Do you remember your first car? Of course you do. Perhaps you have fond memories of showing off your “hand-painted” ride or struggling with an unfamiliar transmission.
We asked drivers to tell us about their first cars–for better or worse–and what they meant to them. From used cars filled with so much spare change that they practically paid for themselves to Flintstone-esque cabin floors, we’re still chuckling at these stories. Check them out, and tell us in comments what you remember most about your first car.
The “No Smoking” Lesson
My first car was a teal blue Chevy Chevette – a.k.a. the Tin Can. One summer, while still in college, I was flying down I-95, flicking the ashes of a Virginia Slim out of the open window (the Tin Can had no A/C). Like many college grads, I enjoyed apartment living, but traveled home to take advantage of my parents’ sanitary, secure and free laundry facilities.
Then, I smell smoke. The cigarette ashes had flown out of my window and back through a passenger window, landing in my laundry basket. I pulled into the nearest rest stop, grabbed the smoldering clothes and watered them down in the public restroom. When I finally arrived home, humbled and humiliated, my gracious parents didn’t say a word. They knew that I had learned the “no smoking” lesson the hard way. — Sue P.
My first car was a yellow Subaru. My mother bought it for me from a co-worker for $50 when I was a sophomore in high school. The funny thing is that the back seat floor was covered in pennies. After I collected them, they totaled $23. So, all in all, the total cost of the car was $27. That $27 car lasted until my freshman year of college. I’d say that was a great investment. — Dawn B.
The Standard Transmission
My first car was a bright yellow 1973 Chevy Vega. My dad took me to the used car lot where he had already picked out the car and completed the transaction. When the dealer gave me the keys, I was SUPER excited! But once I got behind the wheel, it became apparent to me that there was a BIG problem. This car had three floor pedals and I had no idea what to do with them.
My dad had already driven off, essentially abandoning me, so the sales guy had to walk me through the basics of driving a standard transmission. Before I left, I asked him for a marker and a piece of cardboard on which I wrote, “NEW STANDARD DRIVER…STAY BACK!” I taped it in the rear window and chugged and stalled my way home. My dad was a trial-by-fire type of guy and this was no exception. — Maureen N.
My first car was a (very) used 1991 Volvo 740 with something like 184,000 miles on it – the kind of boxy, maroon sedan that you might picture when you think of a Volvo. My older sister drove it first, and I paid her a savings-clearing $1,000 to make it mine when I turned 16.
When she bought it, there wasn’t any fabric on the ceiling, so it became a tradition for passengers to carve their names into the ceiling foam. By the time I was done with it, there were 5 years of high school history carved into that foam, a sort of yearbook of car rides.
I couldn’t tell you where I went the first time I drove it alone, but it couldn’t have been anywhere outside of a 5-mile radius. It wasn’t exactly the most reliable car, so any further would have been a risk. I learned to expect that it might not start at any given moment – an important life lesson for any young driver (but maybe I’m biased).
It was constantly in the shop, usually just for minor fixes. Once, after a quick fix that got it started again, I discovered a new feature: turning on my lights also turned on my windshield wipers! Not the best for night driving, but at least it was running! — Molly F.
The Dream Car
I remember the year I turned 16. My main focus was getting my license. I signed up for my driving test the very first day I could and passed. The next day, my amazing parents came through with my dream car. It was supposed to be for my mom and me to “share,” but I sort of had that wonderful lady wrapped around my finger.
The car was a brand new white Dodge Shadow convertible with blue interior – a dream car for any 16-year-old girl. In hindsight, it was a terribly-made car and sounded like there was a bird in the engine from the first week I drove it.
That car was the backdrop to so many memories with my friends. I brought it to college in Boston my junior year, but by the time I graduated, it was hard to ignore the Shadow’s shortcomings. I traded it in for an embarrassingly low amount and signed a lease on a Nissan Altima. This transition to my first grown-up car was about more than just driving. It was about putting aside the careless revelry of my teenage years and embracing myself as a fully-realized adult. — Ellyn S.
The Green Dragon
It was 1972 when I bought a 1962 Ford Falcon for 100 bucks. It had been hand-painted (by brush) a bright emerald green. The passenger-side floor had a large hole, which had been covered by a piece of plywood. If you pushed the board aside, you would see the road beneath the car. The muffler was a little loud, too. Perhaps it was rusted or pitted.
One evening, I was giving my mom a ride. I’m pretty sure she was a bit embarrassed to be seen in the “Green Dragon,” but she never made any comments. When we came to an intersection, I noticed a police car on the right side of the road so I turned left to avoid them. That didn’t help.
