Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The First Car I Bought

The first car I bought was a huge mistake but it certainly figured prominently in many aspects of my life from the moment I bought it to its bitter end, roughly 5 years later.

It was a 1968 Karmann Ghia coupe with a white hard top and black “leather” seats and not much on it that worked. In fact, when my dad first saw it, he encouraged me to take it back right away because it was in such awful shape that the electrical system didn’t even work (and that was likely the lesser of all of the evils). But, I didn’t listen to him; it was my first purchase, after all, and I didn’t feel like going back to where I’d bought it and attempt to return it. Also, since I signed a piece of paper that said, “This car is sold AS IS”, I didn’t think they’d give me the time of day, either. Oh, I STILL had so much to learn then about standing up for myself!

How did I end up with such a stellar piece of crap? I could blame it on my sister and my best friend’s sister since they went along with me to the used car place and did their part in talking me into buying it. But, in the end, it was entirely my fault for not doing my due diligence and researching what $2,000 (the amount my Father gave me) would get me by the way of a DECENT and RELIABLE used vehicle.

No, true to my fashion back then, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t look in the paper (really) or talk to people whom I knew “knew” cars (including both my Father and my dad). My boyfriend at the time was relatively helpless when it came to cars. He had his “baby”, a Camero, but, if memory serves, he was always having issues with it, too. No, he was not going to be any help at all.

For whatever reason, the three of us; me, Kathy and Lynda, ended up in National City (a relatively icky suburb of San Diego somewhat near the Mexican border town of Tijuana; in fact, my guess is my car CAME from Tijuana) at a creepy used car place. Maybe we happened to be driving by and one of us spotted the “sweet” little car and we just HAD to stop and look at it? Frankly, I don’t recall, but, I certainly wished later we’d not stopped.

But, stop we did. I told the gentleman (word used loosely) who came out to assist us that I was looking for a car and I had $2,000 to spend. Dumb, dumb, dumb, because, of course, all of a sudden, even the crappiest car on the lot cost $2,000, and, in fact, I ended up paying $500 MORE than that for the Ghia.

We did look at a few other cars (boring, staid and, likely, no better mechanically than the one I ended up with). But, my eye kept getting drawn back to the Karmann Ghia in all its spiffy little splendor. We took it out for a test drive, and, I really cringe when I write this, I couldn’t see over the steering wheel because the seat was extremely low. Why? Because the floorboards were rotting and the seat was sinking through them. Seriously, I was in danger of my feet going through the floor ALA Fred Flintstone (although, I guess, I might have been able to propel the damn thing much better on my own foot power than with what the car itself offered).

And yet, I STILL bought it! I drove it home from National City that day. A few days later, I drove it up to Palos Verdes to show it to my dad (this is when he told me to take it back). Realizing that I wasn’t going to, he did his dandiest to do whatever he could to hold it together. I think he may have had to duct tape one of the headlights on and he spent quite a bit of time on that electrical system so that I could safely (and legally) drive the car at night.

I believe in all honesty that the car didn’t run more often than it did. I vividly recall having to take the bus to SDSU many, many times. Oh, why did I not just hold onto the 1972 Ford Pinto that my sister inherited after I bought my nightmare? Come to think of it; no wonder she was encouraging me to buy the Ghia!

Likely because it was such a piece of shit and also because I was awful those days about taking care of my property, I neglected to check the oil/have oil put into the engine. I’m not saying I didn’t do if frequently enough; I’m admitting that I didn’t do it, period. Ever. Something which I paid for dearly maybe a year after I bought it when the engine seized up on me driving south on the 405 Freeway after a weekend visit at mom and dad’s. There I was, speeding on down the road with my cat Frankie on my lap (yes, on my lap, I didn’t own a cat carrier; he usually hung out either on my lap or in the ever-present laundry basket) when the car made a dreadful burping sound and heavy, black smoke started pouring out the rear end (where the engine was located; Volkswagen, you know).

Luckily, I was able to pull over to the left and park. Yes, the left. So, there was a lot of traffic zipping past me on both sides. Needless to say, I was FREAKED because I thought the car was going to explode. I grabbed my purse and Frankie and went running down the freeway as fast as I could in order to get away from the impending disaster.

