Those cars of yesteryear


Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

I knew many cars during the years 1940-61. The first car my parents bought was a 1940 Hudson, which they kept until 1946.

My mother did all the driving because my father quit in 1929 after he totaled his car when he hit some ice on Michigan Avenue and crashed into the bridge abutment.

In 1946 my parents bought a Plymouth, but they sold it in 1948 because my mother— a tall woman — complained that she felt cramped behind the wheel.

The Studebaker era came in 1948 and lasted 10 years. We had three Studebakers during that time, and I learned to drive the 1955 model.

In 1958 an Oldsmobile was purchased, and I had my first mishap. I had opened the rear door to put a package in the back seat while the car was still in the garage. I forgot to close the rear door, and when I backed out of the garage, the rear door connected with the garage door frame, thus folding the car door. This mistake cost me weeks of the salary I earned that summer working at Cannon's Book Store, but the Olds was repaired and stayed in the family until 1963.

When I graduated from college in 1961, I bought a 1956 Chevrolet station wagon, which quickly turned out to be a lemon. I took the car back to the dealership, and the owner returned the $500 I had paid for it. It helped that I knew the owner's son.

I had saved money when I was in college, so I decided to buy a new car. I bought a 1961 Cutlass, but I had it for only a year. I would have owned it longer, but the mistake I made was letting my friend Roger drive it. He made a right turn on Chicago and Oak Park with the intent of heading south, but he hit the light pole on the corner head on and seriously damaged the radiator. The radiator was repaired, but it never worked well, so I sold the car and didn't buy another one until 1967.

My uncle Gene owned a 1939 Packard, which he drove until he went into the service in 1942, and during the war his wife drove this maroon, multi-passenger car. Gene divorced in 1947, but he kept the Packard and still had it when he came to live with us in 1949. He soon bought a 1949 Buick, but he kept it for only two years, because he felt the car was not functioning correctly.

This was also true for the 1951 Lincoln, the 1954 Cadillac, the 1956 Pontiac, and the 1959 Oldsmobile, which was the last car he owned before his death in 1961.

Gene was an ultra-perfectionist in everything he did, and if he believed that his new car was not perfect — even after working to correct the "imperfections" — he would get rid of it.

I learned many things about cars by helping Gene, but I never became a car enthusiast, so I have been happy over the years to let my mechanic do the fixing.

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