I’m sure all of us can remember the first time we drove a car. I’m talking about one powered by an internal combustion engine, and even better would be one that was licensed to be on a paved road. I know for me it took a bit of thinking … let’s face it that was a long time ago.
For starters, the first time I drove a big-boy car would have been around the time I was 10 or 11 when my dad took me out to a huge parking lot … yes, it was empty. He plopped me behind the wheel and said, “Well, you are getting your wish.” Apparently I had been talking nonstop—incessantly, if you listen to my mom. Dad finally gave in and thought if he let me push the gas, hit the brakes, and make a few turns that would shut me up and probably scare the crap out of me.
OK, truth be told, and my parents never found out, but my best buddy would have his older brother take us out in a Corvair (remember, the bane of Ralph Nader’s existence?). So by the time my dad thought he was taking me out for my first drive I already knew the ropes, or so I thought; but I didn’t let on.
My first “authorized” driving lessons came in a 1949 Studebaker Champion … the car that didn’t know if it was coming or going. But that’s where I learned about oil changes, oil bath air cleaners, and rebuilding generators. In two years I graduated to a 1950 … neither it nor I still was always sure which direction it was pointed. But it served me well learning how to drive.
My first real serious attempts at learning how to drive were handled in my parents’ 1956 Chevy Del Ray … automatic and straight-six, not exactly the boulevard threat I was hoping to chauffeur. Mom wanted nothing to do with teaching me how to drive as she was convinced I was the “devil’s seed” and nothing good could possibly come from putting a car under my control. Dad was a little better … his take was, “He can drive himself where he needs to go and I don’t have to get out of the recliner.” Dad was a practical man.
Of course, while all of this was going on I was getting additional offsite driving lessons from the local big brothers in a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville, a 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix (still one of my all-time favorite cars), a 1955 GMC panel truck, and eventually my parents’ 1964 Dodge Dart GT (slant six and punch-button auto). I eventually took my driver’s test in the 1964 Dart and aced it.
But the one time that I will always remember was one of the shortest trips. The shortest were the times I would get into the 1956, back it out of the garage to the end of the driveway, and then bring it back into the garage. Probably did that 50 times or so but it was that one fateful day when I got bored driving to the end of the driveway and then back into the garage that led me astray.
After considerable coaxing from my friends who only had one thing in mind, “Let’s see if Brennan is stupid enough to take the car around the block and then get caught by his parents.” Remember that I come from and Irish-Italian Catholic family so there’s lots of yelling and screaming, smacks to the back of the head, and always being taken down to the priest for confession. I was forever warned that I was destined to go to hell if I didn’t straighten up.
Well, I backed the ol’ 1956 Chevy out of the garage, we lived on Corvette Street—does anyone else besides me see the irony in that? It was only a mile and a half around the block. Left out of the driveway and south on Corvette Street, make a right on Healey and head west, right turn and head north onto Gilbert, and then east after a right turn on Cunningham, which led me back to Corvette and home. (Briggs Cunningham would later become one of my eternal heroes because of his efforts with the 1960 Corvette at Le Mans.)
Easy as pie, no problems, and I was the “Mac Daddy” to all of my buddies.
Well, that lasted about as long as it took for my mom and dad to get home as they had gone to a friend’s house to look at a modern color television, maybe it was a Packard Bell with that newfangled remote control? You see as Dad walked through the garage he noticed that the Chevy felt warm, like someone had been driving it!
“Hey, you idiot, did you take the Chevy out and think that I wouldn’t notice?”
“No sir!” I said in youthful yet firm voice. I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. So technically I wasn’t lying ’cause you know what happens in an Irish-Italian Catholic family if you were caught lying? Back to the priest, into the confessional, Holy Water sprayed all over your head, and half a dozen rosaries as penance. But the worst of all was what was waiting for me at home.
After Dad got done yelling and grounding me, my mother crying for the better part of the evening as she was convinced I was going to hell because my dad was going to kill me, all worked out. I had to wash both cars every weekend for three months, mow the lawn every week (no help from Dad), but the worst of all was washing the dinner dishes (we didn’t have a dish washer) for the next three months. That sucked, but jeez it was fun driving; and to this day nothing replaces a good drive in the hot rod. I think I need to go out in the garage.
Source: Hot Rod
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