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My First Car: Hoopties to Hot Rods

Readers reminisce about the set of wheels that started their engines

Do you remember your first set of wheels? Buying your first car is like being handed the keys to adulthood—and then realizing adulthood stinks sometimes, and steadily leaks oil.
But there's no denying—whether you had a "clunker" or "pimpmobile"—the first car ushers in a new chapter of independence, with funny moments you remember for the rest of your life. As the Motor City prepares for the 2014 North American International Auto Show—our revved-up, chromed-out version of Oprah's Favorite Things—we asked BLAC readers to share the highs and lows of their first wheels. And some of them are real doozies! 

"The Cavalier"

'97 Chevy Cavalier RS, Black
Carl Jones
Farmington Hills

"The car cost me about $9,000 and had 3,000 miles on it because it was a demo. I didn't have money to do an all-out custom job to the car, so I customized on a budget. Since I was into airbrushing already, it was nothing to repaint interior components and accents here and there. She was black, and I added custom painted Chevy emblems, a half bra, smoked light covers and custom taillights and fog lights."

 

"Jessica"

'92 Toyota
Corolla, Rusty White
Jaiden Shephard
Oak Park

"I bought it for $1,500 and it had 62,000 miles. I literally drove that car to pieces. … At the end, it had a radiator leak and a rusty hole in the gas tank and the gas nozzle. It also had a serious brake line leak. I had to rely on the (emergency) brake in case the brakes failed. One time, the hood latch broke and the whole hood flew up on my windshield while I was driving!"

"The Big Boat"

'75 Oldsmobile Delta 88, Brown
Chris Campbell
Host of WDET's The Progressive Underground

"The car had well over 100,000 miles. I never knew the exact mileage because the mile gauge stopped working. … The shocks never worked, so the car rocked back and forth as if you were on the ocean. But it was a tank. I remember driving a group to Northland Roller Rink and a car ran into us while (we were) at a red light. The vehicle that ran into me was totaled. ‘The Big Boat' was untouched."

 

 

"Purple People Eater"

'73 AMC Hornet Sportabout station wagon, Purple
AJ O'Neil
Founder of AJ's CoffeeWorks

"It was dark purple with black leather interior. It was an early 'economy car' compact, supposedly one that was good on gas. But I loved it. A hand-me-down from my dad … I built some box speakers out of plywood and put an old radio system in and off I went. I'd cruise Woodward with friends and hang out at Northwood Shopping Center. I was as cool as I could be, or so I thought!"

"Go-Go Redster"

'92 Oldsmobile Achieva, Red
India Johnson
Detroit

"The sunroof leaked when it rained. So every time I got my hair done, it would get wet in the middle and frizz up. And the steering wheel went up and down while I was driving!"

'77 Thunderbird

Artis Griffin
Pontiac

"I was working at the Ford Wixom assembly plant at the time, and I was driving in to work. It was snowing heavily, so as I was coming up off the exit ramp, I couldn't stop! I crashed and bent the wheel, but the wheel was bent inward, so it made the car look bow-legged. I had to drive it around like that for about a year because money was tight."

"Sexy European"

'74 Mercury Capri, Silver
Spencer Barefield
Jazz guitarist, musician and composer

"I got it my senior year of college. It was a German import (Ford of Germany) billed as the 'Sexy European.' It cost between $3,000-$4,000—expensive for 1974. I drove it into the ground, then converted it into a race car. ... It sounded like a Formula One Cosworth and spit blue flames out of its dual exhaust. I won't describe what I did with it. It would be self-incriminating like a Fast & Furious movie, maybe even a police chase! I had a ball with this car and eventually lost it when a drunk driver ran a stoplight on Woodward and totaled it."

"Blue Bomber"

'97 Dodge Neon, Blue
Fawn M. Wesley
Hamtramck

"My father bought it for me during my senior year in high school from my uncle. I was a little disappointed because it was not the car I dreamed of (I had a thing for SUVs). … My mind changed after my first taste of freedom having my own car. Although I had to use pliers to turn on my heat, I still loved it. I had some of the best times in that car. One time, my friends and I were having an egg fight and one of the geniuses threw an egg into my car. It got into one of the heat vents. It smelled like old deviled eggs every time I turned the heat on."

"Get Christie Love!"

Early '70s Dodge Sedan, Blue
Alicia Nails
Director of Wayne State University's Journalism Institute for Media Diversity

"Oh my God! Dad had (bought) me a cop car! I prayed this wouldn't pose too big of a social problem for me, or cost me too many cool points. Thankfully, it did not."

"Lady Beetle"

'86 Saab 900, Red
Jeremy Martin
New York City

"The car was passed down to me from a family friend (for $1,500). It was the oldest car in the student parking lot (with more than 140,000 miles). … After a while, the car started to fall apart. The last straw came when I put it in drive and it (reversed). It needed a new engine and transmission. I left it parked too many weeks and it was towed away. I never got to say goodbye."

"The Buick"

'02 Buick Regal LS, Dark Bronzemist Metallic
Federick Carlton Peeples
Farmington Hills

"A 2002 Buick Regal LS that I still drive. And it was a steal at $2,500 with just over 120,000 on it in old-man miles, which means it met every single service appointment. … But now the fuel gauge doesn't work and I've run out of gas more often than I care to count."

"Blue"

'83 Ford Mustang, Midnight Blue
Sibyl Wilson
Detroit

"My first car was the culmination of the All-American teenage experience. … When I was 16, my parents hosted a party for me at the Detroit Cotillion club. The following spring, my dad informed me I had a special gift coming. My first car: a 1983 midnight blue Ford Mustang—brand-new from the dealer! It was a belated Sweet 16 gift. One of my fondest memories was my father forcing me to drive to the Michigan-Ohio border and back."

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