Shared Stories: My First Car

Steven Boyd seems to have a natural mechanical aptitude. Even in the era of do-it-yourself car repair, his story still reflects exceptional ability. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Steven Boyd

In 1968 I graduated from High School and still didn’t have my own car. I had been working at a local pizzeria for $1.75 an hour and by late summer had saved a little over $400. Up to that time I had four modes of transportation:

1.)  Walking – this was reserved for shorter distances and used only when the other three were not available.

2.)  Riding my bike – this was my main mode of transportation at the time but had the drawback of not always being available because of technical difficulties.

3.)  Getting rides from friends – this was a great way to get around in style but had the drawback of only being available when friends were available.

4.)  Borrowing my mom’s car – This was a special occasion mode of transportation, reserved only for dates, which were few and far between in those days.

One day, in the fall of that year, I was walking down Valley View Blvd.  I was walking because the bike had a flat, my friends were all preoccupied and my mom had her car at work. As I passed by a local manure business, I noticed a green car with a “for sale” sign on the front window. As I got closer, I could read that they were asking $350 for it. 

When my dad got home that evening he agreed to go and check out the car to verify it was running and worth $350. After seeing and testing the car, he said yes. I paid the $350 cash and drove my very own car home. 

It was a 1963 Mercury Comet two-door. It had an in-line, 6 cylinder and 3-on-the- column. It had drum brakes all around. It had a working AM/FM radio, but the first thing I bought for it was an 8-track tape player. 

It had bench seats and accommodated six easily because it didn’t have seatbelts. This also made it easy for my date to sit anywhere on the front seat she wanted. 

One of the first young ladies I took out on a date in my new car was Maria, a close friend from high school. On our first date, she sat right next to me. The second date she sat in the middle of her portion of the front seat.  On our third date, she hugged the armrest of the passenger door. There was no fourth date.

The previous driver of my Comet was the company’s salesman who just happened to be a chain smoker. Because of the saturation of smoke on the headliner, the threads holding the sections together disintegrated and the headliner above the front seat hung down to just touch my head. 

I tried to clean it. I tried to sew it. I tried to tape it. In the end, I removed the entire headliner and spray painted the exposed metal.  It had a great sound when it rained.

One day, Bonnie and I were coming home on Interstate 10 after a college group retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains. I had a strong headwind to drive into but I wanted to show that my Comet could keep up with the other cars so I kept pushing it. 

Eventually, it blew the head casket, over-heated, and blew up one of the pistons.  A piece of the piston got wedged in the oil pan and froze the engine.  My dad had to come and tow us home. 

I was too innocent to know just what I was getting myself into but I decided to do all the repairs myself. Plus, I couldn’t afford to have someone else do it. It took me a while but I eventually got it back together and it ran. 

I learned a lot about an internal combustion engine by taking it apart and putting it back together. I’ve even done it a couple of times again on other engines. Once, a friend said I could have his car that had a blown engine if I could get it running again. I didn’t have a car at the time and so it worked out great. 

Another time, a mutual friend of Bonnie and mine had a crack in her block and I replaced it. I saved her a couple of thousand dollars and had fun doing it.

In the end, the Comet and I parted ways when I was in boot camp and my parents got tired of it being in their driveway. They sold it to the junkyard for $20 which they applied to my phone bill.

Oh well, it was just a car.