You know what they say: You never forget your first.
Ruminate over memories of your first car and you can almost smell it. You’ll recall the scent of the shag carpet, the fuzzy dice baking in the sun, the full can of upholstery cleanser used to scrub a stain after your best friend Rod threw up in the back seat.
The soundtrack of your youth comes back, too, whether it’s Buddy Holly on a.m. radio, J. Geils on eight-track or Journey on cassette. You can hear those old tunes along with the crunch of grinding gears and the painful squeak of the fan belt.
Whether yours was a mint Ferrari or a rusting Pinto, it didn’t matter. That first set of wheels marked liberation. No more riding the bus to school. No more lifts to the mall in Mom’s station wagon.
When you got your first car, a lot of other firsts followed. Some you can’t talk about, some you can. With that in mind, here is a pedal-to-the-metal, windows-down, stereo-cranking ride into the past. It includes one woman who still has her first car, a man who had his for less than an hour and another who loved his first ride so much, he moved into it.
Please keep your seatbelt on for the duration of the trip.
Jan Barrett, 62, Auburn
“Fond memories of my first car? That little sporty ragtop predicted my future.”
You just don’t hear that one every day. Most of us beat the crap out of our first set of wheels and move on. Not Barrett, who is firmly convinced that her first ride found more than the back roads around Lake Auburn. It led her right to the door of her future home.
“My first car was a yellow and white Nash Metropolitan convertible with a smidgen of a back seat, four-speed on the wheel, and it was truly ‘The Most Wonderful Car in the World,’ as it was often referred to back when it was manufactured in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
“You know how it is when you get your first car,” Barrett says. “You drive everywhere you can all the time that you can. Taber’s was always a favorite spot for my girlfriends and I to hang out. One night in the fall we put the top down so we could pile seven of us in that little charmer, went out to Taber’s and, after having an ice cream and flirting with the boys, piled back in and headed home. One of my girlfriends came down with pneumonia afterward and her parents refused to let her hang out with me anymore because I was too ‘wild.'”
It’s a sweet story. But, please. Tell us how the car foretold of things to come.
“The Metro predicted my future because without it I never would have fallen in love with the incredible Wellehan house on the corner of College and Ware streets at the age of sixteen,” Barrett says. “It was 1964 and I went to Lewiston High, had a crush on a guy who lived in the neighborhood abutting Bates College and, naturally, I drove around there to see if I could catch a glimpse. What I caught a glimpse of was my future home and my future business.
“I’d drive by that corner at least once a week just to look at that house. And every time I came home from college I’d do the same thing. Little did I know that so many years later, in 1999, that house would be mine. Of course, it never occurred to me that I’d turn it into a B&B – the Ware Street Inn in Lewiston.”
Stephen P. Smith, 53, North Norway
“My first car was a Mercury Comet. It was golden yellow with a black roof.”
Most teenagers see their first cars as a giant step toward liberation. But Smith took that concept to the extreme by saying goodbye to his parents and moving into his new car. And nearly froze to death doing so.
“Being the only one of my friends with a car in high school back in 1974 meant I was in charge of all the adventures,” Smith says. “But the biggest memory of the car was the day I turned eighteen on February 19th and moved out of my parents’ house.
“For the next several months this car was my home. While still attending high school, I kept clothes and homework in the trunk and slept in the backseat with a sleeping bag and blanket at night. I would move from place to place looking for the perfect parking spot. One favorite spot was intown Norway off of Tucker Street, hidden between my old one room schoolhouse and bushes. I stayed here until the police discovered me one night, and I found a new spot on Reservoir Road in South Paris.
“Worse than being discovering by the police was being found by my high school friends,” Smith says. “I was woken one morning to the whole group of them banging and pounding on my car. That was an alarm clock you couldn’t shut up.
“Of course, the biggest thing someone in Maine in winter finds out about living in a car is it is cold,” he says. “The morning I woke up out of sleep with over a foot of snow on the car and dim light coming in through, I thought I had died. The moisture from my breathing had left over an inch of frost on every surface of the inside of the car. My alarm clock had frozen and I was late for school. Can you believe that being eighteen years old and living on my own, the teachers still expected a signed excuse from my parents? I will never forget receiving a zero for the day for unexcused absence from my journalism teacher. Still, living in that car for those months taught me values and independence that have stayed with me until this day. I’ll never forget that Comet.”
