Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Drive Down Memory Lane: Family Cars

For this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun exercise, Randy Seaver has chosen a great topic, although I'm not sure I will be able to do it justice:

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music), is:

(1)  Drive down Memory Lane:  What were your family cars?  From childhood to now, year, model, color, features.  Can you remember?

(2)  Share your memories with us in your own blog post, in a Facebook post, or a comment on this post.  Please comment on this post if you write somewhere else.

My father is the person who will know exactly what cars we had when I was a kid, but first I'll see what I can remember and then ask him to supplement my comments.  I remember more from when I was older, of course.

• The first vehicle I remember any stories about was not a car but a motorcycle (and more of them will appear in my timeline later).  The story is that my father took my mother motorcycle riding to Death Valley while she was pregnant with my sister.  I don't know what kind of bike that was, although my guess is Indian or Harley-Davidson.

• My father sent me a scan of a photograph of me sitting on an Indian motorcycle which I believe belonged to him.  The photo is from 1967, so I was 5, but I don't know what year the motorcycle is.  The photo was taken in Southern California, probably in La Puente?

• The first car I remember my family having was a Plymouth Barracuda, which because my family liked to play around with words we called a Baccaruda.  No clue as to year, color, or whatever.  I remember it was a two-door and the three of us kids had to cram into the back seat.  I think we had it when we lived in Southern California, so my guess is sometime between 1969 and 1971.

• In Australia the only car I can recall is a Mini Cooper, which was awesome!  Even though my dad is 6'1" and we three kids were growing, it had plenty of room inside for everyone.  Again I don't remember year, color, or other details.  I know we had it while we lived in Pagewood, which was toward the end of the time we were in Australia, so definitely during the beginning of 1973, maybe extending back to the end of 1972?

• After we returned to the States and moved to Niceville, Florida (yes, that's really the name), at some point we had a Mercedes that wasn't really a Mercedes.  It was one of those kit cars where the outside is just a facade and the car underneath is something else.  I remember no details about it.  We probably had it around 1973–1974.

• After we moved from Niceville to Villa Tasso (still in Florida), my father had a Chevrolet Chevelle that ended up being painted BFY, for Bright (expletive deleted) Yellow.  I have a vague recollection that the man who later became my stepfather, who worked with my father, painted it that color as some sort of revenge, or maybe it was a bet.  It quickly became an albatross — everyone in town knew that car was ours.  We were immediately recognizable everywhere.

• One day while I was walking around Villa Tasso, which probably had only about 200 residents, I found a Mini Cooper in someone's yard.  I ran back home to get my father to drag him to look at it, because I wanted it.  He bought it for $75; I don't know if the title was in my name, but it was supposed to be for me.  The interior was shot and the tires were all flat.  Because it was going to be my car, I had to help my father take each tire off one at a time, roll it back to our house, pump it up with a compressor (yes, we had one at the house), roll it back to the car, and put it back on.  We then rolled the car to our house.  My father was going to get it into running condition for me.  I wanted to have it painted purple and yellow and call it the Minnesota Mini.  Nothing ever happened with it, and I believe my father sold it for the $75 he paid for it.

• My first motorcycle was a 75CC Yamahauler in 1975 or so, which I think my father bought for me.  It was kind of a starter motorcycle for kids.  My father, however, liked to ride around on it, but it was so small his knees were up by his ears.  I don't remember what happened to the bike.

• My mother drove a Chevy Corvair for a while.  I think it was white.  I remember that it was really low to the ground, because when we had heavy rains and the unpaved roads in Villa Tasso flooded, we couldn't go out in the Corvair, because the water came up through the floorboards.  At least once the only way we managed to get to school was the parent of another student who lived in Villa Tasso came and picked us up.

• After my parents divorced and my mother had married my stepfather, the latter promised me a 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible (the only car I've ever really wanted) for my high school graduation present.  At one point he found a 1967 Mustang for me and started to fix it up.  While he was working on it he discovered that it was rusting out from the inside (the joys of unibody construction), so he slapped a quick paint job on it (I think it was light tan) and sold it to someone.  I never drove the car.

