11 January 2012

Nancy's Valiant

Nancy over at " Excels at Nothing " shared this great story of her first car. Not only well written, but quite humourous, and a great peek into the times for those that weren't there.
Be sure and check her blog ; Very interesting... Cars. Guns. Knitting. Carpentry. Knives. 18th century surgical technique. And peppermint bark!

My First Car

Because all the other cool kids are doing it ...
UPDATED to add photo: Mr. Valiant was a 4-door sedan, not this uber-sporty version.
My first car was a 1968 Plymouth Valiant. My parents bought in the fall of 1967 when I was 4 years old. It was white with a dark blue interior, seated six fairly comfortably, and had seatbelts but no A/C.  It did have a fantastic vent system, though, including one under the steering column that literally made your skirt fly up. It had a slant six under the hood, “posi-traction” in the back, and was considered a compact car. Compared to the 1971 Plymouth Fury III wagon we had, it was.
Before I was allowed to get my driver’s license, I had to prove to my dad that I could change a tire unaided. It was then that I learned the lug nuts were threaded differently, depending on which side of the car you were on -- the whole “lefty loosey, righty-tighty” thing varied. I believe the logic being that they were threaded so that the rotating wheels would be tightening the nuts instead of loosening then as you rolled down the highway.  I also had to do some body work on it, which meant the white paint also had patches of Bondo, and both bare and rusty metal primer. It was an appaloosa of sorts.
At some point in the (very) late ‘70’s, my dad installed an FM converter (I now had 2 AM and 2 FM stations to pick from!), and later on a cassette tape deck under the front seat. It was sometime during 1981 I figured out that if you recorded Journey’s “Escape” on one side of a 45 minute tape, and Foreigner’s “4” on the other, you could listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’”, flip the tape over and listen to “Juke Box Hero”, and back again ad infinitum.  (It was a 3 hour trip from college to my parent’s house, and parts were a radio waste-land. Don’t judge.)

Good times in it? Eh. Can’t remember any of particular note. But I can tell you how it ended.
It was the summer of 1983, and The Police were playing (Synchronicity Tour) about 70 miles away. Tickets were not cheap for someone making $1.35/hour plus tips (which, on a good night, was about $2.00). This was a Big Deal. My roommate, a coworker, and I bought tickets (back when you had to stand in line) and planned for our big night out. We bought vintage dresses. We did our hair and makeup. We climbed into “Mr. Valiant” and headed south. We got out of town, and we were heading down the ramp onto the highway and … nothing. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder, popped the hood and had no idea what had gone wrong.

It didn’t take long for a nice gentleman in an 18-wheeler to stop and come to our aid. At least that’s what I thought at first, but since he had even less of a clue than I did as to what was wrong, it was clear that he just wanted to get three 20-year-old women in black dresses and big hair into his rig.  Not so much.

Okay. We were in what was considered a fairly rural part of Minnesota. As we sat there on the side of the road, we considered our choices, of which there weren’t many. Finding a phone, and calling a tow truck seemed to be the only option.  Luckily, the nearest farm (with actual buildings not just crops) seemed to be on our side of the highway, so I set off down the road to where I could see a corn crib. I climbed down across a ditch, and up through a barb-wire fence. The wire was loose enough I could go through the strands.  I plowed through another ditch and came to a second barb-wire fence. This one was too tight to go through, but too loose to go over, so I followed it down to the corn crib. I climbed up one side, over the fence, across the end, and down the other side. At which point I saw the cows. And the cows saw me.

Did I mention the dress? And the pantyhose? And the heels? So far they were all unbesmirched. Not even so much as a snag in the hose.

Okay. Back to the cows. We came to an understanding that we were not going to bother each other and I headed off down the cow path hoping to find something. And I did – I found a small farmhouse. In the middle of nowhere. I seriously don’t even remember a driveway , but I knocked on the door anyway, and I heard “Ja??” and the door opened. There was a fairly old gentleman looking at me like I had two heads. From the back of the house I heard another, younger, male voice say “WHO IS IT??” This was the bachelor son who came charging out to see who dared disturb their solitude.

I mentioned the dress and the big hair, right? Did I mention that my big hair was four different colors? Now granted, they were all natural colors* (black, my natural brown, red and the ends bleached white) but this was rural Minnesota in 1983, and I’m sure a space alien would have been better received.
Anyhow, I managed to explain that I was having car problems, and I just needed the use of a phone book and their phone to call a tow truck, and I would be on my way. And that I would gladly pay for the long-distance call.  The son translated for his father, and they eventually let me use the phone just so I’d get the hell out, I think.

