Ever wonder why you can’t forget certain things that happen in your life, even though they have long ceased to have any relevance? I get these feelings all the time. Such is the case with a green 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass that we once owned.
We were about to have our first child and we wanted a solid car, something that we could depend on and would serve us for many years. At the time we had an old Mercedes 190 that we had run into the ground.
We decided, with the child coming, to leave our carefree and haphazard life behind us and “join the middle class.” The Olds Cutlass was the best-selling car in America at the time. It was labeled a compact, but it was probably bigger than today’s Lincoln Continental. I doubt they even make a 350 cubic-inch V8 any more. If they do, it could not pass the emissions test.
Wouldn’t you know it: Driving our “new,” four-year-old Cutlass home from the dealer the car conked out on us about three blocks from our home. This wasn’t the normal stall out, either. I was cruising along, enjoying the smooth ride of that 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine when it suddenly died on the wing for no apparent reason. The power steering shut off, the power brakes went out, and we coasted to stop in the middle of a busy highway.
This was not the way glorious relationships should begin! I remember turning to Barbara and saying, “If this is an omen of things to come we’re in bad shape.”
In the back of my mind I was thinking, “No wonder we’re losing to the Japanese.”
It turned out to be a blown fuse of some kind and, once fixed, the old car served us for seven years without another repair that I can remember, outside of the normal worn-out battery, brake replacements and new tires.
In fact, it was exactly the car we had been hoping for. As for being “solid” we were in two accidents and never needed a repair. The first came when our daughter Hillary was only eight months old. We got hit in the rear-end by a drunken driver.
Luckily, the baby was in a child seat and barely noticed a collision had taken place. As I got out of the car, the other car flew by me in what turned out to be a hit-and-run. I just had time to see that it was new Chevy and that the whole front end was bashed in. His hood was propped up high in the air in front of his windshield and I was surprised that he could see well enough to make a getaway.
The police gave chase until he abandoned the car and ran into the woods, where they tracked him down on foot. It turned out, not only was he drunk, but he had no drivers’ license or insurance. The cops felt sorrier for him than me because he was an unemployed Vietnam vet and so they let him go. As punishment I figured that his repair job was going to be 100 times more expensive than my dented bumper.
In the second place, I was pulling out of my parking space in a mall when a Toyota Corolla crashed into the left front end of the Cutlass. After we exchanged insurance information, I noted that the only damage to my car was a broken headlight. “That car’s like a tank,” the other driver said as a tow truck dragged his car off to the junkyard.
Years later, after we had moved to Rhode Island, we found we could no longer afford to keep two cars and I was forced to sell the Olds. We got a dozen responses to our ad in the paper and finally sold it to a nice lady from Bristol who seemed excited about taking on the job of caring for our wonderful – by then old – car.
As she drove off I can remember her saying, “I always wanted a small car.” I wondered what her definition of “small” was.
Now, more than 20 years have passed and we have owned a spate of cars, some good, some not-so-good. One thing I’ve learned though is to appreciate a reliable car — and to respect the workers who made it. The Cutlass protected us and ran reliably for seven years. Could we have asked for anything more out of the old bucket of bolts?