You gotta start somewhere. For some of us, our entry to vehicle ownership was humble, and for others, ostentatious. But no matter which way we contributed unburned hydrocarbons to the atmosphere of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, here are the vehicles in which the staff of the Four Wheeler Network and Truck Trend Network first hit the roads.
Ken Brubaker – 1972 Plymouth Scamp
I think the first vehicle I drove was my parents’ 1967 Rambler American. It was a two-door with a six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. That car was delightfully simple. But the vehicle I spent most of my time driving while learning, and for the first month or so immediately after getting my license, was my parents’ 1976 Ford LTD. It was blue with a white vinyl top, four-door, powered by a 351W. Soon after getting my license I got a $300 1972 Plymouth Scamp. It was a red two-door with a slant-six engine, automatic trans, black vinyl seats, whitewall tires, and a bashed-in passenger-side front fender. Purchasing a pre-wrecked car was perfect for a 16-year-old new driver. I seem to recall it had overpowered power steering and no power brakes. But it did have an AM radio that worked (very important to a teenager). If I remember correctly, the Scamp killed ignition ballast resistors regularly so I carried a spare. I thought I was The Man in that car. To me the Scamp looked cool even when parked in the school parking lot between my best friend’s 1972 Chevy Monte Carlo and my classmate’s dad’s gold 1979 Pontiac Trans Am.
This story would not be complete without mentioning my 1974 Oldsmobile Cutlass (shown in November of 1981). It came after the Scamp, and it was the car in which I spent the majority of my teenage driving years. The moment I saw it I wanted it, and I convinced an acquaintance to sell it to me. I spent an entire summer in the hot sun painting a large building to earn the money to pay for it. It had a Rocket 350 and front bench seat. Sure, there were cooler-looking Cutlasses, but I liked that car as it was. I left the car bone stock but did what many teenagers do and installed a rockin’ stereo system. I remember it well: a new head unit with auto-reverse cassette player, an external 40-watt booster/equalizer, 6×9 Jensen Triaxials, and some Pioneer midrange/tweeters. I paid for that audio system by washing cars and trucks each Saturday at a local newspaper. A few years later I sold the Cutlass for some stupid reason and always regretted it. In a twist, a few years later, I found the car in the parking lot of a small appliance store, found the owner in the store, and bought it back. I restored the car and kept it for several years.
Jason Gonderman – 1968 Ford Mustang
My first vehicle was a fun one. When I was just 7 years old, my dad bought a 1968 Ford Mustang fastback with the intent that it would be mine when I turned 16. The car was a mess, and we spent the next 10 years restoring it as best we could with the little budget that we had. We removed the rusty panels, redid the interior, and freshened up the engine and transmission. Once it was running right we threw a quick single-stage red paintjob on it and I daily drove it until I bought my first truck almost two years after getting my license. Aside from not having a manual transmission, the car was perfect for a beginner driver. It had the 200ci inline six-cylinder engine, which despite having a two-barrel Weber carburetor (which I can still rebuild with my eyes closed) and Clifford headers was not what anyone would consider fast. It also had no power steering, and stupid me put a smaller steering wheel on it. And to top it all off, the car had manual-adjuster drum brakes at all four corners. It didn’t have a radiator shroud so it would overheat in traffic, the starter motor seized on more than one occasion, and it had a janky alarm that also left me stranded a time or three. I loved that car. Best of all I still have it. It’s taking up space in my parents’ driveway, but my dad and I can’t bear to get rid of it just yet.
Christian Hazel – 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass
Yes, this is the absolutely cheesiest, most mulletastic, completely embarrassing photo of me that has ever existed, but it’s also the only scanned print I have on hand of my first car. I’ve always been a gearhead, and much like the fictional character Joe Dirt (many of whose attributes I’m convinced were lifted directly from my early teenage years) I spent every dime I had on copies of Auto Trader. I started working as a busboy at the Red Wing Diner in Walpole, Massachusetts, at age 13. By the time I was approaching my 15th birthday I had saved every Christmas and birthday check, took count of my bonds and stocks relatives had bequeathed me at my birth, and was shopping for vehicles with an ideal price of around $2,500. I really wanted a ’55 or ’57 Chevy, and were it not for my dad’s insistence that the dual-quad 409 powering a $2,300 ’55 a few towns over wasn’t going to be reliable, my first car would’ve been a gray primer ’55 two-door post 210. But alas, that deal came and went. I called on or looked at some muscle cars that today would be considered high-falutin royalty, including a white-on-white ’68 GTO. But by the time we showed up at the guy’s place another dude had just returned from taking it on a test drive and had given the 455 a nasty rod knock. I learned some new swear words from the seller, who obviously wasn’t going to get anywhere near his $3,600 asking price, so we moved on.
Next was a ’70 Plymouth GTX with the 390-hp six-barrel 440, four-speed, and Dana 60 rear. The rear quarter panels had been eaten a bit by road salt, but the Black on Vitamin C Orange paint was original, and the ram air scoop shark mouth sticker was still there. My mom didn’t want my first car to have a manual transmission, so that was eliminated before I could even put up a fight. I wanna say that car was going for about $4,300 and restored today could fetch triple-digits. Oh well.
On and on it went from ’63 Bel Air coupes to big-block Chevy Novas until I finally found an ad for a ’69 Cutlass, no-post hardtop two towns over in Hopkington, Massachusetts, for $4,000. By then I was almost 15 and was only $1,200 short, which my parents thankfully spotted me. The seller had done “all the body work” and had given it a coat of Toyota Supra red acrylic lacquer. The interior had a new carpet and some decent maroon velour buckets and rear bench out of a ’76 Pontiac Grand Prix. The rear 10-bolt had been replaced with a junkyard 12-bolt with 2.56s and an open diff, and he had built a 0.30-over 455 with a nice TH400 backing it. I completely discounted the four-wheel drum brakes and obvious signs of Bondo because I was totally in love.