So, I headed back down the cow path, waved at the cows, climbed up, over and down the corn crib, through ditch one, through the second fence, and across ditch two, and back to the car to wait for the tow truck. I have to say that the three of us garnered a lot of attention while we waited. The tow arrived and the next problem was that even though I specified I needed to pay with a credit card when I called, the driver didn’t have the imprint machine with him.  Then there was the problem of fitting 3 females into the front of the tow truck. It was, uh, snug. So we headed back to our college town, the other two girls were dropped off at my house while the tow truck took me to a cash machine. I paid the guy, we dropped the car off at a service station (closed, or course) within walking distance to my house and I hiked back. My coworker was prevailed upon to drive us to the concert in her gold ’68 Camaro, even though the shift linkage was iffy. And the car had no radio. So to pass the time and tune up for the concert, we sang  Girl Scout songs on the way. We walked into the venue and dropped into our seats just as the concert started. It was awesome.
Then things got interesting again. We got lost in the wrong part of Minneapolis on the way home. We stopped at a Burger King to ask the nice policeman for directions, and he thought we were hookers. Luckily we convinced him otherwise, and he pointed us in the right direction.

When we finally got home, roomie made popcorn, we sat in the kitchen, and I made the mistake of asking what else could go wrong. She screamed as we got dive-bombed by a bat. Did you know that when you are cowering behind your bedroom door trying to talk to your roomie about how remove said bat, that the sneaky bat bastard will crawl under your door and over your foot? Yeah. The boys in the frat house next door thought that the two of us, still dressed for the concert, had come up with the best come-on line ever. No, thank-you-very-much, we really did just need you to come over and provide bat eradication services. That was it.  Sorry to disappoint you.

I ended up sleeping in an extra bed in roomie’s room with a tennis racquet next to my bed. My pantyhose made it through the evening intact. The bat made another appearance the next night while I was at work and the landlord came and took care of it. And the autopsy showed that Mr. Valiant died of complications from a failed oil pump. May he rest in peace.

*Regarding the hair … what was supposed to be some subtle red highlights and black lowlights turned out quite a bit more dramatic than anticipated. I was going through a rebellious phase while I was watching my mom die of cancer and so I thought “What the hell?” and bleached the ends white while I was at it. Mom was not happy with me..

THIS JUST IN! Nancy found photos of Mr Valiant and has kindly shared them. I'll let her give the descriptions...
Here you go. At long last. I think the statute of limitations has passed on these pictures. They’re over 30 years old...
The first is Mr. Valiant at the advanced age of 13 ½. This was before undercoating and after 3 winters (approximately 25 months) in Minnesota when they still put salt on the roads.

The next is my last day of high school, June 1981. I was trying to look cool and stuff. (I don’t remember my stomach ever being that flat.)  To give some scale, I'm 6 ft tall...

And lastly – packing for college. Yes, those are booze boxes, No, they're full of clothes and stuff. The drinking age was 19 then, and I was only 18 at the time. Behind the front bench seat was a portable Zenith black and white TV covered in denim, with a faux leather patch that said “Sidekick”. I also had an electric typewriter. Man, I was set

Thanks again for sharing Nancy. Oh, and notice the aforementioned Plymouth wagon in the background...


  1. When I think of how many ways that night could have come horribly wrong instead of just very wrong ...

    Thanks for the link!

    1. Indeed. But things were different / better then and we 'got away' with stuff that would be unthinkable now. Of course, things were even better when people our parent's age were that age, and they had even more fun and more freedom. Sorta pity the poor kids just becoming driving age now; of course, it seems that most of them dont care anyway...

      Thanx again for a great contribution Nancy.

  2. "To give some scale, I'm 6 ft tall..."

    We are of a height. I remember my amazement with my first car (a Gran Torino) that the hood was so long that with my head at the base of the windshield, my heels were barely out over the grille. It made a great place to spread a quilt and take an impromptu lie-down! :)

  3. Didja notice ? There are hubcaps on the left side of the car, but not the right ; Must mean something...

  4. Nancy emailed and says -


    And I can’t comment from work about the hubcaps, but I can tell you exactly what it means.

    One picture was taken with the hubcaps off, one was taken with the hubcaps on.

    Yeah. Pretty deep … :)