Actually, it doesn’t, since at the time that the following took place, there were probably no Americans who had a clue what “Nissan”–or “Japanese car”– even meant! Still, it is but one step on a long journey that led to my garage being perpetually stuffed with Japanese cars.
It’s the saga of my $5 Chevy…
…I’m 18, a college Freshman. My daily driver was a British car–a Triumph TR3A. I was busy growing up in the snowbelt of Western New York, and in mid-November, as the trees turned to skeletons and water turned to ice, the need to ditch my summertime convertible became chronic. A TR is the absolute worst car to own when the weather turns on you, so I began seeking a Winter Car.
If you live anywhere near where it snows, you already have a full and complete understanding of “Winter Car”. If you don’t, well, it’s a cheap throwaway that you temporarily own to preserve your Main Car, something easily sacrificed, something you can walk away from when you slam it into a boulder-hard snow bank or find yourself slip-sliding into someone else’s Main Car: it’s also something you easily discard when green buds finally begin to re-appear on the previously naked trees. They are found on the cheeziest of Used Car lots, usually sitting dusty and forlorn on the back row; often you see them on someone’s front yard with hand-printed “For Sale” signs on their cracked windshields. In the Snow belt you can find Winter cars everywhere, and they always NEVER start when you stop to inspect them…
In early October, when the terrors of winter were right down the street, I had driven down to Bradford, PA with my buddy Barry as one of his relatives who had a ’56 Chevy Bel Air for sale. Barry had just bought a brand new Mercury Cougar and saw the immediate need for a W.C. The Chevy was going to take the full brunt of the ice, salt and horrible conditions for him, preserving the Cougar for summer. I don’t really recall what he gave his Aunt for the car–I think it was $200, sort of an inflated sum for a temporary, but still cheap. Three months later, Barry was drafted by the Government into involuntary servitude in Vietnam and he was preparing to spend some Time on the Cross as a soldier in a faraway place that nobody knew anything about. The Cougar was going back to the bank, the Chevy was for sale.
A few nights before he had to go, we were sitting in our favorite watering hole, discussing the future. We had already scarfed down the legally allowable amount of cold pitchers when he offered me his Chevy at half price. Being a broke college kid, I declined, so he sweetened the pie by slashing his price even more. Still, I declined. As we lurched through the slushy, frozen parking lot he asked,
“Hof, how much cash do you have on you”??
“I donno”, I replied. I looked in my thin wallet. “Five bucks”.
We had driven to the bar in the Chevy. He tossed me the keys, grabbed the fiver and said “You can drive me home in your new car. I’m way too drunk to drive” (I was too, but so what? I was 18, and now I owned TWO cars). The Chevy was out of gas, so I borrowed the five back from Barry.
A few days later I drove him to Buffalo in his ex-Chevrolet, where he took his induction physical. The Army was kind enough to provide him with a bus that would take him to Ft Dix, NJ for Basic training. (I forgot to pay him back the fiver, so technically the Chevy was free…). The last I saw of Barry was him waving goodbye from the frosted windows of his Government Bus, on his way to certain doom in the rice paddies of a place that 90% of the population could not find on a map. He made it back OK, two years later…
My girlfriend–who LOVED my TR3–barely tolerated the Chevy. For a few weeks after I acquired it, she refused to be seen in it, lest a terrible social faux-pas come into play. She thought it was rust bucket crap (it was) and began to wonder if I was such a great boyfriend after all. It was only after I had driven it through a seven-out-of-ten blizzard to pick her up for a date that she began to relent. It DID have a huge backseat and a great heater, and after spending the night stranded in a dark parking lot out near the Airport loving each other up under wool blankets in the expansive backseat as snow drifted over the car, she came to actually appreciate it. So did I…
Amazingly, the car drove well. Everything except the dome light worked on it. One night, during a particularly wild fraternity beer blast, a bunch of people wound up dancing on the roof. Somehow, this activated the dome light. Now everything worked on the car. It got me through the winter, and when the snow melted and the TR beckoned, it went into a friends’ garage, where it stayed dry until the NEXT winter rolled around, when it served double-duty as a Second-Season Winter Car.
Once more, the GF complained about riding around in the battered Chevy, but as before, she got over it. Sometime in mid-March, as I was tooling down a snow-packed freeway, the driveshaft just fell out of my Chevy. I took my personal items and my tag from the car and trudged on down the road, never once looking back. A passing friend saw me walking, stopped and offered a ride. When I told him what had just happened, he offered to buy the Chevy for $50, an offer I could not pass up. Seems HE needed a Winter Car, and driveshafts were cheap back then, so a deal was made. Turns out, the Chevy was the only car I have ever owned that actually turned a profit for me. I was twenty and back to driving my TR in the snow, but I had also made a thousand percent profit disposing of my $5 winter Car.
Some months later, The Veteran Barry and I were tossing back pitchers in our favorite bar. The sun was shining, the TR was running sweet. I told him the story about his ex-Chevy and he had a great laugh, something that for the moment at least, snatched away some of the dark memories of War from him. Then I paid him back his five dollars from the profit I made from the car. A circle had just been closed..
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