Beth Marshall Abbott, 51, Auburn
“1967 Ford Fairlane, three-speed on the column, ground lots of gears. Glad cars can’t talk! Friend jumped on the hood; broke right through the windshield. Dad not too happy about that.”
Abbott had it made. Sort of. Her father was a mechanic who owned his own gas station. That meant he could fix just about anything. But it also meant Abbott had to learn to check her own oil and had to work at the station for gas money.
“I had the 1967 Ford Fairlane for probably two years. I rear-ended another car at one point and used a skidder to pull the radiator back into place,” Abbott says. “The poor car was abused as only teenagers can. I believe my dad finally sold it after the frame was so rusty it wouldn’t pass inspection. When I got the car it was only like six or seven years old since I graduated in 1977. I pretty much learned to drive a standard by trial and error. Lucky the clutch held out!”
Sarah Glynn Little, 53, South Paris
“1967 Chevy Impala convertible. Sister got it dented up, folks let me pick the color for the re-paint – chartreuse! Could see that baby coming a mile away. Not always a good thing!”
We had to look up chartreuse. It’s a eye-popping green, like a crab apple gone nuclear.
“It was truly a sight to be seen,” Little says. “But – unfortunately for me and fortunately for my parents – I couldn’t get away with much in it because it was one of a kind. Very noticeable and whatever I did, people knew. Sigh.
“Had it from the time I got my license through my senior year of high school,” Little says. “Unfortunately, my dad was not mechanically inclined and didn’t explain to his daughter that not only does a car need gas, but it also needs to have the oil checked once in a while. Engine froze up on me on 95 making a run from Providence, where my sister was in college, to Foxborough, Mass. where I grew up.
“Dad ended up selling my beautiful car to someone for $50,” Little says. “I never forgave him for that and he spent the next couple of decades trying to find it again to make it up to me.”
Daniel Tanguay, 37, Auburn
“”My first was a ’76 Ford Pinto, silver with a Ferrari stereo back in ’90. All my friends graciously called me Dan, Dan the Ferrari Man. It was ugly, but at seventeen I was thrilled to have my first ride.”
No compilation of first car stories would be complete without a Pinto, known more for a habit of exploding in rear-end collisions than for drawing the babes.
“The girls scoffed at it, the guys chuckled, but I was driving with a smile on my face – you could see it if you looked low enough to the ground it felt like I was sitting on,” Tanguay said. “Went through a quart of oil every week, shimmied and shook every time you started it. However, no one laughed at it when they needed a ride. Memories.”
Meredith Kendall, 52, Lewiston
“It was a VW bug. I think it was pale blue. So cute! The seats and floorboards were covered in pale blue shag carpeting.”
Like the Pinto, the VW bug was at one time ubiquitous. Both defined a certain era, though not necessarily due to style or masterful engineering.
“I’d dropped out of college and was working as a cook. I saved my money and started looking for a car – my first car,” Kendall says. “Someone I knew from high school was selling his car. I knew him so I trusted him. I emptied out my bank account and bought the car. This is how I learned that you should have a mechanic look at a car before you buy it. When I took it in for an oil change the mechanic told me the car was a total rust bucket and wouldn’t pass inspection. He lifted the blue shag carpet to show me. Yeah, it’s not a good thing when you can see the road through the floorboards.”
Douglas Henry, 48, formerly of Mexico, Me., now living in Florida.
We haven’t decided whether Douglas Henry’s first car qualifies as a first car. He had it only an hour before he traded up, after all. That qualifies the 48-year-old for briefest first. That’s not a distinction a guy always wants.
“It was summer of 1976. My first car was a 1967 Dodge Dart. I paid $40 for it and traded it one hour later for a 1969 Pontiac Tempest,” Henry says. “I traded with an older man that had two young boys and he needed a car that was much better on gas. The Dart had a lot of rubber left on the tires and had a slant six cylinder for a motor. Those slant six engines ran forever.
