Opinion: Old cars drove me crazy

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Commentary by Ward Degler

My first car was a 1948 Studebaker pickup. I had just gotten out of the Army and it was something I could afford. That is to say, it was cheap.

It also wouldn’t go faster than 40 mph, and it got wretched gas mileage. I had gotten to the point I was ready to sell it, preferably to someone I didn’t like, when a neighbor asked me what was wrong with it.

“Top speed is 40 mph, even when I floor it,” I told him.

“I’ll bet the gas mileage is rotten, too,” he said.

“Horrible,” I said. “How did you know?” That was when he took another leisurely swig of his beer, scratched his chin and smiled. I hate it when people do that. It usually means they’re going to tell me something that will make me look really stupid.

I was right.

“This Studebaker has a special doodad under the gas pedal,” he said. “It’s the choke. When you floor it, you choke the engine.” He sipped his beer again, smiled and said, “If you stop flooring the gas pedal, it’ll probably go faster.”

Once again, he was right. After that I could cruise with the rest of them, and the mileage was better, too. When I tried to swear my neighbor to secrecy, he smiled again and asked me how much beer I had.

My second car was a 1950 DeSoto. Powder blue with seats so soft it was like being in bed. As a matter of fact, that may be what the factory intended when it was built. The thing about the DeSoto was, it had something called a fluid drive transmission. It was the kind where you put the car into drive, push down on the accelerator and then you waited. Slowly, the car would wake up, stretch and then begin to move.

Eventually, it would get up to road speed, and it was downright comfortable on the highway. In town, however, not so much. Other drivers hated to get behind me at a traffic light. Not only could that car never peel rubber, it couldn’t get up enough speed to make the next light before it turned red.

I’ve had a lot of cars through the years. Some, like the Studebaker and the DeSoto, had definite personalities. When I bought my farmstead in Minnesota, it came with a 1956 GMC pickup.

I immediately named it Horsey Sauce. That was because a bottle of horse liniment had spilled behind the dash and filled up the heater core. With the heater on, you had to open the windows. Even then your eyes burned.

They don’t make cars like that anymore. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

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