The next thing I knew, there were lights flashing behind us. The officer told me that I had to have the muffler repaired, which I did. However, the weight of the new muffler and exhaust pipes pulled a chunk of the engine right off. Thus, the Green Dragon was slain. — David M.
The Alpine Stereo
The first car I could truly call “mine” was my mom’s 1991 Dodge Dynasty, passed down to me in high school. The gear shift was a part of the steering column, and I had hung bracelets and other “decorations” from it, which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t all that safe.
I had bobblehead dogs and cats all across the back window area – probably a dozen of them, all different sizes and colors. Whenever I came to a stop light, I’d catch myself looking at them in the rearview mirror as they bobbed and jammed to whatever was on the radio.
Speaking of the radio, I had installed an Alpine stereo. Mine had flashing lights around the outside of the cover, which you had to remove whenever you parked so that no one would break into your car to steal it. For anyone who doesn’t know what an Alpine stereo is, I can assure you, it was very cool. — Teresa N.
The Installment Plan
I was late in getting my license – I think I was around 21. My first car was a used silver Dodge Omni. I don’t remember the year but it’s safe to say it was from the early ‘80s. I bought it from my close friend’s dad for around $600 and he let me pay for it in installments. It was basically a tin can on four wheels. Not my dream car, to say the least, but it got me from Point A to Point B for a little while – a very little while.
Not even six months later, I was driving home at around 1 a.m. when the engine light came on and I was forced to pull over. There were no cell phones at the time so I had to get out of the car and walk back to the service station I had passed to use their phone to call home. Not the safest thing to do on a very dark highway!
My older brother answered…Needless to say, he was not happy that I (a) woke him up and (b) made him come get me. We had to leave the car on the highway and have it towed back home later. I got it running again just long enough for me to trade it in and buy a used red Nissan Sentra. <strong— Beth H.
The Queen Mary
My first car was a 1971 Chevy Caprice, with a hefty V8 engine. My two high school best friends and I named this tank the “Queen Mary,” since she could comfortably seat eight people – perfect for cruising around on Friday and Saturday nights. While we drove, it was very important for us to have our music blaring from this gem.
Unfortunately, this luxury vehicle was equipped with only an AM radio. So, whoever was fortunate enough to be sitting in the large front seat bench was in charge of changing the cassettes of our favorite 80s musicians (Prince was always my preference) on my huge boom box.
Not only was Mary a mode of transportation for all of us big-haired, Aqua Net 80s girls, she also came in quite handy when we needed to move a tent from one friend’s house to another’s. We didn’t want to disassemble it – that would be too much work (or so we thought). Instead, one of us had the ingenious idea to throw it on top of Mary’s roof, and drive it up the hill to its next destination.
Little did we realize that it would slip and slide all over the place as I was driving. We each had an arm out of the window to secure it, but it eventually crept down the windshield which made it a bit challenging to see where I was going. We eventually made it to where we were going, and even after 28 years, the three of us still laugh about it. — Shelly G.
The Lost Luggage
My first car was a blue Chevy Chevette two-door hatchback. (What can I say? I was a college student and my brother was nice enough to co-sign for the car loan.) While in college, I attended a student government conference in Washington DC. We managed to pack five or six people, and our luggage, into the car. There was so much luggage that the hatch didn’t close – we held it down with a bungee cord.
On the way home, we lost a piece of luggage. We pulled over to check to see whose bag had been strewn across the highway in the middle of the night. But, no one was missing a bag. We had somehow grabbed someone else’s suitcase before leaving DC. Don’t think we got away with that, though. We ended up losing something else on the way home…the car’s muffler. — Lucie J.
The “Still Available”
Being one of the younger people in my grade, I was also one of the last to get my license, and therefore, my first car. At that age, we all wanted to be different and stand out a bit. So, as I watched my friends come into their new cars, I made a mental list of what cars were already “taken.”
After what seemed like an eternity, my parents finally brought me to a Volkswagen dealership. I looked around for a while but everything in my price range looked like it would break down as soon as it left the lot. I wandered over to where the newer vehicles were parked, knowing that I couldn’t afford any of those cars but still wanting to window-shop.
Nestled between two newer vehicles was a white 1992 VW Passat with manual transmission. According to my list, this car was still “available.” I ran over to parents and told them I had found it, I had found my first car. They chuckled when I told them the details because they knew that it was probably out of my price range (and that I had never driven a manual transmission car before).
But when they spoke to the salesman, we found out that its price was within our budget. After almost an hour of negotiating, the car was finally mine. A couple of days later, we went back to pick it up and that weekend, my dad took me to an empty parking lot and taught me how to drive it. — Brandon D.
Whether your first car had a cool name like The Green Dragon, or it taught you an important life lesson like Sue’s anecdote, we want to hear it. Leave a comment and keep alive the memory of your first!