that one from a chef from Altoona who was working for Papou at Macomb Cafeteria. Then, just before WWII, Dad swung a brand new 1940 Hudson V8 with back windows that buttoned in when the top was down.

The Hudson (parked in front of Wash. Monument)
After this factories stopped making cars and started making war machines. Those were dark days for my father. During the war, he pre-ordered four cars- and when they started rolling off the assembly line he was right there. The first was a 1947 green convertible Studebaker,


which he sold as soon as the 1947 green convertible Buick came in.

Next was the maroon 1947 Town and Country Chrysler which he totally loved….

until the 1947 emerald green Cadillac showed up.

And that was the end of the line…until around 1951 when a pink one caught his eye.

A few years later, my brother would follow unwittingly in his shoes. Not knowing of Dad’s escapades, he’d climb down the tree outside his bedroom window on Davenport Street and “borrow” the car at night. The difference between father and son here was that my brother got caught because Dad always checked his mileage. My brother’s only recourse was to buy his own car with the money he made from a temp job at the post office. He got a 1939 Buick, shaped like a torpedo. What little paint it had was blue. There was an antenna in the middle of the windshield. No brakes, no insurance, and once again, a forbidden purchase. He parked it about a block away and walked home. He got away with this until about nine months later when Dad found a traffic ticket in his wallet.

For my dad, it was Cadillacs right on up to the seventies when Cadillac stopped making convertibles. Even then my cousin, Peter Sclavounos, managed to find him a custom made red Eldorado- which turned out to be the last stallion in line, and Dad’s personal favorite with its chrome spoke wheels and big white side walls.

But Dad eventually got the fever for a new car again- and it had to be a convertible. That’s when my all American Dad converted to BMW, and it was somewhere around then that he got the bright idea of buying my mother “her car” for their anniversary. My mother didn't learn to drive until her late twenties, and she doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but she wanted her freedom. She avoids the Beltway at all cost, although I have to say she’s a little bit of a lead foot for a supposedly timid driver. She drives to get there, and she does just that. She’s always hated the top down for the unspeakable things that happen to her hair, but she’s always driven a convertible because that’s what Dad loves, and Mom has always "gone along with the program". Even now-just this year- for their 71st anniversary, Dad went out and bought her a bright red Toyota Salera convertible. My mother was totally gracious about it, too. She said she liked the color. And just like when he was a kid, Dad got away with it.

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