There’s a new buyer’s incentive in town and it’s called “Cash for Clunkers.” Lots of people are taking advantage of this government program, but here’s an interesting fact—in 1979, we actually paid cash for clunkers and we liked it.
When I received my driver’s license, Larry, a friend of the family who knew a lot about cars, picked me up one afternoon and told me we were going shopping for a car. “Score!” I thought to myself as I hopped in his vehicle. There would be no more long trips to high school on the city bus, hanging on to a strap that hung precariously from the ceiling while the driver took every corner on two wheels. I closed my eyes and smiled as I imagined myself in a new convertible Mustang or Camaro or better yet, a TransAm with T-Tops.
A few minutes later, the car stopped and I opened my eyes. I stared at the vehicles that lined the car lot—they were rusty, dented, and absolutely none of them were cool. I followed Larry out of the car and slowly walked behind him as he perused the used vehicle inventory like an expert. He muttered to himself, “1969 wasn’t a good year for the Chevy Nova,” as he passed by an orange muscle car that I already knew I wouldn’t be caught dead driving. “Oooh, now there’s a beauty in mint condition,” he said as he passed a 1979 Ford Country Sedan with wood paneling and venetian blinds in the back window.
This time it was me who muttered, “Someone kill me now and put me out of my misery.”
Suddenly, Larry stopped in front of a blue monster—a 1973 Chevrolet Bel Air. A used car salesman in a leisure suit suddenly appeared from behind a large sign that said, “Cash only for all cars—no returns no matter what—we’re not kidding, but we sure appreciate your business!”
The car salesman put out his cigarette on the tire and then started his well-rehearsed shtick, “She’s gorgeous, isn’t she? One owner and only 120,000 miles. She might need a little work on the transmission, but other than that, she’s in great condition.”
Larry walked around the car, kicked the tires a few times, and said, “How much?”
“Seven hundred even,” the car salesman said as he lit up another cigarette.
“Six fifty,” Larry bargained.
“Six sixty one and a bicentennial quarter and she’s yours,” the car salesman replied as he blew a smoke ring.
“Sold,” Larry said.
“My life is officially over,” I thought to myself, “because I’ll now be driving the same car as my grandmother.”
I peered in the windows and sighed. Maybe a sheepskin seat and steering wheel cover could increase the car’s cool factor. As Larry handed over the cash for my clunker, I got behind the wheel and started the car.
Now the used car salesman wasn’t the only one smoking. A blue cloud formed behind the car. “SHE MIGHT NEED A LITTLE WORK TO THE MUFFLER TOO!” the car salesman yelled in the window to me.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THE LOUD MUFFLER!” I shouted as I pointed to my ear.
Larry hopped in the passenger seat. As I pushed the gas pedal, there was a 60-second delay until the car lurched forward. “SHE’S A BEAUTY, ALL RIGHT!” Larry yelled in my ear. "Oh yeah," I thought to myself as I wondered where I might buy a gas mask as carbon monoxide fumes quickly filled the interior of the car.
I drove my 1973 Chevrolet Bel Air the rest of high school and part of college. She was very predictable because I always knew as soon as I stopped at a light, she would stall. On a positive note, I soon discovered that my Bel Air could easily fit six friends inside and fourteen in the trunk, which happened to be very convenient when we were trying to sneak teenagers into the drive-in theater. The Bel Air took turns like a champ and could burn rubber like the best of them. She had a V-8 engine and could go from 0 to 60 mph in … well … let’s just say in less than five minutes.
In 1982, I traded her in for a 1977 Camaro. Now, that Camaro was a real beauty—no question about it—but I still think about my Bel Air with great fondness,
She was the Queen of Clunkers, but she wore her crown proudly.