“The Tempest was a black two-door, four speed Hurst shifter on the floor, possi-rear-end, 396 4 Barrel Carb… It had buckets seats and they were not bolted down, so every time you stepped on the gas, you better hang on. I sold the Pontiac about four months later for $200. Wish I had both of them today.”
Sterling Hinkley, 68, Turner
“My first car was a 1948 Ford two-door sedan with a flat head V-8 engine.”
Nice ride. Just remember: black equals negative, red equals positive. We think.
“I was fascinated with the Ford flathead engine and most of my early cars had this engine. Now all auto electrical systems have negative ground but this old gal had six volt positive ground and, to this day, I have to remember that ground is the opposite from what I learned on this car.”
Hinkley’s car never saw pavement. No cool-cat cruising down Main Street, no burger joints, no hanging out in parking lots while trying hard to look like James Dean. Or David Hasselhoff, depending on the era.
“I paid $50 for it and never registered it or drove it on the highway, but used it to learn to drive around the farm,” Hinkley says.
“I did quite well at getting it stuck and having my Dad pull me out with his John Deere tractor,” Hinkley said. “Those were the days! I still would like to have this car, which would be an antique now, but in the day I just traded it off for another and so on.”
Jon Lizotte, 60, Lewiston
Lizotte is the only one we’ve heard from who was so enamored of a childhood car, he got a replica decades later.
“I have great memories of my first car. It was a ’57 Ford two-door ranch wagon. I was only sixteen. My parents gave it to me when they got another car. Later, I found a ’57 Ford four-door Fairlane 500,” Lizotte says. “I was so proud of it. There was no motor so I took the one out of the wagon and put it in the four-door. Then I found a ’57 Fairlane convertible, with no motor. So I swapped motors again. Back and forth from summer to winter with both cars. I loved my Ford. I even raced ’57 Fords at Oxford for several years. We even took parts from my street car to race some weekends.
“So,” says Lizotte. “Here we are some forty-plus years later and I finally found myself my high school car. A ’57 Ford Fairlane 500. It is so pretty.”
Terri Blasi, 46, Auburn
“In 1983, my father bought me a tan Ford Pinto. It was 1976 model. Whenever I rode around, I felt like I was finally independent. I had a bumper sticker that said ‘spoiled rotten.’”
Breezing through adolescence in a styling Pinto. What could possibly go wrong?
“Unfortunately,” Blasi says, “I got in a car accident and it was totaled.”
Byron Campbell, 53, Litchfield
“1978 Ford Fiesta. It had its good points: It was roomy for its size, fuel economy was around 40 mpg, and I think the sticker price was only around $3,800! I was a bit disappointed they didn’t offer an automatic transmission, but the engine was supposed to be tough as nails.”
Really? Tough as nails? We hear the Fiesta was a mess of a car.
“My Fiesta turned out to be a ‘disas-ta!’ The clutch was truly terrible and made the car hard to drive smoothly. The engine required two overhauls during the sixteen months I owned it. Plus, 12-inch snow tires were almost impossible to find. At least I loved the color, bright orange!”
Eileen Harrison, 61, Lewiston
Her first car was a 1959 Austin Healey 100-6, bought in 1967 when she was 18-years-old.
“The kicker is I still have it,” Harrison says. “The Healey has been stored in a lot of different garages till I bought my home and added a three car garage. A lot of people have helped me through this journey with the car plus, of course, my stubbornness.
“I registered it in 2007 — drove it very little. I need to put some money into it, so that it looks like Barrett & Jackson’s auction cars,” Harrison says. “It’s a great car and I want it to look good.
“People I run into ask if I still have my car and are astonished my response is ‘yes,'” Harrison says, “because I never let a man drive it.”
And there you have it.
For the record, my first car was a Chevy Vega, black with a red pinstripe. Everywhere I went in that beast, a cloud of blue smoke followed and I had “POE” on my license plate. I don’t remember if it was a standard or automatic. I don’t remember what year it was or how much I paid for it. I don’t even remember what became of the car. Hell, maybe I still own the thing and simply misplaced it.
If you see it, please let me know.