08 February 2012

George's Cutlass

George over at Coalescence shares this tale of Oldsmobile. Whilst not technically his first car, it is the one he first lusted after and one that holds especially dear and "bittersweet" memories.  Sold because of a girl, the affection for, and appreciation of, the car lives on...

My ’71 Olds

Back in 1973-75, when I was 16 to 18 years of age, I worked in the maintenance department of Ray County Memorial Hospital in Richmond, Missouri. I mopped, swept, and vacuumed floors, cut the grass and trimmed hedges, hauled trash (that you don’t want to know about) to the local dump, and sometimes cleaned out ambulances after particularly “messy” runs. I earned $1.65 an hour to perform these duties.

During the 2 ½ years I worked for the hospital, I owned four different cars. These cars, my first four, were all Chevrolets: two ‘65 Impala Super Sports, a ’68 Impala Custom, and a ‘67 Malibu. No one handed me these vehicles: I bought them, insured them, and maintained them from the money I earned working nights, weekends, and summers at the hospital. Yes, I’m sure that seems like a lot of cars in a short period of time for a high school kid to buy and keep up with, but cars were cheap in the ‘70s, and I was good with money . . . then.
Now I dearly loved my first four cars, but there was one car I really, really had my eye on during the time I worked at Ray County Memorial . . . but, unfortunately, the car was way out of my league at the time. The assistant administrator for the hospital (a yuppie before there was such a thing) owned that car. I used to salivate every time I went past it on the hospital’s tractor as I mowed the grounds.
What the administrator had was a 2-door fastback 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass S (not a Cutlass Supreme or a 442, but a Cutlass “S”). The car was burnt orange with a matching interior (I would later learn that the color’s actual name was, Bittersweet). It had a white vinyl top, white pin-striping on the front fenders, and a new set of Firestone 500 tires. It also featured cool-looking hood louvers that gave it a bit of an edge. Not only was the car sporty-looking, it screamed sophistication at the same time. It was one damn fine looking car—I swore then that I’d have one just like it someday!

I graduated high school, moved on from my hospital employment, and went to work in a women’s clothing warehouse/distribution center in Kansas City. There I earned the princely sum of $3.52 an hour! About a 1 ½ years into my employment there, I was driving home from work one day and what in the world did I see at a local car lot, but the same ’71 Olds that I used to covet! As soon as I could get my butt to the bank to get a loan, that puppy was mine!
Although I can remember exactly what I paid for nearly all of my cars, for the life of me I can’t recall what this one cost me. It seems to me that it was in the neighborhood of $2,300. But money was no longer an impediment: I was making $3.52 an hour and working lots of overtime, so the car was within my reach; no longer was it something I could only dream of owning.
Now that I had the car of my dreams, I gave my ’67 Malibu—my former love—to my little brother, Steve (look for a future posts on both). I then got to work on building a relationship with my Olds.
I chose not to personalize the car. Rather than slapping decals on it, jacking it up in the back with air-shocks, running loud dual-exhaust, and sticking wide tires on it—as was customary at the time—I decided to leave it stock. It didn’t need all that junk: it looked perfect just the way it was!
I was constantly cleaning this car—believe me: I made the local car wash owners rich! After hitting the car wash, I would use Blue Coral, Blue Poly wax on the body, and Lemon Pledge on the vinyl interior—and the tires. I can’t adequately describe how slick this car looked when cleaned up! (It also felt slick: due to the Lemon Pledge us on the interior, one tended to slide across the seat when going around a curve.) The car was beautiful, and to use a tired old expression, it had class! In my opinion, the ’68 to ’72 Cutlasses had some of the best body-lines and interiors that General Motors ever produced!
I was the proud owner of this car for a little over a year and I enjoyed every second of my time with it! It was a pleasure to drive and cheap to operate. Other than the cost of routine maintenance, I remember spending a grand total of $33 in repairs on it during the entire time I owned it—not bad at all! But although I absolutely loved the car and appreciated the fact that it was a really well-made vehicle, I ended up trading it in on a ’74 Cutlass.
. . . So why would I get rid of a car that I had dreamed of owning for years you ask? A couple of reasons: The impatience of youth for one. Like many kids, I constantly wanted newer and cooler toys to play with. The other reason was the fact that the car reminded me too much of a long-term girlfriend I had broken up with, I figured I needed to let the car go in order to be able to move on.
Ironically, this particular girlfriend—who at the time said she cared for me—never cared for this car much. She found it a bit old-mannish: nice, safe, but a bit boring. She eventually got around to feeling the same way about me and sent me down the road.
My ’71 Olds was Bittersweet in color; the memory of it made bittersweet by the young lady’s rejection of me.
A few months after trading in the car, I was told by the owner of the car lot I had purchased it from that he had seen it show up at a car action in Kansas City. The car lot owner told me that the car looked as good as ever, but someone had rolled the mileage back about 50,000 miles. He went on to say that the car ended up being sold for more money than I had paid for it. Honestly, even with the mileage fraud, somebody ended up buying a great car! I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did!

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