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JACK SMITH

To All the Cars I've Loved Before: It's Been a Real Joy Ride

September 06, 1993|JACK SMITH | Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

Being unable, for the time being at least, to drive, I feel dispossessed. A man who can't drive in Los Angeles is not truly an independent or functioning citizen.

It's not that my car has been idle. Both my sons have borrowed it when theirs were in the shop. (My younger son, Doug, has a sickly old Porsche that seems to need periodic and prolonged attention.)

I am glad to see my car used, but sometimes I long to be behind the wheel for a run over the freeways. No man ever forgets a car he has owned. I have owned many--mostly lemons. Most of them I purchased used, and then used them until they dropped dead. As a boy I never tinkered with engines, and never learned how to take care of a car.

My first car was a used 1929 Ford roadster bought for me by my father while I was a senior in high school. I remember driving it down the street past the school, hoping girls would run out crying for a ride. Nothing like that happened. It was a lemon as a girl catcher and as a car. It was 5 years old and had evidently been grievously misused. Its rings were gone. I had to put a quart of oil in it every 25 miles.

My next car was the best car I ever had. As I remember, it was a 1922 Model T Ford. It was black, like most Fords of that vintage, and looked like a sedan chair.

I think I paid $20 for it on Figueroa Street when I was in the Civilian Conservation Corps. That would have been about 1935. I was assistant editor of the March Field Courier, a newspaper for 30 Southern California CCC camps. I cut the logo out of our paper, COURIER, pasted it on my windshield and drove that Model T all over the Southland hills, visiting camps for news.

After I left the CCC, I had the vainglorious idea of driving the old Ford down the Baja peninsula all the way to La Paz over a road that was then virtually an untracked wilderness. I set out one day on that adventure, heading for San Bernardino to pick up an equally foolhardy friend, but the car died on the road, evidently from old age. I sold it to a junk man in San Bernardino for $4.

My next car was not nearly as good a car, but it is memorable because it was the car in which I courted my wife-to-be. I don't know how it's done today, but most courtships in those days were carried out in the front seats of cars. It was a 1933 Ford V-8 and it, too, died on the road, probably from neglect, while my wife and I were driving from Bakersfield to Fresno for a funeral.

When I got out of the Marine Corps after the war and went to work for the San Diego Journal, my mother bought me a 1941 Packard sedan, one of the last made before the wartime conversion of auto plants into armament factories. It was black and sleek, the classiest car I ever owned, but I drove it into the ground and sold it to a man I met in a bar for $600. Without wheels, I was obliged to ride the Red Car to work for months.

My first new car was a British Anglia that I bought in about 1950. It was a midget, with cylinders the size of teacups. I don't remember what happened to it, but it couldn't have been good.

My favorite car of all, aside from that 1922 Ford, was a brand new Dodge convertible, white with black leather upholstery. I never felt so right in a car as I did when I drove that baby over the Pasadena Freeway with the top down. I put 120,000 miles on that Dodge, but it finally died one day after a hose broke and it overheated. I gave it to our housecleaner for her son, who put a truck engine in it and probably drove it for years.

I next bought a Chevrolet Luv pickup which we did drive to La Paz. I traded the Luv for a Nova sedan. Red, brand new. It wasn't sporty enough for me, after the convertible, so I gave it to my wife, who had already gone through a red Mustang and a Cougar with a houndstooth top.

Today we both drive Japanese cars, to the annoyance of some critics who think we should have bought American. Hers is a 9-year-old Maxima, which she loves, though I think it's a lemon; mine is a 1991 Honda Civic. My Civic isn't much for picking up girls, but neither am I anymore.

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