I never got rid of a car I didn’t wish to have back.
I’m not alone. That’s why folks flock to classic car shows like that in the Buffalo City Park Saturday. Not only do we get to drool over restored or modified versions of automobiles we once owned, we get to dig out musty wish lists of cars we’ve always wanted.
If only we could turn back the clock, what a collection we might have. My first car, for example, was a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air four-door sedan. It was powered by a 265 cubic inch V-8 with a factory Rochester four-barrel carburetor and a Powerglide transmission. It had been fitted with dual exhausts and glass-pack mufflers, to give it that throaty rumble we all loved in the 1960s.
I parked it for something newer when the brakes started making noise, and soon thereafter signed it over to my kid brother. I know now a couple hundred bucks would have put it up in good shape, but I was a college kid without a lick of sense about cars or money. I could’ve fixed it myself; but, in 1968, it was just another old car, not the classic it could have become.
My next set of wheels was a 1963 Ford Galaxie with a 352 V-8. I’d love to have it back, too, but I traded it off while I was in the U.S. Air Force for a 1967 Galaxie two-door hardtop with a 429 cubic inch engine. That one I really, really wish I had in the garage today.
During the gas crunch of the 1970s, though, I thought I needed something more economical, so I bought a new Chevy Nova with a 350 V-8. A lot smaller, it should get better mileage even with a V-8, right? Wrong. Pollution control on the exhaust system choked that 1974 model back to 12 mpg, no matter how I drove it. On the plus side, that 350 ran like a banshee, but on the minus side, the federal government dropped the speed limit to 55 mph. Of course, I’d love to have that one back, too.
I traded it for a more economical Chevy Vega GT with a four-in-the-floor that my wife couldn’t drive for months. She wanted her Nova back immediately — and I really, really wished I could have given it to her. I kind of made up for it in 1978 with a new Buick Skylark for Dee to drive.
I’ve owned a good many cars and trucks since the Vega fiasco, and I should have kept most of them longer than I did. I have long been afflicted with shiny wheel fever. The F-150 in my driveway is solid proof. I’ve owned eight different pickup trucks since Martha and I were married in 1995 — just trying to find exactly the right one. I should’ve kept the 1968 Dodge I sold to my brother right before our move to Buffalo in 1978. It’d be worth having today just for the steel in it.
If I were to pick just one truck I’d like back, though, it wouldn’t even be mine. I’d want the 1948 Ford I learned to drive in. I recall when Dad brought that chalky, green beast with the roof caved in from Marshfield Motors in the early 1960s. He paid a cool $100 cash for it.
I went to work on it immediately — popped the roof back out with a single push, then set to polishing away the chalky finish with Mom’s paste floor wax. By evening that olive-drab F-1 could’ve sold for two or three times what Dad gave for it. When he did sell it — long after I was grown and gone — I doubt he asked any more than he gave for it. I wish he’d asked me first.
Just as with my old Chevy, though, I’m sure to Dad it was just an old truck. He already had a couple of old cars we’d pulled to the back of the place. He didn’t need another.
Time was, those old cars would’ve been priceless, too. I rode in both of ‘em as a boy — even drove both on the farm a little. One was a 1939 Buick with a straight-eight, the other a 1953 Dodge sedan with a 241 Red Ram hemi V-8.
I guess I more or less “threw away” my 1956 Chevy when it needed work because of the example set by my dad. He did the same with the Buick and the Dodge. They could’ve been fixed, but it was easier to replace them. They were just old cars, anyway.
That’s the way most folks look at it when the wheels stop rolling, and that’s what makes the classic car shows so intriguing and valuable. They’d be no big deal if nobody ever threw theirs away.
But, we do, and then come back years later to fawn over the chrome and curves of cars we once knew— “I once had one like that; if only I had her back again.”
If only I were that teenage boy again.
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at email@example.com. A version of this column previously published in the Buffalo Reflex. ©️ James E. Hamilton 2019.