• I don't know when we got it, but in 1979 we had a Fiat 124.  It was a small, boxy yellow car.  My sister nicknamed it Turkey, after the character on Captain Kool and the Kongs.  In one of the few instances when I really got in trouble with my parents growing up, I drove the Fiat by myself in the summer of 1979 from Villa Tasso to Auburn, Alabama for a reunion of students who had participated in a math seminar the previous year.  It was a 200-mile trip in a torrential, driving Southern thunderstorm, and I had no idea that the car shouldn't have been able to make the trip.  It didn't give me any problems on the way.

• Sometime around 1980 or 1981 my parents moved to San Antonio, Texas.  No recollection as to when he found it, but my stepfather bought a 1964 1/2 Mustang that had been sitting on the back part of someone's property for many, many years.  It wasn't a convertible, and the tires, roof, and interior were shot, but the body was in decent shape.  Just like my Minnesota Mini, this was supposed to have been fixed up for me.  It never was, and in 1992 I had my parents sell the car so I could make a down payment on a house.  That was where I lived for 24 years in Oakland, California.  I used to tell people I was living in my Mustang.

• Maybe around 1983, while I was living in Los Angeles, I had a red Ford Pinto.  I don't remember where or how I got it.  I do remember someone broke into it one day while it was parked in front of where I was living.  The only thing stolen was the registration.  I have no memory of what happened to it.

• Sometime after the Pinto I acquired a Pontiac Firebird, or one of the GM cars that had the same body.  I think it was white (I seem to have had a lot of white cars).  I had it in 1984, because I drove it to San Antonio while the Olympics were in town.  All nonessential staff at USC were told to take two weeks of vacation during the Olympics to get us off the campus.  I drove the car to San Antonio because my stepfather was going to give it a spiffy paint job for me (he was primarily a paint and body man).  I had my bicycle in the back seat, so he could paint that also.  When I arrived, however, Ric looked over the car and discovered the head was cracked, so he wouldn't let me have it back.  He did paint the bicycle a beautiful pearl flake (which he had left over in the shop), and I brought it back to L.A. with me on the plane trip I had to take because I no longer had the car.

• After knee surgery in 1985, I could no longer ride a bicycle, so I decided to buy a motorcycle, because it was less expensive than a car.  I got a Suzuki GS550.  I think it was red.  I had a custom plate that read "JANS GS."  I kept it for a few years until I upgraded to a larger bike.

• Sometime around 1986 or 1987 I got a 1964 Pontiac Catalina (I think) 9-passenger station wagon from my parents.  I think I had determined that as cool as it was to ride the motorcycle, occasionally I needed to move stuff around (although I have moved furniture and large musical instruments on a motorcycle).  I wanted my stepfather to paint it black, so it would look like a hearse, but that's when I learned that black is a very difficult color to do well.  The car ended up green, which was a color he had left over in the shop (again).  It came in really handy while I was in the USC Marching Band, because it was almost big enough to fit an entire 10-piece band (used for small gigs) and all their instruments.  In 1988 or 1989, someone broke one of the quarter panel windows, which would have cost about $300 to replace, to steal a $20 emergency car care kit.  Luckily, my stepfather had another station wagon in the shop that used the same windows, so he shipped me the replacement, and all I had to pay for was the installation.  When I moved from Los Angeles to Berkeley, I drove the Oldsmobile.  One of my new friends in the Bay Area nicknamed the car Space Cruiser Yamato because it was so huge.  When the transmission started to go, it was too expensive to have the work done locally, so I put the car on a car carrier to send back to my stepfather to work on.  Through a series of events painful to recall, the station wagon was never retrieved from the shipper, so it was claimed on a lien and lost to me forever.

• While I was still in Los Angeles, I decided that the Suzuki 550 was not big enough anymore, so I sold it and bought a Honda CB750K.  It was blue.  It was also a relatively unpopular model.  It was tall and had a very high center of gravity.  To take out the battery, you had to remove the covers from both sides of the bike.  The center stand was an absolute bear to maneuver; it always took two people to get it to work.  The one thing the bike really had going for it was the 5 1/2 gallon gas tank, because it was built for touring.  I drove that motorcycle up and down I-5 several times to go to Renaissance Faires in the Bay Area.  It was stolen one night while I was working at the USC Hillel (I was the kosher cook there), so between fall of 1988 and spring of 1989.  (I'm pretty sure I know who stole it, in a revenge scheme, but I was never able to prove it.)  I lasted about a week before I bought a replacement bike (see my next entry).  A couple of months after I bought the new bike, the Honda was found by the police on the side of a freeway, where it had been abandoned by someone running from the police.  I don't remember how I got it up to Berkeley when I moved there in September 1989, but I couldn't find a buyer.  I ended up giving it to my landlady's lover.  I think I had a personal license plate for this bike also.

