FLINT - I am about to astound you with a keen insight into the Michigan mind: We love our cars.
I know, how do I do it? What can I say, it's a gift. OK, that plus the fact that more than 100 people eagerly responded when I asked for wistful memories of the first vehicles they ever owned.
My premise in asking: That beat-up starter cars provide better, fonder memories than a $300,000 roadster given by a hip-hop star to his son could ever be.
Judging by the tone of the responses, I was on the mark:
"Wow where do I begin?" wrote exfpd. "I had a Mercury Zephyr that caught on fire in the driveway one morning while I was trying to get it started to go to class at Mott. One of the firemen actually gave me a ride to school (I worked at the fire department in high school) so that I wouldn't miss class. My ex-wife had a Chevette. We had to use my dress belt to tie the hood down after the hood latch broke."
"The year was 1977, junior in high school," wrote AKA.walter. "Bought a Datsun B110. It cost me $400. I drove it for one year until graduation and sold it for $50, and it still ran. It was an adventure every time I put the keys in the ignition. I will never forget going to pick up my girlfriend on those cold winter mornings and listen to her teeth chatter all the way to school (no heat, very little defrost). Great memories."
"My first beater car was a 1977 Pontiac Catalina," wrote Flushing Single Dad. "I bought it in 1982. It had a 400-cubic-inch engine with a BIG 2 BBL carb on it. I used to joke that if I left it running at the gas pump, it would never actually fill up. There must have been a swirling vortex in the gas tank every time the engine was running. It was a beast and handled quite well in the Michigan snow. The back seat was big enough to play a game of tennis."
"My first car was a mid-'80s, butt-ugly, brown, full-size station wagon. It had a 350 Chevy V8 in it. It needed the torque to move that much weight. Have many memories in that car. Like the time the exhaust fell half off and I had to drag it five miles home with everyone staring to see what the clanging coming down the road was.
Then I couldn't afford a new exhaust so I drove it without open manifolds for the next few months. It would set off car alarms as I drove by. I had to put it in neutral and coast when I went by cops."
"1973 Grand Prix with an automatic on the center console," wrote melody1964. "The driver's side door wouldn't open, so I had to climb over the console and exit via the passenger door. One day the battery fell against the fender well, sending current through the gearshift linkage on the floor and setting the inside of the car on fire - while I was in downtown Lansing, by myself, with my family in Florida. Fun times."
"I bought a 36 HP '57 VW Bug," wrote billdcat. "The only thing bad about the VW was it did not like women. It would break down every time I had a lady in the passenger seat. It was so bad that my bride-to-be at the time refused to go on the honeymoon unless we got rid of the car. After 40 years, I don't miss the car. I think I made the best decision in keeping the woman and ditching the car."
And finally, Cretin wrote: "(My first car was a) '67 Impala 327 stick (with) no reverse (parked on hills), a huge non-functional funny car-styled hood scoop and banana yellow flames painted on the sides. I thought I did good for $300 until my brother pointed out that the straight pipes (from motor to rear, no muffler) were from a disassembled swing-set."
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.