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Our First Cars - Part 2

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We did this once before, and it triggered an outpouring of great memories from our readers about their first set of wheels. It was fun, so we're going to do it again. Here's another trip down memory lane from a few Speedway Motors employees talking about their first rides. Some were outrageously cool. Some were kinda dorky. But at 16, it doesn't really matter. Here's another throwback to a time when all we needed to be happy and free were four tires that mostly held air and a full tank of gas!

Mark Houlahan – Copywriter – 1966 Ford Mustang
This photo, from 1988, was when I was working on the body. I was working at a Lincoln-Mercury dealer and bought all new Ford front sheetmetal (hood, fenders, valance, etc.) and was slowly working my way through the rust issues.

Growing up a teenager in the mid-1980s the high school parking lot was a mix of late ’60s and early ’70s muscle cars, including Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, and more. You’d also spot some early ’80s performance cars like Fox Mustangs and IROC Camaros. You really knew who had mom and dad pick up the tab for their first car versus those that worked a job at the local burger joint or grocery store. Me, I rode my 10-speed to school my freshman and sophomore years being too cool for the bus and all. However, in 1985, as I entered my junior year of high school that would all change. I had my driver’s license and I was ready for that high school parking pass sticker!

My after-school job was working at a grocery store, where I would borrow car magazines (remember those?) from the shelf and retire to the break room for lunch and some education. I remember being a fan of 3rd gen Novas (that bright yellow Nova with big blower through the hood on the cover of Car Craft certainly helped!) but also liked 2nd gen Camaros (neighbor had a split-bumper, black with gold stripes!). While my dad was a big car fan (drove Lincolns mostly, but had a Galaxie in his high school days) I never really considered him a “Ford guy” and I wasn’t really locked into a specific brand at that age myself. I know some are, but my dad wasn’t much of a car guy. We never changed oil together or installed new spark plugs. I missed out on the whole giving dad the wrong tool or not holding the flashlight just right for him that others joke about.

Today, I use my tribute Anniversary Gold 1966 Mustang for cars & coffee, cruise ins, and car shows and every time I get behind the wheel, I not only make new memories, but those high school memories come flooding back.

So back to 1985. My dad picked up a 1966 Mustang hardtop for my mom to drive. It was for sale from a high school buddy’s older brother. I went to look at it with him and my first memory was seeing the running horses in the “Pony” interior the car had. I thought that was pretty cool, but didn’t know much about Mustangs really at that point. Mom only drove the car a few months and decided she didn’t like it. Too low to the ground, not practical, all that other stuff. With a purchase price of $800 (those days are long gone!) I told my parents I wanted it. I took $800 from my grocery store paycheck savings, handed it over for the title and I was now the owner of a gold with black interior 1966 Mustang hardtop. I had to pay for gas and any repairs, but my parents covered the insurance. Off to school I went, feeling like king of the hill.

"Pony" interior.

All through those last two years of high school I did small upgrades/repairs and learned all I could about Ford’s little Mustang. I bought books (way before the Internet and hitting Google search) and learned to decode the VIN and tell Mustang years apart. I learned my hardtop was originally a V8 car (we bought it with an inline six swapped into it) and that it had a blank paint code (special order paint), and a few other weird things. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I would learn that my first Mustang was a very rare “Anniversary Gold” edition that Ford built to celebrate the Mustang’s sales success of selling over one million units in barely two years of production. These cars were all built at the San Jose, CA plant on the same day with the same build codes. No records exist today (Ford destroyed 1965 and 1966 build records to make room before the age of computer punch cards), but the generally accepted number is that roughly 50 cars were built.

'66 Mustang tribute

Sadly, the Mustang met its demise on the way to my college graduation dinner with my mom in the passenger seat. Many years later (1999 to be exact) I bought a very rough 1966 Mustang hardtop and built it as a tribute/clone to my first Mustang and I still have it to this day.

