I bought my first car when I was 15 ½ in 1966. It was a 1949 Plymouth wagon, listed for $75 in the Valley Green Sheet. I had only $52 that I’d saved up after many months of door-to-door soliciting jobs selling cameras and magazines in sleazy apartment buildings in Hollywood. It was rough days for me, days of desolation.

My mother’s boyfriend at the time, Fernando, said he’d take me to go look at the car. When we got there, I fell in love with it. It wasn’t a woody, though Plymouth still made woody’s in ‘49. Instead, it was a two door station-wagon with a split tailgate of glass on top and metal on bottom.

The car was painted orange (a few shades lighter than this photo). It looked like it was hand painted to be honest and the interior was redone in Naugahyde, so it was hardly an original. But in the center of the dashboard was the most magnificent radio I’d ever seen with the gigantic Plymouth ship logo in solid chrome fixed to the knobby material of the speaker cover. That sucker was almost twelve inches high from the bow of the ship to the top of the sails. It was worth the seventy-five bucks all by itself I thought.

I asked Fernando if he would lend me the $23 I was short.

“No,” he said whispering, “offer the guy the $52 you got.”

“Fernando,” I said, “C’mon, it’s a great deal at $75,” though I had no idea what I was talking about. I pleaded with him. He shook his head.

“Go on,” his voice was sterner, “offer him the money.”

I walked over to the skinny man, kind of a cowboy type with a thin yellow mustache and a toothpick in his mouth, holding a transistor radio with the baseball game on.

“I only have $52, but I really want the car,” I said.

“It’s cheap at $75, kid. If you ain’t got that, go find another car.”

I was devastated. This was the car that would make me cool, part of the in-crowd, part of any crowd…a belonger.

“Pleeease,” I said to the guy. He said no again.

I walked back over to Fernando, who wouldn’t even look at me and told me to keep quiet and follow him to his car. I was so disappointed I thought I might start crying as we got to the curb.

Then the cowboy called out, “All right, goddamn it, I’ll take your $52.”

I ran back up to him and handed over my cash pulled from my front pocket in balls of ones, fives, and two ten dollar bills. He handed over the pink slip.

Fernando gave me a couple driving lessons on the three speed in the Sears parking lot and each morning before high school I’d carefully inch the wagon twenty feet forward along the curb in front of our apartment and twenty feet back for nearly six months, waiting for the day I’d turn 16. Two weeks before my birthday…the car was stolen. I never saw it again.

Oh, through the years, I’ve imagined I’ve seen it as a stray ’49 wagon went crusing by. But that got rarer and rarer as the years went by. Then I started imagining it on a car lot somewhere, beat-up and forlorn. Abandoned.

Finally I gave up. But I haven’t forgotten it, obviously. And I haven’t found it either. So what the heck am I writing about?

Well, a few weeks back I saw a restored baby blue ’49 Plymouth Wagon. Up close it was as perfect as all my memories and imaginings through the years. And yes…it had that spectacular radio in the center of the dash just as I’d remembered it. I was tempted to put a note on the windshield and offer to buy the car.

But I didn’t. I knew that was a fool’s game. Besides, I have a family now that I belong to.

I did, however, search and find an ad sheet for the ’49 Plymouth Wagon in action. It’s a photo of a family out on a fishing excursion. I couldn’t resist buying it since fishing is my hobby.

I framed the photo and it hangs behind my desk. I see it each morning as I sit down to write. I often wonder if the car I owned so briefly was ever parked alongside a river with a mom and a dad and kids picnicking and fishing on a sunny afternoon.

I like to imagine it was. It’s a great way to start my day.

 

6 Responses to Imagining Your First Car

  1. Annie Zeller~Horton says:

    Hi Frank,
    The internet is funny. You must have seen that baby blue Suburban on Orcas Island about seven years ago. It’s a great car and a great radio. Thanks for the story. I’m just sorry you never got to drive yours.
    Annie

  2. Annie Zeller~Horton says:

    Hey Frank Z,
    The blue Suburban you have posted in your story is mine. The picture was taken on Orcas Island. The paint color is Salvadoran Blue. Nice to see your memories.
    azh

  3. Maxwell says:

    Frankie…

    My first car was a 48 Plymouth 4 door that had suicide rear doors. Lots of chrome and a spotlight. It had a huge back seat which was great for making out.
    I got it in my senior year in high school. I loved that car.

    Max

  4. leon bryan says:

    Hi Frank,
    Hope all is well with you and Anette,
    Your story about your car reminds me about my car ,1957 VW that my brother held the key for two years until I was old enought to have a licence.
    your story brought back wonderful memories.

    Frenchie Leon

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