A recent car-shopping trip with a young friend got me thinking about my history with motor vehicles.

My first was an English Ford convertible. It was white and cost me $75, which, even in 1967, was not bad. I don’t remember the year or model, but it was old. It had character, which meant some things did not work, but it had a manually operated convertible top that did not leak.

It also had a Fred Flintstone reverse gear. The vehicle was not much bigger than a child’s battery-powered car so you could poke your left foot out the driver’s door and push the car backward out of a parking slot. The generator also did not work; but the engine would run nearly a week on a full battery charge — as long as one did not drive at night; the headlights would kill the battery in about five minutes.

1954 Ford Ranch Wagon

Yhis young lady and I started our travels in this 1954 Ford Ranch Wagon.

My next car, a ’54 Ford Ranch Wagon, cost me fifty dollars. About the time I got that car, I also got in love. Sandy and I put a pile of miles on that old car. Trips were necessarily leisurely; the thing needed to stop at about every third service station. (Anybody still alive remember when they were called “service stations,” and why?)

Fill the oil and check the gas. But it started every time, took us a lot of places, and oil and gas were cheap.

She and I would go down to the dunes south of Jacksonville beach, the six-lane bridge opened the area to bunch of McMansions and No Trespassing signs. We ran around the sand and water ’til the moon went down, then hit the White Castle for a bag of “twinkie burgers,” and I’d drop her off at her place and head for work.

One morning we came back to the car and found the tailgate open, and several hundred dollars worth of surf fishing gear missing. The only thing I could figure was someone got hungry. If the thief had asked, I’d have explained the Striped Bass run had ended. Had it not been, the gear would have been with Sandy and me.

She lasted 30 years before the local repair shop could do no more for her. The station wagon stayed running about 18 months.

1969 P1800 Volvo

I sold the car when my family outgrew it, and the buyer painted it copper.

My next vehicle also was my first new vehicle, a 1969 P-1800 Volvo two-seater like the one “The Saint” drove on the TV show. I’d wanted one of those since high school, when a classmate’s sister came home from college driving a white one with a red interior.

Mine was green with a natural leather interior, and fast. It got its best gas mileage at 70 mph, and wasn’t too shabby at 90. The oil would start heating up at about 130.

Two years after it was new, the car took two and-a-third of us to California; LJ was born six months after we arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the next few years, three, and then four, of us and the P-1800 competed in Monte Carlo-style road rallies around the mountains, the two smallest of us tucked into a bassinet strapped to the luggage shelf. The baby bucket was wrapped in blankets, and strapped securely, and we were young enough to believe that made the kids safe.

How do I know young people think themselves immortal? I was there.

Eventually, the P-1800 became too small and the kids too large and a full-size van entered out lives. That lasted about 12 years and nearly 300,000 miles before I finally donated it to a local farmer.

Other vehicles of varied utility and increasing size carried hay, gravel and groceries in the years since, but I have completed the circle to a Subaru. It is fun to drive, doesn’t burn excessive quantities of fossil fuel — and it is paid for, except for occasional maintenance.

This was my friend’s first look at her first car. And wish for her one day a fond history she will write with the vehicles that carry her through her explorations.

©2023 John Messeder. John is an award-winning ecology columnist and social anthropologist, and lives in Gettysburg, PA. He may be contacted at john@johnmesseder.com