June 10th, 2009
11:35 AM ET

If this used station wagon’s a rockin', don’t come a knockin'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/10/art.cars.jpg]

Jack Gray
AC360° Producer/Writer

There’s nothing like a hot ride. And my first car was nothing like a hot ride. A 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon. Baby blue with a generous array of leathery rust spots, it was the vehicular love child of an obese Smurf and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The car was a gift from my grandfather, for whom it had served the dual purpose of smoking lounge and elderly chick magnet. As with most things – especially his changeover from a black toupee to a white one – my grandfather had impeccable timing, giving me the car at the height of my high school insecurity. Because nothing makes a 16-year-old more self-confident than a battered station wagon manufactured in the previous decade.

That said, I’ve never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, or toupee. So I accepted the car just as I had accepted puberty, with profuse gratitude and quiet shame. And to my surprise, even though I would have preferred something red and Italian, The Celeb – as my friends and I called it – would come to serve me well. It was clean, the engine started on cold mornings and the brakes – unless I needed to stop – worked great.

Like many high school vehicles, The Celeb saw its share of youthful indiscretions. Cigarettes were smoked, beer was transported, and virginities were lost. At the time they all seemed like perfectly constructive activities. Though I suppose, in retrospect, I was just trying to keep up with President Clinton.

Fast forward a dozen years and I’m now car-less…memories of my baby blue Chevy brought back today by news that the House of Representatives has passed so-called “Cash for Clunkers” legislation. The idea, as I understand it, is to give Americans who turn in their gas-guzzlers vouchers for up to $4,500 toward the purchase of a new fuel efficient car. I’m out of luck on this one, since The Celeb is long gone. Which is just as well since Anderson has a policy about staffers displaying bumper stickers that read, “Come and Get It, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.”

So, with my gas-guzzling days behind me, I travel mainly on the New York City subway, a form of transportation for which there is little difference between overcrowding and an unsolicited lap dance. But, the price is right and I find comfort in the knowledge that by taking mass transit I’m doing my part to help the environment, even if on most days the experience ranks right below having my hair set on fire.

Still, I miss The Celeb and what it represented: Pride of ownership and the freedom to go where I wanted when I wanted.

And, of course, sexiness.

Follow Jack Gray on Twitter @jackgraycnn.

soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. Vicky

    My first car was a hand me down from my mom, a late 1960's/70's Toyota Corolla with a worn leather interior covered in shag, manual locks and roll down windows. Yes, I know what you're thinking, lucky me I got the suped-up car every gal dreams of...

    On good weathered days, it would go a top speed of 50 mph, woohoo... The car was so small and low, I often felt as if I was driving one of those matchbox cars, just not as sleek. The view was something to be jealous of, I had the previlege of seeing the underside of almost everycar infront of me, ahhh those were the days...

    When hurricane season kicked in, my car's version of defrost was rolling down the windows and sticking my head out to get a better view. On those days, I resembled and smelled like the interior of my car, all shaggy and wet.

    However there's a special feeling I get whenever I think about my first car, a feeling of freedom from debt and the ability to go wherever I needed to go, eventually. Insurance was about a quarter of what I pay for my current car, not to mention the mileage 30 miles to the gallon. Not bad for a clunker...

    June 11, 2009 at 9:12 am |
  2. Phil

    "...accepted puberty, with profuse gratitude and quiet shame..." excellent – that's bumper sticker material

    June 11, 2009 at 8:05 am |
  3. Lauren Cohen

    They no longer make my first car. Remember The Monza? (not Mazda, Monza) lol

    June 11, 2009 at 1:03 am |
  4. Leslie

    My mom and I had gone shopping to look at used cars and we saw this sweet little sporty thing that I loved and was hoping I would get. A few days later she comes home with a 1974 tan Plymouth Fury – this was 1982 and I was 18. I was mortified. Not only was it old , hideous and huge, it was a gas guzzler. I went up to my bedroom and cried. Fortunately, three years later I was rear ended and went to the hospital with minor injuries, I sued and used the money for a downpayment on a nice 1985 red mustang, which I tooled around in through downtown Chicago.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:02 am |
  5. Karen Gonzalez

    Great memories-mustard yellow '75 Vega-Fill up the OIL and check the Gas. It was a beast. The very best part was the 8-track tape deck my Dad had installed for me and the box of tapes he bought me at a garage sale. Talk about some variety-Everything from Led Zepplin to Gary Lee Lewis and the Playboys and listened to them all. Just like "This Diamond Ring"......no other car can ever shine for me!!!!!!!!

    June 10, 2009 at 11:35 pm |
  6. Gladys

    My first car was a 1984 Z28 Camaro and I look really good in my car as 21 yrs old. and I Was Ms. Hot and Sexy

    June 10, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
  7. MaDa

    I had a green Mercury Comet. Called it the vomit Comet. Ah....good times!

    June 10, 2009 at 11:10 pm |
  8. Val

    My first car was a 197? Cadillac Fleetwood...I was 17 yrs. old and the car was HUGE. I was afraid to turn corners. I could fit 13 of my friends in that car. It's a classic now, but back then I thought it was my worse nightmare. Only had it for about a month, then my dad had pity on me and bought me a 1976 Oldsmobile. It was big enough to lie down in...I had sense enough to keep the seats in their upright position...Thank God!

