Almost no one really likes their first car, unless they have wealthy parents, a good paying job, or bad taste in cars. I was no exception. My first car was a refrigerator white 1984 Chevrolet Cavalier with ~140k miles on the clock. My dad and I spent a day with Scotch-Brite pads scrubbing mold and dried sap off the roof, and I got my first taste of Bondo using it and mesh gutter screens to patch the rusted-out doors. It was frighteningly, dangerously slow, liked to lock up the rear brakes in the rain, and was ugly as sin. More importantly, it was also my first oil change, first tuneup, and first lesson in paying someone else to fix what I was unable to. Still, it was freedom, a rolling refuge from teenage boredom. If I felt like wasting time at Best Buy or The Record Exchange, I no longer had to bug my parents to take me. I could (and did) spend hours driving nowhere in particular, with Neil Young’s “Decade” and U2’s “War” as my rolling soundtrack.
And it was free, too.
In one of the coolest things that anyone has ever done for me, my next-door neighbor gave me his old commuter car for my 16th birthday. Why his commuter car couldn’t have been a ’63 Riviera, I don’t know, but a Cavalier was certainly better than walking. That sentiment didn’t last long, however, and about a year and half later I was successful in persuading my parents to buy one of my childhood dream cars, a 1987 Monte Carlo, as an early graduation present. My mom took over Cavalier piloting duties for a few months until it was put out to pasture.
For a kid who had grown up reading Hot Rod and Popular Hot Rodding from cover to cover and dreaming of thundering V8-powered muscle cars, the Cavalier had few redeeming qualities. In hindsight, it’s hard to hate something that was free and became my introduction to my favorite past-time: cruising down a curvy back road with the windows down.