My first car was quite an adventure

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When I was a teenager, one of the most thrilling things that could happen to a kid was to get his first car. For me, “my” first car wasn’t really mine, but I was the one who used it most of the time.

It was a green 1932 Plymouth Phaeton four-door sedan that my parents bought in 1955 when I was 16. That made us a two-Plymouth family when very few people had more than one car. (Our other car was a 1951 robin’s egg blue Plymouth Cranbrook four-door sedan that my parents bought brand new – their first “new” new car.)

That old 1932 Plymouth cost my parents $35, and I drove it for about two years whenever I had to be somewhere for school events and my folks needed the ‘51. I didn’t drive it to school on a regular basis because it just wasn’t that reliable.

I suppose that in 1932, when the car was new, it was probably “state of the art” and a fashionable car. And it was kind of cool! The black front fenders flowed gracefully back into the running boards to the rear fenders. It had wire spoke wheels and chrome headlights that sat on the front fenders.

The spare tire was perched in a slot on in the passenger-side front fender. There was no trunk in the car. The center of the roof was black leather, but by the time we got it, the leather was was faded and cracked. I remember rubbing it with Neatsfoot oil, the same oil I used on my baseball glove to soften it up and waterproof it.

It had narrow chrome bumpers front and back, and the front and rear doors opened in opposite directions. The horizontally vented hood opened up like bird wings from a row of hinges down the middle. The interior was probably pretty cool when it was new: It had a wooden dash and velvet upholstery, but the velvet was pretty threadbare and the cloth roof was drooping a little.

About a year after we got it, the ‘32 developed transmission problems. It had a three-speed, on-the-floor stick shift (the shift lever was about 3 feet high), and it wouldn’t stay in high gear all the time. So I (or a passenger) would have to hold it in place. Sometimes if we forgot, there’d be a grinding sound and the engine would suddenly roar because it had slipped into neutral again. Then after a while it wouldn’t stay in high no matter what we tried, so I’d have to drive in second on the road. Imagine the noise it made then. Eventually, it wouldn’t stay in second anymore, either, so I had to give up on it altogether because it was unrealistic to drive everywhere in low gear, and we couldn’t find parts to fix the transmission.

That old Plymouth didn’t always start very well either, so when I’d drive it to school for some event, I’d back it up on to the little knoll by the tennis courts across the street from the high school so my friends could easily give it a push and I could pop the clutch to get it going.

But all problems aside, I loved that old car. We sold it to a neighbor who used the frame to make a hay wagon - for $35! I often wonder when I see vintage cars at car shows, what that old Plymouth might be worth now if it could have been restored. Oh, well … !

Contact Roger VanHaren at