Handle With Car(e)

By Larry Teren

Most baby boomers, I would think, remember that during the 1950’s and 60’s cars had noticeable changes in body design from year to year. Americans took great pride in being able to tell the model number and year of an automobile just by looking at it.

I recall the time I ran home from school when I was eight years old and proudly told Ma that I saw a 1964 car. She said that I couldn’t have because it was only the fall of 1959. I tried to argue that my friend said it was a 1964 car. She said that he probably said it was a 1960 Ford car. (Alright, you had to be there.)

In the 1960’s, the James Bond movies turned the British-made Astin Martin into a car of elegance and sophistication. Not to be outdone,, American television’s Batman had his Batmobile, the Munsters, their monster-mobile and the Beverly Hillbillies had that awful looking jalopy.

In the 1980’s, there was Knight-Rider’s Pontiac Trans Am and later Ford Shelby (beats me, too.) The Dukes of Hazard high jumper was a Dodge Charger.

I was told to read Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored, Tangerine-Flake Steamline Baby while taking a pop culture class in college in the early 1970’s. It was all about the American love affair with those fin-tail tanks our fathers drove to work every day. There was, of course, the 1973 film American Graffiti which put to celluloid our obsession with being seen in a cool car.

Right about then came the permanent explosion in gas prices. This caused car manufacturers to scale down the size of cars. It also became too expensive to yearly change the external styling of an automobile. Most now have that boxy look with either a real or fake wind deflector at the end of the trunk top.

In the early 1980’s, my brother-in-law doctor with the then-fancy front wheel drive X car let me borrow it to take out a chick (as we say) whom I was trying to impress. Her family lived in a fancy suburban gated community subdivision. Yes, it was stupid of me to think so shallow and it didn’t get me anywhere regardless. That was about the time I decided I wasn’t going to worry how others judged me based on the car I drove.

When I was making $25k a year, I had no problem spending five thousand dollars spread out over a 48 month loan while figuring I’d keep the car for five to six years. This way, I’d be able to save up enough money after those four year to put a down payment on the next car. In those days, I never would think to keep a car for more than six years as it would probably fall apart soon after. There would be no warranty for protection against expensive repairs.

That thinking went out the door since the economic crisis began about five years ago. My vehicle of transportation is over ten years old and I pray, as do so many others I know treading similar financial waters, that it keeps doing its job for several more years to come.

I shudder at the thought of paying 20k to buy a new car. Who needs a computer screen on the dashboard to distract? If you don’t know where you’re going- stay home. About a year after I bought the last (scary to say) car, the cd player broke. Big deal. It was nice to have but I really don’t care if my preferred music is not available to sooth my savage breast. Besides, I’d rather listen to a talk show host rant and rave. It helps keep the blood boiling or the next bit of angst.

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