My Big, Old, Fast Favorite Car

Tracing our family’s “car genealogy” has been more difficult than tracing our family’s history, mostly because there are few photographs of our cars and few documents that were saved. The one stunning truth of this latest Carnival of Genealogy endeavor is that despite my love for photography since I was a youth, and despite my love for my parents’ car (later “my” car), I don’t have a single photograph of My Beloved. Perhaps that is why The Car has taken on mythical proportions in my memory. My parents and I can’t even get our memories in alignment on what it was! Well, it was definitely a Ford Torino. Or was it the Gran Torino? Was it a 1976? Hmm, maybe it was a ’74… Based on our collective memories and searching the internet for photos, let’s call it a 1974-76 Ford Gran Torino. (Yes, the Starsky and Hutch car, only not red with a white stripe.)

My parents bought the behemoth used, probably around 1978. At the time, I was only eleven years old, so I wouldn’t drive it for some time. My brother was 19, so he did drive it – and probably added a dent or two along the way. But, it was my mother’s car, and as such it was my primary means of transportation for a large part of my youth, teen years, and young adulthood. I finally got my license when I was 18 (when I could afford the insurance), and my mother insists that I “stole” it at that point. I thought we shared it, but Mom knows best.

Torino 1

The Torino is a legend, a chrome-bumpered baby-blue 4-wheeled Millennium Falcon — in other words, not too pretty on the outside, but oh could that baby move! Of course, it had been pretty on the outside up until my brother and I drove it. Unfortunately, the passenger side ran into one too many poles. Trim occasionally dropped off as you rode down the road. And in Philadelphia, rust was inevitable. But, that was just a disguise. All of the damage was on the right side of the car, so if I stopped at a red light in the left lane, I’d see someone to my right either give me a pitiful look or simply laugh outright. Sadly, I never got to see the look on their faces after the light turned green and I put several blocks between us in seconds. Ah, the days of the V-8 and affordable gas!

Besides the Torino’s speed, it was known for being big. Really big. Seriously big. My friend Rob christened it “The Anitaboat” long before I was licensed to drive it. “Anita” as the name of our chauffeur (that would be my mother), and “boat” because of its gargantuan size. The best thing about it was that you could fit at least 8 people quite comfortably – even more with a bunch of skinny teenagers. And, it was comfy, the equivalent of driving a sofa down the highway. Because of the lack of good shock absorbers, it was as bouncey as a sofa, too! In college, we had to relocate the staff and belongings of the yearbook office to another building that was not nearby. After trying to work out logistics, we simply drove over in my Torino, loaded up at least six people and tons of boxes, and drove to our new hideout to unload.

Torino 2

As we aged together and I drove farther distances to grad school and friends’ houses, my parents worried that The Car wouldn’t last. I disagreed, but one night in 1991 they did the unthinkable…they bought another car. To – deep breathreplace My Torino. I was working at the supermarket that night, and I remember the call with the so-called “good” news. This new interloper, this cheap young thing vying for my attention, was a sporty-looking 1987 Dodge Charger. “We’ll drive it up,” they said, “so you can drive your new car home!” “NO!” (I think the store manager came running over to see what happened down in my corner of the store.) “Please just let me drive The Torino home. One. Last. Time.” They did.

By then, it really wasn’t much to look at. The passenger side was dented and otherwise abused, and missing all of its trim. Rust was prevalent. The entire dashboard, including dashboard lights, the speedometer, and the fuel gauge, hadn’t worked for a few years after the car was hit from behind (no damage to the exterior…the car was a tank in disguise). But, despite its looks and brokenness, I loved that car. I’m not sure why – was it the memories? Was it because it had grown up with me and been a part of my life for so long? Even today, so many years later, I talk about The Torino like it was some spiffy, shiny classic vehicle that we should have kept. In reality, it went to the junkyard a couple of years after my parents’ friends’ son bought it from us.

Sure, I remember so many other cars from my life:

  • My Dad’s dark blue 1968 Oldsmobile (I think that’s what it was). A big armrest came down in the front seat that was just the right size for my child-size self to sit on. (Yes, no seat belts until I was a teen. No bike helmets either – it’s a wonder we all lived to adulthood.) On May 19, 1974, the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup, and the city went mad. We loaded into this car with my girlfriend and drove around, clogging up the streets, everyone honking like it was New Year’s or some war was over.
  • My Mom’s light blue Ford LTD (early 70’s? I was just a kid, so it’s hard to pinpoint a year). This car was even bigger than The Torino…if possible…and you could fit about twelve kids in the back seat. At least that’s how I remember it.
  • My Aunt Joan’s maroon late-1960-something Ford Falcon. I thought this car was the coolest-looking car ever. Of course, at the time it was probably just an old piece of junk that was all she could afford, but to my young eyes it was the most exotic-looking vehicle I had ever seen, and I wanted one “when I grew up.”
  • Rob’s borrowed station wagon, whose roof began to leak as we drove through a car wash, desperately trying to catch the incoming water in Coke cans and laughing until we cried.
  • Fr. George’s stick-shift Honda Accord – how many teenagers can fit in the back?
  • Mary Frances’ tiny Ford Escort that helped me get my driver’s license (what, you thought I’d attempt that in My Beloved Tank?) and took us down to South Street.
  • Kathy’s Toyota Celica, with Louie sticking up through the sun-roof pretending to be the Pope.
  • My brother’s blue late-80-something Camaro, and feeling grown-up when he trusted me enough to let me drive it (under pain of death if anything happened to it).
  • The Italian cab in 1985 with Sandy when we began to laugh too hard to remember how to say “Please, slow down, dear God!” in Italian.
  • Scott’s tiny, white, foreign 2-seater convertible – the first second time I ever got to ride with the wind in my hair. (How could I have forgotten Lynn taking me for a ride in not only a ’68 Mustang convertible, but also a cool ’57 Chevy. Yes, now that was actually bigger than The Torino!)
  • Frank’s beat-up Ford F-250 pick-up that’s older than my sister-in-law but still works just fine today.

But none of these compares to My Torino. It wasn’t the first car I owned, nor the first car I bought all by myself. But in my memory, it’s larger than life. I’ve been looking to replace my sporty 2001 car with something new for about a year now. I’ve test-driven two of the “top” cars and neither made me “want” them. My problem would be solved if I could only find a 1976 blue Gran Torino…

I don’t have any video of all the good times I had in The Car, whether with my parents or my friends or both, but the intro to That 70’s Show always reminded me of those times…

[This post was written for the 45th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Cars as stars! What car played a starring roll in your family history and what roll did it play?.]