A Mustang and a Mustang.
Rick Vierra - Customer Experience Auto Tech - '58 Ford Sedan Delivery

My first car, 1958 Ford Sedan Delivery. I bought the car in 1982 at the age of 18. I come from a racing and car family, even mom drove a 1966 GTO. I looked at many cars, 66 Nova and even a Chevelle, but the Ford guy in me won out. My cousin heard that that car was coming up for sale so as soon as we could we took a look. I loved the car from the moment I saw it, the lines, the dash, the grill and chrome. I bought the car on the spot, with help from my parents. $2500 later it was mine, drove it home that night. After a restless sleep, woke up early the next morning to get to washing and waxing, a total detailing job. Then time to go show it off. It had a 390 Ford big block with a 2-barrel carb, not big power, but it ran and looked great and had a chrome air cleaner and valve covers.

The first upgrade was to get it to sit right, cut a coil or two out and blocks in the rear. Then came more power, I worked at an automotive machine shop, so power was in my blood. I picked up a old set of factory three deuces, rebuilt the carbs and bolted it on, now we had some power. A year later I started gathering parts for a new engine with, you know, more power. A 406 big block, Delong racing cam and that three deuce set up, man that car would run now. I drove that car everywhere; it was my daily driver and gas was under $1.00.

I looked pretty cool crusin the local strips in the Bay Area of California and maybe doing a little bit of street racing, this thing was a Camaro killer. Wash it up on a Thursday night so I was ready for the strip on Friday and Saturday nights. I just loved to pop that hood to show off the big block with all those carbs, good for my ego, ha. I owned the car for 15 years, never towed, only broke once, but limped it home in low gear. It is hard not to feel a bit cooler than others when you’re in a cool car, love that feeling. The best part is you get to hang out with other car people and in my mind, car people are the BEST!

I miss the days of driving my 58 Ford, but I did replace it with an even older Ford, so all good, but this car will always be special, thinking of her always makes me smile. I wonder where she is today?

Zach Raddatz - CX Technical Chapter Lead - '72 Nova
'72 Nova

The story of my Nova began with my father looking for a replacement daily driver for himself. Gas was becoming more expensive and 8mpg from his 76 dodge pickup wasn’t helping the budget any. He was looking for a Honda to drive back and forth to work, so every Thursday he would look at the local Thrifty Nickel newspaper. Naturally, he would look at cool cars listed for sale while keeping his eyes open for a gas sipper for himself. The year was 1999 and I was 14 years old, two years away from even thinking about getting a car for myself. One afternoon we made a stop to look at a car, and unbeknownst to me it was a red 1972 Nova. I was surprised he would want something like that to drive every day, but after questioning him he said this was for me, not him. I’m not sure how to explain the excitement that came after hearing that! I immediately started thinking about what things I could do to fix it up and the good times that could be had with a car like this. A deal was made for the car and $650 later we were on our way home with it.

After spending some time looking the car over, it was apparent that the car had been neglected for a long time. It had the usual rust in the trunk floor and quarter panels, but I didn’t care. I wanted to drive it no matter how rough it was. The first order of business was to get it running better… When we got the car it had a tired 350/TH350 and definitely needed some help. With guidance from my dad, we started looking for another engine to rebuild. After buying a couple of engines that didn’t work out, we ended up with a cherry standard bore 350 4 bolt block. With a brand new rotating assembly from Speedway Motors, a rebuilt set of 2.02 heads and a crane cam we were in business.

Fortunately, after almost 24 years I still have the car! It is currently at a close friend’s restoration shop getting all new sheet metal and hopefully will be back on the road in the next couple of years. I could go on and on but spending weekends with friends wrenching on and cruising our cars were some of the best times I have ever had. This set the tone for a lifelong hobby and definitely inspired my career path.

Thanks for taking this little trip down memory lane with us. Now let’s see yours: share your pictures and stories with us on Facebook! Bonus points if you still have it and send pictures of it “then and now”.

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