• Because I couldn't stand not having a motorcycle after the Honda was stolen, I went out and found a new bike.  I went bigger again, this time buying a Yamaha XJ 920 Virago.  It was black.  It was a pretty cool bike.  I rode it up and down I-5 a bunch of times also, although I had to stop for gas more often, because it wasn't a touring bike and had only a 3 1/2 gallon tank.  I had a personal plate for it, but I don't remember what it was.  I had the Virago until the summer of 1994, when the third (expletive deleted) who drove through a red light totaled it.  I was very lucky and came out of the incident with only a broken toe.  Of course the idiot didn't have insurance.

• Shortly before I moved to Berkeley, one of my housemates abruptly moved out and left her Honda Rebel 125 motorcycle behind.  I got a title for it purely so I could sell it, but that did make it mine for a while.  I think I rode it once or twice?

• I think it was after I bought the house in Oakland, therefore 1993 or later, that I got the 1971 Oldsmobile Delta 88 convertible.  This was also from my parents.  I was told it was one of the three largest production convertibles ever made; it was an absolute boat.  I remember the first thing that my stepfather and his business partner both told me when I saw the car:  "Never lock the doors."  It is too easy with a ragtop to just slice the cover, so there's no use taking the risk.  This car, which was another white one, was fun to drive.  It had tons of room and turned on a dime.  But with a 455 engine, it got 10 miles to the gallon when it was fully tuned, going downhill, with the wind behind it.  In addition to that problem, I realized I was never putting the top down.  I eventually sold the car to my cousin.  I don't know what he did with it.

• After selling the convertible I needed a replacement vehicle.  This time my parents provided me with a 1983 Chevy G20 short van.  I flew to Florida (they had moved back from Texas by that time) to pick it up and drive it to California.  This was probably in early 1995.  I loved that van; it was a workhorse.  Oh, did I mention it was white?  I drove it up and down I-5 to multiple Ren Faires and game conventions.  I took it to Reno for a conference for work and then down to Vegas for a get-together of game industry people.  I even had the engine rebuilt when the car hit 150,000 miles.  Eventually it died at 255,000 miles, in 2010, and I gave it to a charity reseller.  The personal license plate was "DRD PIR8" (for Dread Pirate, from The Princess Bride).

• Probably about 2007 my surgeon said I had recovered enough from shoulder surgery that it was ok for me to ride a motorcycle again.  I looked up bikes on Craigslist and found someone selling a red crotch rocket.  I don't remember what make it was, but it was definitely Japanese, because all I've ever owned are rice burners.  It turned out that I wasn't actually recovered enough, because the shoulder had torn again, so I didn't have the bike for long before I sold it.

• I don't do well without my own transportation.  When my Chevy van died in 2010, it took me only four days from when my mechanic told me it was a goner to buying a replacement.  My father helped me find a 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser Turbo.  I transferred the DRD PIR8 license plate to it.  I was thinking I was finally going to have a vehicle with decent mileage, but my sister, who had owned a few Cruisers, warned me that the Turbo wasn't that great.  It was an improvement over the van, though:  I went from 15 to 20 miles per gallon.  The Putt Putt, as I fondly called it, was reasonably reliable.  It was black, which I discovered made the interior much warmer than I had expected.  After all those white cars, it was a huge difference.  The Cruiser and I got along fairly well, but it died on me in spectacular fashion this past June, conking out on Sepulveda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley in rush-hour traffic.  My mechanic back home in Oakland wanted to check it out to make sure about the condition, so I had it towed the 400 miles back.  After performing last rites over it, it was time to move on.

• The vehicle I have now is a silver 2005 Toyota RAV4.  I think it took a couple of weeks after the Cruiser died to finalize this purchase, mostly because of being out of town when it happened.  This is kind of like having a van again, because it has a lot of room inside.  It was crammed totally full when I drove the 600 miles to Portland, Oregon on August 31.  I didn't transfer my personalized plates because the existing plates were still valid through November, and I already knew I was going to be moving to Oregon, so it made no sense to buy new California plates.  So I have some nondescript plates for the moment, but last week I registered the Toyota here in Portland, and my new custom plates are on the way.  Unfortunately, Oregon allows only six characters on a license plate, so I had to settle for DRD PR8.


