I bought it at night, in a dark parking lot, from a guy who had stupidly waxed the vehicle in the broiling sun—leaving weird circles burnt into its silver-colored flesh; a flaw I failed to notice until seeing the car in the light of day the morning after I'd purchased it. I was 17 and not very bright. Yet, I was still the proud owner of an American muscle car from the tail-end of the American automotive juggernaut.
My dad wouldn't let me park the car on his property until I'd agreed to his demands that it be insured to his specifications, loaded with obscure and unnecessary riders--for an outrageous sum--in order to "protect his interests" (whatever that meant). The upshot was that my insurance premium was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 per year (the car was only worth $2,000). To my further torment, gas was at an all-time high, and I was working for minimum wage at a dilapidated K-MART store as a stock boy. But still…I owned a Cutlass, an American classic. It leaked oil, of course. But the sound of that four-barrel opening up made up for a lot of faults. The stereo system was also boss. It had a tape player. It was loud…but not as loud as that 455 under the hood.
To make the money needed to pay for the gas, oil changes, and my old man's insurance riders, I took a job as a package courier. In my silver Cutlass, I delivered packages to every corner of Chicago in the worst possible weather and in the midst of a congested, festering city that was blighted by a horrible economic downturn.
The Cutlass got about 9 miles to the gallon.
It was 1982. The American cars coming off the assembly lines were retched. My dad's mother had died that year and left him a Chrysler K car or something of the sort. My dad had wanted me to buy the K car off of him. I remember it being parked across the street from my house for a few weeks while my dad figured out some way to unload that horrible, horrible mistake from Detroit.
Meanwhile, I sweated the insurance premiums on the old '76. I made them all—on time, paid in full—much to my dad's chagrin.
A little while later, I went off to college. I sold the Cutlass--at night, in a dark parking lot--to another brilliant teenager.