Column: Remembering Your First Car

By Tim Suddard
Aug 6, 2021 | Ford, Shelby, Mustang, Thunderbird, Columns | Posted in Columns | From the Nov. 2020 issue | Never miss an article

For me, it was a 1967 Mustang fastback. I was 15 and didn’t even have a learner’s permit, yet I was still obsessed with owning a car. 

I remember the whole deal like it happened yesterday. My dad’s best friend owned a junkyard just half a mile up Route 28 from the family Ford dealership. If I wasn’t at the dealership, I was at Robertson’s Auto Salvage, playing, hunting and scavenging. 

At the time, they had a program where they were auctioning repairable wrecks. I was constantly looking for my first car. 

One bright day, they received both a 1957 Thunderbird and a 1967 Mustang. This was in the summer of 1975, and both arrived there simply for the crime of being old, worn-out cars. Neither one had any real damage.

I debated back and forth between that T-bird and that Mustang. I finally decided that the Mustang had more sporting pretensions. It would be my first car.

I worked the deal around and around in my head and decided that my bid would be $102.02. This seemingly arbitrary number was carefully calculated: My bold bid would beat the guy bidding $100 as well as the rest of the competition trying to do the same. 

I went home and presented this whole plan to my dad. At that point, all hell broke loose. He screamed that I was way too young to own a car and there was no way in hell that he was going to let that deal go down. 

More fighting and screaming volleyed from my side, and then, finally, my mom broke in and told my dad that there were worse things that a 15-year-old could be doing than fixing up an old Mustang. He relented. I’d later learn that my dad called his buddy at the yard and made sure that I had the winning bid. 

I sold the car less than a year later for $800 to pursue my serial restoration habit. I replaced it with another, better ’67 Mustang.

I would love to know where that first Mustang is today. I never saw it again.

Sometimes we do get that second chance, though. In 1997, the fourth car that I ever owned—a 1966 Shelby GT350—came up for sale. The 19-year-old version of me spent a summer fixing up that car. 

The seller and I discussed prices and couldn’t reach a deal: He wanted $21,000, and I was firm at $19,000. I could argue that with two young kids, the timing just wasn’t right.

But there was more to it than that. Having been the guy who built that car, I knew what was wrong with it. I knew that it once had an automatic transmission—because I was the one who converted it to the incorrect Top Loader four-speed box. I also knew the location of every blemish and rust spot and how a 19-year-old kid had fixed them. 

If this wasn’t my old car, would those issues have bothered me? Maybe ignorance is bliss. Maybe it’s all about the devil you know versus the one you don’t.

My son recently bought back his first car, the French Blue Triumph Spitfire that we featured on the March 2008 cover of our sister magazine, Classic Motorsports. The cover blurb asked if car restoration was so easy that a kid could do it. Tom, at the time, was just 12 years old.

Interestingly, this Spitfire was also the first car of one of our readers. When he couldn’t care for it any longer, we bought it—but with the promise that should we ever tire of it, the seller would have first rights of refusal. 

A few years later, Tom lost interest in the Spitfire and became totally engrossed in an E30-chassis BMW. Knowing that we would probably regret the decision, we sold back the Spitfire. 

I knew that the Spitfire’s owner had been sick, and when his wife called us recently, I feared the worst. I was right: He had passed away and left instructions that we be offered the car before anyone else.

I talked it over with my son and we decided that, yes, we wanted that car back. We made her a reasonable offer, and my son was lucky enough to get his first car back. My first Mustang, however, has still not been found.

As I continue to tear through the world’s supply of forlorn sports cars, I think back to all of those I have owned. Some I miss. Some are best left in the past. 

How about you: Which ones do you miss, and which ones would you like to enjoy again?

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'63 Austin Healey Sprite. I was 9, and since I could talk, I'd asked for money every single Christmas and birthday because "I'm saving up for a car." The car was stuck in two gears, had a terrible paint job the color and texture of an orange peel. We towed it home, and my Dad gave the shifter a Fonzie with the palm of his hand. Fixed.

It looked like a rattier, more orange version of this:

Let's be honest. It was Dad's car, and he commuted in it, but he was good enough to humor me. 

rattfink81 Reader
12/24/20 8:58 a.m.

71 super beetle with no engine, I was 14 and only had a small grasp of the basics so while I messed with it for a year I never put a engine in it and sold it. First running car was a 72 Ford maverick, straight 6 and auto. 

Dusterbd13-michael (Forum Supporter)
Dusterbd13-michael (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
12/24/20 9:07 a.m.

70 Plymouth duster. Learned a LOT about life and mechanicing with the car. Dated all my girlfriends and eventually my wife in it. Learned to drive, paint,  weld, etc.. dad pulled it from a south Carolina trailer park when i was 14.

Still have it, three restorations later!

