As the 1960s began, families across America were adding a second car. In the 1950s, most families had but one car, and it took family members everywhere they needed to go. Mothers working, teenagers driving, and cheap gasoline meant every family needed more than one car. Ours was no exception.
Mother and Daddy both worked, so we were long overdue for having two cars. With four kids – all needing to go places – we really did need a second car. We had a nice 1961 Oldsmobile sedan Daddy bought from Ralph New Motors, which mother drove to work during the week, and which the family used for its main transportation. The second car would be for Daddy to drive during the week.
Our first second car was a green, faded out 1951 Plymouth two door hardtop coupe. Daddy got it in 1962, the year I turned 13. It was a very plain car, and had a flat head 4 engine. When you opened the hood, you saw the engine and very little else. This car had only the bare necessities under the hood: the block, the fan, the radiator, the brake reservoir, the battery, the horn, the carburetor and the linkage from the gear shifter to the transmission.
On either side of the motor, you would see the ground, and lots of it. The steering mechanism was fully exposed, and the linkage for the gears were simple metal pieces which could be adjusted with a long stick of wood. They’d get stuck and you had to get out of the car, put the hood up, and then use the stick to unstick the gear links.
I remember Daddy driving down to the half-circle at Herty Elementary School. He let me get behind the wheel to drive. The clutch had a strong spring, and it did not go down easy, or come back up smoothly. In what would prove to be one of his wisest parental decisions, my father determined that I should learn from a driving instructor. I learned at school, taught by Coach Louie Phillips.
I never drove the Plymouth much, and when I did, it was just around the neighborhoods of Herty. I’d drive a 4-5 mile circle of the area, getting in my driving practice. Gears hang up? Stop and get the stick. It was a standard with a three speed on the column. Being a new kid to driving, sometimes going to second gear I’d find reverse and grind the gears. The clutch spring was far too strong and it made releasing the clutch difficult. It was not the greatest of cars.
When he sold the Plymouth, he bought a 1960 VW bug to replace it, and I quickly learned to use its four forward gears on the floor.
I only remember that old Plymouth making Daddy smile twice: the day he bought it, and the day he sold it. A man who did not curse, he would come close on occasion while trying to cajole it to perform. We had it only a year, but it’s given me many fond chuckles since, and made me appreciate the cars I have driven since.
Copyright 2007, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.