My first car is being exhumed. Okay, not my actual first car. That thing is sitting in a junkyard somewhere in central Florida providing a shelter for armadillos and snakes. But the same model (1957 Plymouth Belvedere) was apparently used as a time capsule in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 15, 1957. It seems they thought the thing was so futuristic that it would fit in well in our technologically advanced space age.
As a former Belvedere driver, I can attest that it does not. I was, if not “the laughing stock” of my friends, then at least a source of constant amusement with my (mostly) lime green, long hunk of steel. But I didn’t care. I thought it was great. It might not have been the fastest thing on the road, but it could move when it had to. And it had a certain elegance of design that later models lacked, with its fins and and grimacing headlights, and it’s push-button transmission. Maybe my pals got better mileage than me, but the Belvedere had an undeniable character; a character that was sorely lacking in their Japanese lawn-mower engines wrapped in fiberglass. The Belvedere was pure Detroit steel, long and heavy, and unconcerned with modern parking spot measurements.
It would have been way cooler if it had been only one color. Unfortunately, the Belvederes were among the most rust-prone cars ever built, and there were quite a few manufacturing problems. It’s kind of a miracle that I laid hands on one as pristine as I did, because they tend to rust and disintegrate over time. It must have been fate that lead me to lay eyes on that green machine in the balmy summer of 1996, and it was fate that lead me to try unsuccessfully to restore it. In the course of sanding down the old paint job, I discovered such rust that I gave the project up mid-scour. I had uncovered three distinct shades of paint, two separate qualities of rust, and a constantly flaking outer layer. The end result was a vintage car with at least six different shades. It was a psychedelic calico of blue, green, and red.
It ran like a dream for three years, until it didn’t. The driver’s side door stopped opening. I had to constantly keep the accelerator down even when braking at a full stop, or risk stalling out completely. Once, during a rain storm, my windshield wiper flew off in mid-wipe. I had to stop, get it from the other lane and manually run it across the driver’s side through an open window. By the end, I had lost all ability to back up. The “R” button on the dash mocked me with its impotence. Parking became problematic. The best option was to pull through a parking space so I ended up facing out of the next one, but that wasn’t always an option. Sometimes I had to either a)Park on a hill so that gravity would let me escape or b) get out and push the car backwards until I could pull forward again.
Yes there were problems. And with each one I had to bear the scornful laughter of my peers, yet I regret nothing. The Belvedere is still the best car I ever had, and when they pull one from the ground in Oklahoma next week, everyone in Tulsa will understand why. If there’s anything left.