BenB (Forum Supporter)
BenB (Forum Supporter) Reader
12/24/20 9:14 a.m.

Mine was a '71 MGB GT that my dad had bought a few years earlier as a commuter car and had never had the time to sell it when he no longer needed it. Sadly, I totaled it about 6 months later. Even more sadly, I used the insurance money to buy a TR7.

bobzilla MegaDork
12/24/20 9:17 a.m.

1980 Buick Park Ave Diesel. Injector pump died two weeks before I got my license. Back then (91) autozones and advance werent around for cheap parts and NAPA wanted $450 for it. I didn't make $450 in a summer so the car sat for 8 years and I finally sold it for more than I paid for it ($150 paid, sold it for $200).

Feedyurhed UltraDork
12/24/20 9:23 a.m.

1971 Dodge Challenger small block. Thought I was king of the road until I got dusted by every big block in town. Michigan winters gradually reclaimed it. Loved that car. Still miss it. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
12/24/20 9:26 a.m.

1990 Miata. Still have it, it's right outside the shop I'm sitting in at the moment.

My peer group wasn't the sort to get a car at 16. I got the Miata when I was in university at 21 or so, and I think only one other friend had a car at the time. Not because we didn't want them, but we didn't need them for our lifestyle and they're expensive. An inheritance from my grandfather paid for half of it and made it possible.

I started tweaking that car and building my own parts for it and things kinda got out of control. Here I am, 28 years later (almost exactly, I bought it on Jan 3, I think) and I have not progressed in life. I'm still tweaking that car and building my own parts for it.

Carson SuperDork
12/24/20 9:31 a.m.

The story of my first car is how I was introduced to y'all. 

In 2001, I was 14 and desperate for a Chevy Nova. I was a Hot Rod and Car Craft junky. All I ever read about was American muscle and V8s. Even then, I was very frugal and thought a Nova was both cool and affordable and ticked most of the boxes. I'd talk about Novas all the time at my after-school job. A co-worker told me his mom had a Nova and she was looking to get rid of, name my price.

It was a '75, 4-door, avocado green and white. LN Custom trim. The opposite end of the Nova spectrum from what I really wanted, a '68-'72 2-door, but the idea of owning my own car overwhelmed my 14-year old mind and I bought it. It was a Nova and a V8, at least. It had the base, 1-year only 262 cu in V8 (I think it was also available in California-only Monzas and Checker Cabs), the paint was chalky and would come off on your clothes and hands, but otherwise it was in good shape and MINE. I washed, cleaned, polished, gave the engine a basic tune, and added an AutoZone dress up kit and a set of Camaro wheels with trim rings ahead of getting to drive it when I got my permit at 15.

I drove it for a while, still loving it, but a little disappointed it wasn't a '68-'72 that I'd see everywhere in Hot Rod and Car Craft. No one was building 4th generation GM X-bodies, especially not 4-doors.

One day I was strolling the magazine aisle at the grocery store and spotted GRM with a feature on the $2004 Challenge. My frugality was intrigued and I bought it.

In it, I saw someone called Andrew Nelson and a black, 4-door Nova running the mythical 10-second 1/4 mile. WHAT?! 

I've been hooked on GRM since, lurked the forum a bit and joined up a couple years after that.

Now I miss it and really like the look of that generation Nova.

jharry3 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
12/24/20 9:45 a.m.

My first car was a '66 Mustang notch back.  It was actually my 1st cousin's first car, his daddy gave it to him in 1967. It was originally dark green.  He wrecked it.  For some reason my uncle had it repaired and repainted yellow, then gave it to his sister.  She drove it for a while, actually used to give me a ride to school in it.  Then someone stole it, took the wheels and dropped it on the ground, cracking two of the brake drums.   At this point my uncle had enough and sold it "as is" to my dad for $200 in 1973.    I did a brake job on it and had a car.   

It was a 3 speed with the 200 cubic inch in line 6.  In 1976 I converted it to v-8 brakes and rear axle, dropped in a built 289 and 4 speed toploader.    Ye Haw! I had the fastest car of all my friends.   I had it for about 1.5 years then some troll rear-ended me at a stoplight, bending the chassis, so that was the end of the mustang for me, I took out all the go fast parts like the engine, sway bars, exhaust, and transmission, and gave it to a friend.    I was about 18, car had the old seats, so no head rest.  I guess my youth saved me from whiplash or worse.  Today that hit would probably kill me.

Friend rebuilt it again and drove it for several years after that.

Mazdax605 PowerDork
12/24/20 9:45 a.m.

My first car was a 72 Chevy Nova 2-door. Inline-6 250 cu in, three-on-the-tree. Single bbl carb. Paint that had the same luster as asphalt. Rusted out rear quarters. I loved it at the time, but looking back on it the car was terrible.

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