First Cars

First Cars

I grew up in Kokomo IN. That town was home to a GM plant that employed over 11,000 people which made everything from circuit boards to heater controls. They were the first GM plant that was used to source the highest quality GM entertainment, navigation, air bag and electronic braking systems. Kokomo was also home and still is, to the only Chrysler owned production facility for transmission ion the US. Today the Chrysler Facility has tripled production and employs about 7,000 people. While the GM plant has dropped its employment to about 2,500 who are mainly engineers and technical service personnel. Production for GM has largely shifted to overseas plants, even as Chrysler production has increased.

I say all of this to point out that Kokomo, IN is the middle of car country. So when a young man gets to a certain age their natural tendency is to want a car. I started owning cars even before I could drive. As an amazing coincidence, the Kokomo of my youth was also home to Continental Steel Corporation. This company was a steel recycler. Their prime business was to buy junk cars and melt them down, and then make fence, nails, and sheet metal out of them. Steel recycling was more than a minor business in Kokomo. The plant employed about 4,000 people, and they turned scrap steel into useable steel at a rate not usually found in the industry. The reason is that they owned two 3,000 gallon electric arc furnaces.

I bring up the scrap steel producer because the process created an insatiable demand for as many scrap cars as could be found. One of the crazy things was that this insatiable demand transferred over to a couple of enterprising young men. So in order to make money my buddy and I would buy junk cars for say $20.00 and resell them at the steel factory for perhaps $70.00 to $100.00. A three of four times markup that also cleaned up the neighborhood. The end result was that I owned dozens of cars, albeit for only a few days or hours. It turned out our little companies best acquisition was 1948 willies jeep which ran well and gave us almost two months of fun. My partner and I (he could drive) left our Willis Jeep, with broken engine mounts in a creek. Perhaps we drove it a little too rough for the task at hand. Man it was fun for about three weeks.

All of this brings me to my two cars the first was a 1969 Mercury Montego. Oh she was a petty car, and came equipped with an AM radio, manual steering, manual brakes, and it was built like a tank. With the addition of an 8 track player, I was in business. Well was in business for about 10 days. The Merc, as I referred to her, had two little quirks. First a prior owner changed out the gas pedal spring, from one that provided easy average straight line speed to one fashioned form a bed spring. Ahh you say both are springs, who cares? Well, actually I did. The car had two speeds standing still and accelerating (quickly). Actually instead of being a car meant for an older easier going driver, the replacement of that spring made it a monster off the line. It flew. It was actually so quick it scared me so I went to a shop and paid to have a more normal accelerator spring added. So instead of going 0 – 60 in drag race fashion, it went form 0-60 in a more controlled, less likely to get arrest fashion.

As I mentioned I had the Merc for a total of 10 days. Well actually I did not get through the 10th day. Instead on my way from school, I broadsided a car. Oh no it was not my fault; everyone agreed I had the right of way and the other driver, pulled into the line of traffic (me). I hit her with a good force and she had two other people in the car. Yes it is true, they were all dancers at the neighborhood adult themed plant oriented, bar. You know the kind where clothing is optional for dancers? Yes that sort of bar. When they filed out my 17 year old heart skipped three beats and when they offered to “get me in the club if we forgot about this”, my head literally spun around. So what is a young man to do? Go to the bar, a forbidden place and drive a beat up car, or call the police and get my beloved Merc fixed? I looked at them, and at my car and at them and at them and at my car, oh I did the responsible thing. I turned down the offer and called the police. Actually when the police officer got there he seemed to be know all three of the ladies and I noted his badge number in case it was necessary later to call the chief and make sure fault was properly established. I finally got the officer to acknowledge the truth. The accident was not fault. When my farther arrived on the scene I was fine, but he did almost second guess my judgment on the three younger ladies.

So five days later flush with $1,100 I was back in the business of trying to find a car. That was when I spotted her. My dream car was in sight and for sale. Yes a 1972 AMC Gremlin was for sale and she was a beautiful car. Ok only I thought that. But man she was the car for me. Lots of plastic, a generally not cool color, she was he bomb. It required $1,200 so I went to the bank and withdrew my extra $100.00 dollars and my ride was cool once again. Wow what luck. Anyway I snatched her up without a close inspection and she was mine. Naturally I took her to see Ben and the Stump right off. And I pressed all 82 HP into regular service. By the way, when I started dating Sheryl, she hated my Gremlin. Oh well women. What are you going to do?

My gremlin shortly became the great diabetic transport. I found places for syringes, and alcohol pads. The back seat became polluted with school books, and papers, and the front soon sported a “Tacking Care of Business” metal placard. Oh I was happy. I truly loved the Gremlin. The Gremlin was a well-made car. For instance she had a plastic gear to operate the windshield wipers. The first snowy morning that gear stripped out. Since they cost $2.20 each I bought 4 and carried them. I should have bought 10, since I went through 20 before the ground thawed. I installed my 8 track and I was cruising. Well sometimes anyway. One morning on my way to school I hit a bump and the whole back end plastic cracked and ripped because of the cold. Wow what a popping noise.

Which only goes to show (As my father once said the next time) a lady of questionable reputation offers you something, you should consider taking it. Or was that when offered he should perhaps consider it. by the way, Taking Care of Business was a perfect manicure for this little car. Now what kind of business? Well that is more difficult to remember. LOL

Now lest you think this a bad deal, I made money off of it. After driving the Gremlin for 3 years, I got a whopping $100 more than I paid for it. Yeah. It was the only car I ever had that appreciated. I drove the Gremlin while in college. At which case I got a 1974 gold Nova. Oh and guess what? The 8 track went into the Nova. Yeah, I need to get rid of the 8 track, that part stopped working for me. LOL



1969 Green Mercury Montego

1972 AMC Gremlin


Great story...
My first car was a 70 Ford Maverick, for a 16 year old, this car was pure heaven (any car would have been). No dancer stories, but others that I still remember...