It was about the most strange color of green you could imagine and I probably should have never sold it. But being 16, I wanted something a little more modern, so I sold my first car, a 20-year-old 1957 Volkswagen, and bought a Chevrolet Vega.
As fate would have it, I drove foreign cars (Hondas) for most of my adult life, but for the past 15 years I have drove Chevys. I guess some people never learn.
I’m not sure where my Dad purchased the Volkswagen, but it was well over a year before I got my driver’s license. It ran just fine, but needed some interior work. So, since it was going to be a while before I drove it, we parked it in Harmon’s Body Shop on the north side of Hillsboro.
The body shop owner, Owen Harmon, was a family church friend, and his body shop was pretty much closed by that time. So whenever my Dad and I got a little extra time, we’d slip out to the body shop and work on it for a while.
While the exterior body was in pretty good shape (there was only one rust spot all the way through and it was about the size of a stick match head) the interior was not. In fact, the headlining was so rotten that we tore it all out. Then we went to sanding the entire outside of the vehicle, some with power tools, but mostly by hand.
I’m not sure where we found the extra time with church services twice on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, our sideline job of insulating homes, my involvement in sports and my Dad’s regular job, but we did. We both must have had a lot more energy then.
Once we got the sanding done, we started talking about painting the VW. I had my mind set a metallic gold color. But when we got to looking around at the old paint that was left in the body shop, there was only one quart of metallic gold. Then they found some green. So, since the paint job was being done free, they mixed the John Deere green and metallic gold together, and started painting.
Like I said, I had a very unique-colored 1957 VW.
If that wasn’t odd enough, next came replacing the headlining. We were far from car mechanics and working on a limited budget, and it stumped us for a while. Then someone came up with a bright idea — why not carpet it. Yep, slap some heavy duty glue on there and carpet the inside.
But there was more than just the headlining that needed replaced. So, after selecting a plush green carpet that somewhat matched the exterior, we carpeted the entire interior, from the top of the windshield and around and down to the bottom of the dashboard. Yes sir, the top, the floors, the sides, even over the back seat — it was all carpeted — with holes cut out for the windows and such. We worked it out so the back rest for the back seat somehow sat on top of the carpet, but it was not what you’d call permanent and could be removed with almost no effort.
So, what I ended up with was kind of a miniature Volkswagen van, painted a strange color with a completely carpeted interior, and plush carpet at that. I am certain my dad did not intend it turn out that way, but if there ever was a hippie-looking vehicle, it was my ‘57 VW — minus the peace signs and slogans.
There was one problem with the car though. It was not made with a gas gauge. So, since the gas tank was in the front where the storage space was, I had to carry a little stick around. And every so often I had to open the hood and stick the stick down into the gas tank to see how much gas I had.
But I was not very good at remembering to do that (or just too cheap to buy more gas). So I ran out of a gas. A lot.
And it didn’t end when I sold the VW and bought a Vega.
The Vega broke down a lot. When that happened I had to borrow one of Dad’s vehicles. Instead of his Thunderbird, I usually got the truck with a massive 454-something (I’m not good with vehicle terms) engine. It literally got like six miles to the gallon, and if you floored it you could actually watch the gas gauge move.
That did not help my running out of gas issue much.
One Saturday night I was parked along the side of a back road, having a pleasant conversation with a lady friend — with the big engine on that truck running. Suddenly, the motor stopped. And believe it or not, I was out of gas again.
So I had walk the nearest house on Diven Road, call my Dad, of all people, and ask him to bring me some gas.
It was embarrassing enough when he asked where I was stuck and who I was with. But that was nothing compared to the cold glare I got when I told my lady friend my Dad was coming to bring us gas. Let’s just say there were no more “pleasant conversations” that night.
You see, the thing was, in about a year’s time, I had already stuck the lady friend atop a snow pile, and got us pulled over by a deputy while we were stopped on a bridge — while driving on back roads — in the Vega.
If I only would have kept the Volkswagen…
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached [email protected] or 937-402-2522.