  1. Your family was really into cars and motorcycles and you remember so much more about the vehicles than I can remember about ours, even though we owned way fewer. This was a fun topic Randy threw out this week.

    1. My father was a mechanic and had raced cars from the time he was a teen, so yes, we were into cars! I remember hanging over engine compartments while he was working on cars and handing him tools. When it comes to cars, I am my father's daughter. :)

  2. Great stories about the cars. It seems you never got to drive a Mustang.

    1. True, I have never driven a Mustang. I don't think I've even ridden in one.

  3. Janice, I was interested that you had a 75cc "starter" bike when young...I had a 50cc step-through Yamaha as a teen. But I didn't graduate to the big bikes, only a 100cc bike for a couple of years. Sigh. Today, 4 wheels only!

    1. Marian, at least you did have two bikes! I had never heard the term "step-through", though, so had to look it up. I've never had that type of bike at all. All I've had for the past ten years is four wheels, but I've been wanting another bike for a while. Maybe by next spring!

  4. I did ask my father about our family vehicles, and he added to my list. Other than a wrong guess on the first motorcycle, I don't seem to have made any mistakes. And I think I remember the squeals of joy when he raced other cars on the street.


    The motorcycle you mention was a 1963 BSA Royal Star 650cc. We did indeed ride to Death Valley along with the club (The Norwalk Centaurs) we joined. Had a great time, saw the painted canyon, and Scotty's Castle complete with antique cars and an organ that played itself. The method of operation wasn't mentioned.


    You had the privilege of riding in a large assortment of vehicles since at the time I was buying and selling them frequently. Our family car was a 1956 Pontiac hardtop. I also had a couple of other cars & motorcycles. A 1950 Oldsmobile coupe & a 1963 Studebaker coupe with a Chevy engine. This was in Montebello.

    Then we moved to La Puente (I never saw the bridge 8^) ). The Indian photo was taken there. We had a '58 Chevy station wagon, then got a '58 Chrysler Imperial hardtop which made several trips to Las Vegas to visit Bubbie & Zadie.

    Somewhere in there I bought a pristine 1950 Chevrolet Super Deluxe sedan from a real little old lady. I loaned it to Mary Lou [my father's first wife] to drive to San Diego with lots of warnings not to drive too fast. Naturally, I got a phone call to come get her as she had managed to burn up the transmission. I had recently acquired a 1955 Cadillac El Dorado engine and transmission so I rebuilt them and stuffed that into the Chevrolet. I had some fun with that innocent-looking car. Once your mother had to drive it because I was working on the Chrysler. She stomped the gas as if she was driving the Chrysler and left the curb sideways, then hit the brakes, sat still for a few seconds, then proceeded a little slower.

    Your favorite was the 1956 Chevrolet convertible. It was really hot rodded and was excellent for street racing. When you were along you would hope someone would want to have a race with me. When it happened you would squeal, "Do it again, Daddy!"

    1958 Chevy station wagon with a Pontiac 389 engine, two 4-barrel carbs, and "Rockcrusher" 4 speed. This was a dedicated drag car. Stolen from the dealership where I was working, chased by the police at over 120 mph and finally took out an off-ramp guardrail. The state tried to try to charge me for the guardrail!


    1951 Chevy station wagon, 1958 Chevy station wagon, 1958 Chevy sedan, several 1955 Chevy 2-door sedans, 1957 De Soto station wagon (gave to Mary Lou), 1949 Chevy sedan (purchased for $5.00 with a current tag), 1952 International truck (gave to Mary Lou), 1965 Datsun pickup, 1951 Chevy pickup (came with the service station), 1969 Ford Fairlane GT, 1970 Toyota station wagon,1958 Corvette, the bright yellow 1970 Chevelle, 1966 Plymouth hardtop, 1969 Dodge station wagon, et al.

    There are probably more, but I can't remember them.

  5. And I've remembered another car my family had that my father didn't mention: a red Pinto during the time when they were being recalled because of the exploding gas tank problem. It was kind of funny how no one would tailgate us in that car, because they didn't know if you had gotten the repair from the recall or not. This car may have been after my parents divorced and my mother remarried, so maybe that's why my father didn't include it.


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