    June 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  9. Amanda Walton Fort Erie, Ontario

    My first car– a beat up 79 Pontiac Sunfire (although wasn't that old since I got it in 1986) held together with duck tape and sheet metal but I was so proud of it because that little peice of crap was all mine

    June 10, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Elizabeth Healey : San Clemente,CA

    OMG, want to talk about not looking a gift horse in the mouth and trying to accept your first car with gratitude... My fist car was a tan1973 Gremlin with orange detailing.... in 1985!!! My Mom was so proud of the fact she could actually afford to get me a car when I was still in high school – I told her anything would do – she said she got it from a lady in Palm Springs for $400.00 and I went to Laguna Beach High School in Orange County, CA where a bad car was Mommy's used BMW! WoW! Talk about humility!!!

    June 10, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  11. Angie§

    My first car was my gramps Renault! It took me everywhere.. I was 17. After about 3 yrs, the engine got hot–it had a glass overflow bottle.. My boyfriend sprayed it with the hose.. OMG.. it exploded.. Having no money to fix it, it got towed..My dad was none too happy...You always remember your first car!! 🙂

    June 10, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  12. Willa-Jo

    My first car was a sky blue Nissan Sentra, and it came delivered in a big pink bow for my 21st birthday. I loved this cute, bright, shiny new car and I felt like I was on top of the world when I got behind the wheel. Unfortunately I fell asleep at the wheel one morning and totalled my cute car, and paramedics had to pull me off the steering wheel. I loved my digital radio and the dash display. I was so glad I had fabric seats because the sun in NC can really cook your rear on some leather seats. I really miss that car.

    June 10, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  13. Lorene

    First Car – Divine! 1971 – 2 dr. Chevy Nova, orange bottom, white top.. called her "Orange Blossom", went like greased lightening with that little 302 V-8, did a little drag racing with her on track & on road!! Back seat brings back some fond memories! lol

    June 10, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  14. Steve Mc

    A red 1977 Pointiac Astre, their version of the Vega, which they somehow convinced my father was worth a few dollars more than the Chevy version of that lemon. I am still surprised that my friends could ever walk after unfolding themselves out of the horrid little back seat,

    June 10, 2009 at 9:13 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    Hey Jack!

    Well I didn't have a car in high school; I rode the school bus or my mother's red-hot Datsun which would not start on most days until you had pushed it up the hill and then let it roll down while trying to get it started. It generally took 2 tries. And for those having to do this on a regular or even semi-regular basis, here's a hint – don't tell jokes while you are pushing. Laughing and pushing are mutually exclusive activities and going to school with tread marks down your back is not a good way to get attention.

    I do remember my first car – got it in college – it was a tan Plymouth. The most memorable thing about it was its transmission going out on the way back from the mountains one day and getting tolled home. It was a good car otherwise and I loved the freedom it gave me. I don't guess you ever forget your first car – like a rite of passage.

    Thanks for another great post!

    June 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  16. Carol King, Tulsa OK

    My first car was a pristine 1962 Pontiac Tempest that my mother bought for me from a co-worker. It was a red 2 door coupe with a white (not vinyl) top and a 3 speed on the column. I only had the vaguest idea how to drive a stick shift, but I got in her and managed to get her moving. It took a few tries to figure out that it was an "H" configuration and not just up and down (ie: 3rd,2nd, 3rd). But she was patient with me as I figured it all out and she served me well for several years.

    Oddly enough, my second car was a teal green, 2 door, 1963 Pontiac Tempest coupe. This one was automatic, with the shifter on the dashboard. I called her "Sweet Pea" and my dad painted a little dude with a can of beer in his hand on the rear. I loved this car and wish I still had her.

    June 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Becca

    ahhh....1962 ford galaxy red and white, with a steering wheel that was so big...the car was a boat, but you could pile a number of friends in that car.... aww the memories... totaled it visiting my boyfriend in Muncie when i wasn't suppose to leave town... and that's another memory. LOL

    June 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  18. Tanya

    My first car was a white '69 VW Beetle. We would put 7 friends in it. "Who wants to be in the way, way baaaack?" Fun times.

    June 10, 2009 at 8:25 pm |
  19. Anna, HK

    Oh, forgot to mention .... first car was an Austin Morris (ex-Mum's), & then a Honda Civic (red), to no car now...

    June 10, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  20. Laura

    I had a red Daihatsu Charade. Kudos to anyone who knows what that was!!

    June 10, 2009 at 8:04 pm |
  21. John B

    Ah....an off-white (or was that dirt?) 1963 Ford Falcon. What a dud. Oddly, I came to learn that two other of my friends in adulthood had this same model as their first wheels! Too funny. Happily, I didn't drive it too long. No great memories there. LOL

    June 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  22. John Busbee

    My first car was a used 1981 Toyota Corolla hatchback that my Dad bought me shortly before I left home for college. The first week I had the car, it overheated when I was 5 or 6 miles from home. Stupid me kept driving it trying to get home until I cracked the engine block, so my poor father, who I know had spent money he couldn't really afford, paid to have the engine replaced/rebuilt less than a week after buying the thing! He never once yelled at me or complained about it. I had forgotten all about that until today.

    June 10, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  23. Kelly - Harrisburg, PA

    I was a little spoiled - My dad owned a Lincoln/Mercury dealership at the time, so I got a "demonstrator" Mercury Capri (1984?). My dad brought home their "White Lightning" one time to test it out and it scared me silly.

    oh, did I mention it had a hatchback? I loved that car:)

    June 10, 2009 at 7:15 pm |
  24. Susan

    Great piece! Looking forward to future reads.

    My first car was a 1976 Honda Civic. It was a stick shift, white in color, had a landau type top, and the siZe of a tuna can!! :):)

    I loved it and freedom was mine!

    June 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
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