Apropos of Nothing…

The legend of my first car — and I have witnesses.

Although I got my driver’s license at age 16, I was nearly 20 before I actually had a car. This was because I had lost my scholarship to the college I attended for my first two years, and had to transfer to the local, directional commuter college. Furthermore, in order to pay for that local etc., I had to get a job, and I had to drive to get to the job. However, the family was broke (as usual), so I faced a dilemma.

Providence entered the story, but because it’s my life I’m talking about, Providence displayed its usual sense of humor. The good news was that some friends of my family offered me a free car that they no longer wanted. The bad news was that:

1) The car was a 1976 AMC Pacer, in a somewhat sun-faded shade of what they used to call “Daisy Yellow”, and

2) they no longer wanted it because it had been T-boned by a pickup truck and the driver’s door and front fender were caved.

But as they say, beggars can’t be choosers, so Dad and I went to the local junkyard (where, oddly enough, there were quite a few old Pacers), and found replacement body parts. Granted, the replacement parts in question were blue, but the thing ran, so there you go. I had a ride, and it had a tape deck, and I drove myself and the Mad Dog to school and such.

And that was cool until one night, as the Mad Dog and I were driving through the neighborhood of Deanna Froelicher (the then object of my affections — you say stalker, I say awkward college boy; to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to) and I hit an ice patch, spun the car and hit a telephone pole. Mad Dog and I were OK, but I had once again crunched the driver’s door.

So back to the junkyard, where we find another driver’s door. This one is a different shade of blue, but beggars — well, you know. So Dad hangs the door on the car, and that’s when we discovered that the frame was bent — the Pacer was an early version of unibody construction. No problem. Dad spotwelded the door shut, and I could get in and out via the passenger’s door, or through the driver’s window if I felt like channeling my inner Duke Boy.

And that was cool, until one morning, as I’m warming up the car before I go to pick up the Mad Dog and head to the local, directional and-so-forth, I reach across the car to open the passenger’s door so I can go back into the house and get my books, and the interior door handle snaps off in my hand. So now, in order to get out of the car, I have to reach across, roll down the passenger’s window, reach outside and use the exterior handle, and then clamber out. But begga… Oh, hell, who am I kidding? But it still ran, so I still drove it.

And that was cool, until someone stole the car.

No, it’s OK. I’ll wait.

“Someone”, in this case, was my 15-year-old brother, who decided with a friend of his that they should borrow my keys in the middle of the night. One bad decision led to another, and they wound up driving it off an embankment a few miles from the house, where the car flipped end-over-end 1.5 times, and briefly caught fire until my brother (now with a broken collarbone) and his friend escaped by kicking out a window and putting the fire out with wet grass, after which they (as law enforcement types say) fled the scene. This led to a 4:30 phone call.

My dad and I picked up the phone simultaneously — Mom was out of town. After we said hello, the voice on the other end asked, “Do you own a 1976 Pacer that’s… ummm… yellow?”


“Well, it’s on Hathaway Road, lying on its top.” So Dad and I (having noticed my brother and his friend’s conspicuous absences) headed up to the accident site, where my car was totaled.

Now at this point, the obvious question might be “How could you tell?” My reply is that the tape deck was smashed up. Also, both axles were broken. The tow truck driver told me it would be $80 to haul it back up the embankment. I tossed him the keys, and told him I’d be back for my tapes later that day.

As it happened, I had already saved $500 to buy the next car, a 1972 Monte Carlo I called the “Monte Karloff”, as it was big, green, and scary looking, so I didn’t even miss work. And both my brother and his friend wound up compensating me for the Pacer (although in retrospect, I probably should have paid them), so I even came out ahead on the deal financially.

A couple of years later, I was telling this story to a guitarist I was working with, and about halfway through, he stopped me. “That was your car?” he said, incredulously.


“When I was in college, I’d see that thing sitting in the lot at school,” he said, “and I’d always say that no matter how much my day might have sucked, at least I was better off than that poor bastard.”

“Glad I could help,” I said.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Education, Family, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Apropos of Nothing…

  1. Ah, the AMC Pacer. I thought they looked way cool, really wanted one…

    • profmondo says:

      Well, for all the “fishbowl on wheels” and 70s color schemes, mine ran like a sewing machine, and had room for me, a passenger, and a 5-pc. drum kit. Yeah, mine looked like a clown car, and it wasn’t something you’d want to have to escape in a hurry (my brother and friend notwithstanding), but I do remember it fondly.

  2. Joel says:

    Ah. The ‘American Beetle’. Growing up, I rode in one that was baby blue with faux wood panels on the side. The summer sun would create a greenhouse effect in the back of the large windowed car. A parent in the neighborhood had this car and would cart all the kids to and from the local pool. You could get in still wet and almost be bone dry by the time the car left the poolside parking lot.

  3. Scott Z. says:

    I enjoy this forum, Smitty. Keep up the good ramblings…

  4. Scott Z. says:

    BTW, you seem much more “normal” as an adult. haha Maybe it’s me…

  5. J. Otto Pohl says:

    I never learned to drive in large part because I never earned enough to afford a car. Maybe someday I will be able to afford one. But, given everything else it looks doubtful.

  6. Alaska Jack says:

    The ’76 Pacer. And not just any Pacer, but the Pacer X. Oh, yeah. Imagine one in brown, complete with brown vinyl seats; now imagine it having been bought in New Jersey (brand new!) at a bargain since it didn’t have air; driven halfway across the continent to the charming berg of Oklahoma City, where upon arrival the temperature was a mere 112 Fahrenheit. IIRC despite every best effort to totally destroy it by exceeding the GVWR by a factor of 20, using it to haul (at times) upwards of 10 Cub Scouts (seatbelt laws-Pah!) and various other indignities, it lasted until roughly ’85 or so, when a vehicle donation group finally took it away for some unknown but probably nefarious purpose.

    To this day I still bear the (physical) scars from having my thighs welded to those brown vinyl seats after trips to the pool in summer, and the (mental) ones from much pointing and laughing by my friends.

    And to think, it’s being reported on today’s news that the Russians are mourning the end of the Lada’s production run…If only they knew πŸ˜‰

    • profmondo says:

      My first or second replacement door was off a Pacer X. And you know, I’m recognizing that for all the verbal abuse these things took, they actually were pretty enduring. Indeed, there’s one I see around Mondoville every once in a while — one of the fake woodies.

  7. nightfly says:

    The payoff was well-worth the buildup.

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