Impala

Perhaps this restored 1963 Chevrolet Impala shows what could have become of Chris Hardie's first car.

I don’t buy vehicles too often, preferring to get my money’s worth out of my wheels.

Recently I bought a fairly new pickup truck at a price that was more than double what we paid for our first house — a 1983 Liberty mobile home. And it’s galaxies removed from the $450 I paid in 1982 for another Galaxie — that one a 1971 Ford, to be precise, which was our first car as a couple.

We replaced the Galaxie with a 1976 Mercury Bobcat, purchased for the steep price of $2,500 at an interest rate of 14 percent. Times were hard in 1983, with high unemployment and an 11 percent prime interest rate.

The Bobcat was lemon yellow, an unfortunate match for the reliability of the car. Even after some repairs, the floor rusted out, and I could see the roadway under my feet. It was a little uncomfortable when it rained and very uncomfortable when I ran over a family of skunks one night coming home from work.

I stripped on the front porch and left my clothes outside. I poured an entire bottle of Hai Karate cologne on the floor of the Bobcat. The car had a permanent unique odor I believe was called Eau de Skunk.

We had our share of clunkers. To the best of my recollection, I have owned 22 vehicles.

Here’s the list (with the asterisks denoting vehicles I still own):

  • 1963 Chevrolet Impala
  • 1971 Ford Galaxie
  • 1976 Mercury Bobcat
  • 1973 Ford Pinto
  • 1979 Ford Futura
  • 1979 LTD II
  • 1973 Plymouth Satellite
  • 1975 Pontiac Bonneville
  • 1986 Ford Escort Pony
  • 1963 Ford F-100
  • 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity
  • 1997 Ford Escort Wagon
  • 1998 Mercury Sable Wagon
  • 1977 Isuzu P’up
  • 1979 Ford F-150
  • 1989 Ford F-150
  • 1999 Chevrolet Prizm
  • 1995 Ford Mustang
  • 1999 Chevrolet Prizm*
  • 1998 Ford F-150*
  • 2009 Pontiac Vibe*
  • 2016 Chevrolet Silverado*

Yes, I did own two 1999 Prizms. I still drive one of them and have 220,000 miles to show for it.

Unfortunately some of the vehicles didn’t last long. The 1963 Ford pickup I only drove a few times. That particular truck blew a cylinder while I was on the way to the town dump in 1989. I should have left the truck there.

I have lots of stories about these vehicles, but the first one on the list deserves a mention. I never drove the car, because I was 13 years old when I bought it. My brother drove it to my cousin’s house and back — a total of 4 miles — and used 3 quarts of oil. It was my first experience with a blown head gasket.

There once was an auctioneer in our neighborhood; the consignment sales were big events. One day my cousin Paul and I were at a sale and spotted the car. Visions of creating a big-block V-8 hot rod danced in our heads.

So intent we were to purchase the car that we were unwittingly bidding against each other. Normally that drives the price up, but the rest of the crowd must have known something we didn’t. The price stopped at $50 — which just so happened to be the amount of money I had in my pocket.

Paul drove the car because I didn’t know how to operate a three-speed manual. It ran out of gas a half-mile from home. We practically sprinted the rest of the way, eager to share the news with my brother Kevin and my other cousin Brad.

While Paul and I were on the way home, Kevin and Brad were eating lunch. Kevin was reading the auction bill in the shopper.

“Look,” he laughed to Brad. “It says there is a 1963 Chevy and it ‘runs.’ I wonder what sucker is going to buy that.”

He didn’t need to wait long to find out. I burst through the door.

“Guess what I bought,” I said.

“Did you buy a 1963 Chevy that runs?” Kevin asked.

“Yep, but it ran out of gas on the way home.”

We carried a can of gas down the road and started the car.

Now was the hard part. How were we going to break the news to my parents?

To buy some time, Kevin parked the car in the weeds behind one of our barns. Unfortunately it was right next to the bluff road that Dad decided to use that day on his way back from cutting hay.

“Whose car is that?” he challenged with his booming voice. “Kevin?”

“Don’t look at me,” Kevin said. “It’s Chris’ car.”

“Chris? What the hell did he buy a car for?”

“I’m going to make it into a hot rod,” I said.

Dad’s response was a series of colorful metaphors, hand-waving and head-shaking.

After we discovered that the head was cracked and it was more work than we thought, I decided to sell the car. Who knew; I might be able to make some money.

I put an ad in the local shopper. Unfortunately, I was in class — eighth-grade, to be precise — when the phone rang with a hot buyer.

Dad answered.

“How much do you want for the car?” the buyer inquired.

“Fifty bucks,” Dad said.

I came home from school and found that both my project car and visions of turning a profit had vanished.

I often wonder whether the old Chevy ever ran again. Perhaps it became a car show trophy winner.

More likely it became scrap.

But it will always be the car that I owned that I never drove.

Former Tribune editor Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep and cattle on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm.

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