Recently, while speaking by phone with an old chum, I heard someone in the background shout, “Hey, Dad, I’m gonna crank my car so it can cool off!” followed by peals of laughter and a chuckle from my friend. Curious, I asked what that was all about and he related that it was his daughter and she was excited about a feature of the the new car she’d been given for graduation that allowed her to remotely start the vehicle, and thus the heater in the winter and the A/C in the warmer months. He went on to say that she’d been an exceptionally good kid and that he’d gotten a good deal on a fairly recent model that had all the bells and whistles: state of the art multi-disc sound system with hands-free BlueTooth phone adaptability, heated seats and side mirrors, full GPS system, satellite radio, full-blown airbag safety system…man, this thing had it all.
Which got me to thinking about my own first car. And folks, my first ride, did NOT have all the bells and whistles. In fact, not only did it not have any A/C, it didn’t even have any heat. It was a 1963 Ford Fairlane that cost me less than some basketball shoes would today. But that was a REAL car. You popped the hood and you had a straight-six Ford motor that you could climb into the engine well with. You shut the doors on that car and it sounded like two rail cars hitting together.
The former wheels of Ray Sides, Jr., it had seen a few modifications, as one might have expected, given the individuals and time frame involved. The most obvious of which was the haphazard spray painting of black inhibitor on various areas of the body that had begun to show some signs of rust, whether they be on a lower panel or along a top break line, baby blue body color be danged. That’s how it got the name, “Spot.”
Another sporty enhancement was the moving of the shifter for the three-speed transmission from the steering column to the floor—and mounting a solid aluminum Hurst shifter atop it all. However, this required keeping at least one right hand glove in the car at winter for use in shifting gears using that cold chunk of metal.
That was not the only environmental inconvenience, though, as auto air conditioning was but a dream to most folk in those days and I was stuck with the old reliable 255 system: two windows down, 55 miles per hours. And you had to lean across the car to roll those passenger windows down with a crank, kids.
And speaking of window cranks, there were all kinds of dangerous items in vehicles back then. Air bags weren’t even on the drawing board; cars still had metal dashes, with foam-padded protection still a few years away. Child safety seats? Ha! No, we stood in the seats alongside our parents as kids
Entertainment? Well, ol’ Spot didn’t have seat-back DVD players or 12-speaker Bose sound system like some of these slick rides today, but he did have an 8-track tape-player that could rock you out just as good as any of them—as long as you kept a matchbook handy to jam under the tape to keep it from dragging too much.
And while he didn’t have someone reminding the driver to “Make left in quarter mile” or “Right front tire requires air”, what Spot did have was character. And he COULD communicate with me. In fact, he did it quite often, usually through puffs of steam and a near-pegged water temperature gauge, usually right around Lake City as I was returning to Charleston. He just couldn’t make a Sunday drive down to the Port City without running warm; he’d go thru more water than gas.
And I guess ol’ Spot is still communicating with me tonight as I sit here and reminisce about the highs and lows of those long-ago days. Man, the memories that came with that car. And what I’d give to still have ol’ Spot sitting out back.