Owning life-size hot wheel wasn’t such a cool thing


Let’s see a show of hands of those who have had their car seat catch on fire – while driving.

I’m thinking there’s only one of us in the vicinity and luckily, I lived to tell the tale.

Some 45 years ago, I was spending the night at a church day camp site when I was roused awake by a couple of park rangers who informed me that they noticed my car was on fire. So they doused it.

“Wait…what?’’ was the most legible thing I could manage as I rubbed sleep from my eyes.

“Yeah, we were driving by and saw it on fire. You’d better be careful, though, because those seats tend to hold embers,’’ one of the rangers said.

Still half asleep, I found a jug of water and poured it on my car seat and went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later while driving home, it became painfully clear that this 1962 Plymouth Valiant was probably the only one of its kind with heated seats.

Weaving in and out of traffic, I felt like I was in a Keystone Kops movie while searching for a water hose. Gas stations back then had them, and I finally got it put out.

Unfortunately, car stories such as that one are only too common with me.

My next car, a 1966 Chevy Bel Air, worked fine until someone (me) neglected to take care of the grinding noise coming from the right front wheel.

Turns out it was a bad wheel bearing which, as I found out, is kind of important.

Driving along a street in my college town one day, I “almost’’ made a left turn. The wheel broke off the axle and began bouncing down the street, leaving me to stare at a car sitting at a cockeyed angle in the middle of the intersection.

I wound up giving the car to the wrecker guy so he’d take it away. You might think I was happy that at least it didn’t catch on fire. But, as it turns out, the carburetor actually did burst into flames in my future wife’s driveway a couple of months before the wheel left us.

Next was a 1963 Chevy II Nova station wagon (with curtains no less).

The floor beneath the driver’s seat rotted out, leaving me sitting at an angle where my head was even with the horn on the steering wheel. Thus, the “Baby-mobile’’ was born.

Oh, and the key broke off in the ignition but it still started because all you had to do was turn the switch. Good thing no one else knew that or it could have been stolen. Um, maybe not.

My dog Radar loved that car because he could jump into the back and sleep (because the tailgate’s power window didn’t work.)

I wound up selling it (making sure Radar wasn’t still in the back seat) and buying a 1978 Opel Kadett.

This one – which my wife refers to through clenched teeth as “that red car’’– was perhaps the worst of the bunch. Considering my auto history, that’s saying a lot.

The odometer was rolled back (illegally), the trunk didn’t open and the dashboard was coming off. When we decided to try and trade it in the brakes went out. I had to drive about 30 mph along back roads to get to the dealer about 60 miles away. This episode convinced me car dealers will take anything in trade.

We wound up with a relatively uneventful Chevy Citation, that is, unless you count the wreck that produced my broken nose.

At the same time we also had a 1974 VW Beetle, “the most fun car’’’ we’ve had, says the missus. (It was great but it didn’t top my 1997 Jeep Wrangler).

On our honeymoon, the starter went out on the Beetle so we had to park it on top of hills so we could pop the clutch and get it started.

For the next few years we were able to get relatively new vehicles which carried less of a chance of trouble. Having kids pushed us in the direction of SUVs and the like.

Strange, isn’t it? The newer the vehicle, the fewer problems you’re likely to have.

It’s almost time to buy another one. Maybe we need to make sure a fire extinguisher is one of the extras.


Special Sections