The engine made stupid power for the mid-1980s. The engine was loaded with 10.25:1 compression pistons, fully ported Ga heads, and had the largest hydraulic Olds cam Crane made. To get it to sort of idle it had Rhodes lifters, which did help a lot, especially with low-end torque production. With twin 600 cfm Holley 1850s, I could lay into the throttle while rolling in third gear at 30 mph and completely obliterate the rear tires without the transmission even kicking down a gear. Everybody thought I was going to kill myself in that vehicle, but I was honestly so scared of damaging it I never really drove it like a chucklehead. I just smoked a lot of BFG rear tire rubber. I wound up going through a couple 12-bolts before getting a good used one for $500 that came out of a local ’68 Pontiac GTO. It had factory posi and 3.31 gears, which buzzed the big-block a bit at freeway speeds, but at least it held together. I also went through three TH400s before getting the right rebuilder to put one together that could hang with the engine’s estimated 550 lb-ft of torque.
Eventually, the cam ate one of the lifters, and I got tired of dealing with the dual quads loading up the plugs at lower rpms. I swapped in a milder Comp Cams 280-grind cam and an Offenhauser 360-Dual Port manifold with a single 750 cfm Holley 3310. The horsepower probably dropped from roughly 460 to 400, and it didn’t make the crazy low-end torque that the dual quads and monster cam made, but it was a much happier daily driver.
Eventually I parked it in my mom’s yard in Massachusetts when I moved to California in 1994. By the time I came back with a trailer to drag it back to California in 2002 the bondo had let go, the frame was totally rotted away, and a tree had fallen on the windshield, smashing it. Mice made nests in the interior and ate the wiring, and rust had permeated the lacquer paintjob. I wound up pulling the engine and selling the rest to a local San Diegan who was intent on restoring it, but we lost touch and I’m not really sure what became of the car.
KJ Jones – 1973 Ford Maverick
My first car was a Saddle Bronze 1973 Ford Maverick. My mother bought it brand new, and I loved it.
The car was uniquely configured, in that it wasn’t a Grabber model, but it was optioned with high bucket seats…and no center console/floor shifter for the C4 automatic transmission.
I learned how to drive in the Maverick, and for my 16th birthday and getting my driver’s license, I told my mom that all I wanted was a box that had my own keys to the car. I got my keys, and we shared the car for a while, but eventually it unofficially became mine.
During our time of sharing, I modified it with slotted mags and G70 Series tires (hey, it was the late ’70s), air shocks, a Sun Super Tach II, Accel coil and wires, 8-track, and then cassette stereos, etc. No wonder she just conceded and gave it to me.
Upon the car being fully mine, I did my first driveway engine swap (a built 302) and proceeded to drive and enjoy my Maverick until I bought a ’68 Pontiac GTO.
The Maverick was then passed down to my cousin, who wasn’t a car guy, and he drove the thing into the ground!
Jered Korfhage – 1996 Honda Civic
I will still tell anyone who will listen that my 1996 Honda Civic, with its five-speed manual transmission and horsepower rivaling that of a farm mower, completed more off-road miles than most 4x4s in my hometown. This image shows the 2009 Toyota Matrix, however. The hatchback was subjected to snowy drifting, gravel roads, mud bogs, and many miles of rocky two-tracks across Colorado and Utah during my cross-country excursions. A sharp eye will see the plastic dangling from the undercarriage, ripped from its hangers as the front-wheel-drive Toyota tried to climb this rocky hill.
Verne Simons – 1967 Mustang
When I turned 15 I spent most of my time driving with my mom in her 1991 Toyota 4Runner SR5, yep the one with the disappointing 3.0L V-6 with a five-speed manual transmission. It was pretty much the cool mom’s minivan at the time. With my influence, the car was wearing a set of 31-inch BFG All-Terrain tires, so yeah, it was pretty cool for 1991. My mom was the more car-oriented parent, and she made sure that my sister and I knew how to drive a stick shift and knew how to change a tire if we needed to. At the time my dad was driving a 1988 SR5 Toyota 4Runner, also with the 3.0L and a five-speed. So until I was about 16 and a half, that’s all I had to drive with a healthy dose of “Hey, Mom (or Dad), can I borrow the car?” My sister also had the 1983 CJ-7 that would eventually become my first 4×4, but that was still a few years off.
At some point past 16 I saved up some cash and asked my kind grandmother for some more to buy a light blue (I think it was Clearwater Aqua) 1967 Mustang Coupe with a C4 and a 289. I paid $5,000 for it, and it was a great first car, shiny, rumbly, not too fast, and had drum brakes on all four corners, so I learned not to keep a braking space behind the car in front of me. I think it had 2.73:1 or so axle gears, so it would cruise on the highway and was quick enough to be fun (in my ignorant brain). I drove it all kinds of places I shouldn’t have, going fishing, and skiing, and learned that those old Mustangs are fairly competent off-road. At some point I added Cragar chrome wheels, then I tried to install a cam of some sort (I was in way over my head when it came to reinstalling the pushrods and rocker arms, and had to lean on a friendly local mechanic to put the thing back together), and a four-barrel Holley Carburetor. ‘Course, the factory heads on the 289 didn’t care what the cam did or if there was more fuel or air. Not much was gained by my first exploration into hot-rodding an engine.
At some point I parked the Mustang and talked my sister out of the CJ-7, and drove that primarily. Eventually I got tired of the Mustang, it didn’t have A/C and I grew up far enough south that A/C is more of a lifestyle than a vehicular option. I cried the day that I sold that blue Mustang (for $5,500). I sure hope to have another like it someday.
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