Nothing happened, so, after a few minutes, I walked cautiously back to the car and got back in. I attempted (fruitlessly) to start the car. After sitting there for a few minutes trying to decide what to do, I got back out of the car and stood looking at it. I must have looked quite pathetic and forlorn standing there with my cat under one arm and a woebegone look on my face as a man pulled up behind me (with several children in his car) and offered to take me to the next exit so I could “call someone for help”.

Yes, this was back in the days when, if one needed to make an emergency call, oneeither had to use one of those phones allocated along the freeway in stations or get to a gas station or convenience store. This is where the nice man took me and where I called my dad (who, luckily, was at home).

I waited at that convenience store for about an hour before my dad showed up (none too happy, as you might imagine, knowing as he did what was likely ahead of him that evening). Sure enough, after getting the car towed to a gas station/mechanic (closed because it was Sunday), he had to drive me and Frankie on down to San Diego, then, turn around and drive the 2 ½ hours back home. Dads being dads, he did so, grumbling about it, but, he also bought me dinner on the drive down so I knew he still loved me.

And, with a friend of his from work, he put a new engine into the car. It took several weekends, but the car was in fine shape when they were done. I did have to pay him and mom back for the parts, but, the car was finally worth driving.

Over the next few years, it continued to have various problems (because, remember, it was at heart a piece of crap). I continued driving it, though; couldn’t really afford another one and my sister had long since destroyed the Pinto-Bean (by not putting oil in it!)

When I moved up to the South Bay area to take a job at TRW in Redondo Beach, that car took me there. I was still driving it a year or so later when I met my first husband, John. He certainly came to despise that car as, dreadfully similar to what had occurred a few years prior, the car seized up on me AGAIN (this time going the opposite direction on the 405 on my way to John’s house). John, like my dad before him, ended up putting a new engine in the car (although I have to say, he was nowhere near as gracious about it as my dad was and our relationship almost came to an end over the whole fiasco).

The car finally met its bitter end in a completely unexpected way perhaps a year after it received its 2nd new engine. John and I were driving it to the local car parts store (for once, not for a part for it). We’d decided to stop at a favorite fast food restaurant, El Pollo Loco, for lunch. It had been raining earlier in the day and there were many puddles of standing water in the streets and on the sidewalks. As we pulled out of the parking lot after lunch, John decided to go down a smaller, less trafficked residential street rather than the main road in front of the restaurant. Not too far down the street, which was lined with parked cars, John drove through the middle of a large puddle, which caused the water to spray up like a tidal wave over the little car. For a moment, we were both blinded (and both giggling about it, for some reason), and, as we were, there was thud on my side of the car. By the time John got the wipers on (which, miraculously, worked), we were able to see that the car had been scooted across the street by the impact of its being hit by another car. Turns out the driver of that car had been parked along the street and pulled out without looking and so rammed right into us.

John got the Ghia over to the curb (it was still drivable, but in a pitiful state to see). As we opened our car doors, the man driving the car that had hit us came running up the street towards us waving his arms and yelling, “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault! I didn’t look! Are you both ok?” Obviously, his insurance company had never had the “don’t admit fault” conversation with him, but, no matter, as, directly behind him as a uniformed police officer who had seen the entire thing.

As it turned out, the driver had State Farm Insurance; we had State Farm Insurance, so we figured we’d not have too much trouble getting the claim taken care of. Wrong. Despite the fact the car was obviously totaled (amazing that neither of us were injured), the insurance company balked at totaling the car. One thing I must say about my ex husband; he was never one to back down if he thought he was in the right, especially if it had something to do with money. Of course, their client had admitted fault and a police officer had been present (and offered to do “whatever” to assist us). So, ultimately, John prevailed and the car was officially totaled and we received a check.

For $2,500. How ironic is THAT?


Analee said...

"he also bought me dinner on the drive down so I knew he still loved me."

best line of the whole story which was great, by the way.

Immanuel Llorens said...

Haha, well, sometimes we get unlucky in life. At the very least, the irony was worth more than the car, right? In any case, when buying a used car, you've really got to see if the car is in good condition. Sure, checking the tires, engine, and oil, can be a time consuming task. But it would be a whole lot better in the end for you if you do so.