My First Real Car

With a little more time on my hands these days, partly due to the pandemic, I have been thinking of things long gone by. Some of my thoughts are about the many, many cars that have passed through my hands. I would have to start with the very first, which was a nice 1936 Chrysler coupe. It has a straight 8 engine with a floor mounted 3 speed and overdrive. I was only 14 1/2 years old, so I could not legally drive. But I convinced my dad that I would just “ work on it” until I could get my license. My dad paid Ernie McQueen $75 for the car. It had a stuck clutch from setting, but my dad fixed that by pressing the clutch in and slamming it into gear a few times.

The first thing I did to “improve” the car was to cut the top off. I wanted a roadster, not a stuffy old coupe. My poor dad was puzzled as to what I was doing to this basically nice old car. But in the end he helped me by using his skill saw to help me cut off the top. Then I discarded the fenders. It sort of looked like a roadster, but not really I guess. One day, while my dad was gone, I decided this thing should be able to do a large burnout. The old straight 8 took a while to rev up, but it had a lot of power when it did. After a few attempts at a burnout I decided to go for broke. I pushed in the clutch and allowed it to reach its max RPM,s ,then I just slipped my foot off the clutch. The poor old car jumped about a foot, then with a loud bang it was over. The transmission was busted real bad. 

I told my dad,”I don’t know what happened, I was just backing it out to work on it and it went boom”. My long suffering father took me to a wrecking yard in Sacramento and we found the broken gears we needed. I actually repaired that old transmission and got it going again. It would probably have been better if I hadn’t. The old CHP office was just a few hundred yards up the road from where we lived. The area that is now the Sierra hospital was just a hill covered with trees and brush, no buildings at all. There were a few trails that were drivable, so when my dad was gone I would sneak the car out and run around those trails with my little brother. One time I ventured so far that I found myself on what is now a major road, Idaho Maryland. Back then it was not paved, but was a fairly decent dirt road. This was a chance for me to open it up and see what this old car could do. We were probably doing about 45 or 50 (seemed faster) and as we topped a small rise in the road there was a slow moving tractor right in the middle of the road. Somehow I knew that braking would not save us, I twisted the wheel to the left and missed the tractor by inches. As I turned around to head back home the farmer was shaking his fist at us and hollering something.

When I got back home, the CHP were waiting for me. 

This is the only picture I have of my first actual legal road car. It is a 1950 Mercury that my dad bought for me for $125.00. It had a smashed front left fender but the dealer threw in a replacement. I was a flathead V8 with a three on the tree and overdrive. In this picture I am about 16 and my brother would be 13 years old. I loved that car, I sometimes slept in it. But it was gutless. One night I tried to race with a friend that had borrowed his mothers station wagon. He beat me bad, every time. Something had to be done! I pulled the spark plugs and found that two in the right side bank were oily. So of course this meant that I needed to rebuild those 2 cylinders, right? I drove the car to a parts house with an old timer named Yogi. I marched in and told him I needed a set of rings for 2 cylinders. He looked at me like the stupid kid that I was and said,”is the car here?” I said yes, right outside. He marched out to the parking lot and told me to start it up. As it set there shaking and smoking he calmly reached in and swapped the two center plug wires. WOW! What a difference, it ran so smooth. And lots more power. I am not sure that I ever beat my friends moms station wagon though. 

Sorry about the lousy picture quality. It is the oldest one I have that shows my late brother and me with my first real car.

By Lanny N.