On my 16th birthday, my Dad took me to the auto license bureau in Port Credit. I had no idea at first where we were going, but I smiled a lot wider when we rolled into the parking lot and he told me it’s time I learned to drive. After all, he had let me drive a few times that previous summer on the back roads of Peel County, and as a result my ego was awash with anticipation, but getting my license had never been discussed yet.
So on that day, while in grade 12, with a girlfriend and lots of buddies, I became a real man. I had arrived. I passed my test and I could drive.
Apart from some painful negotiation moments, borrowing one’s father’s car to go on a date can be loaded with risks, especially when your best buddie just purchased his ’54 Meteor and loved to try to sucker you into drag-racing on an empty street at midnight. Like, right out of American Graffiti. For some weird reason, girls seemed to be impressed with guys with fast (and often noisy) cars. Anyway, in 1961 I had purchased a blue and white ’56 Chevrolet BelAir, complete with a 283 cu in V-8, with money from digging water line trenches for my uncle. I paid $500 cash for it. It had 12,500 miles on the odometer and no rust. Lots of chrome, front, back and sides, and cloth ‘bench’ seats. It was a standard transmission with the gear shift on the steering column.
I had three proud moments – suping it up with fancy carburetors with help from my friend Greg and cousin Tim, taking my girlfriend for her first ride in it, and taking it to high school for the first time. There was a ’49 Pontiac lurking about the town at night that always wanted to drag-race with me. It wasn’t until much later I encountered the same car! in Toronto at the stop-lights at the bottom of Spadina and Front Streets at 1:00 a.m. There and then, with the loud encouragement of my 3 buddies with me, I decided the moment of truth had come. We checked in all directions for cops, waited for the light to change green, and I floored it. Well for the first 1/2 mile we were neck-and-neck, but by the time we got to Yonge Street I was 300′ ahead and had to slow down for traffic. All four of us cheered and yelled out the window at him as he sped by. He didn’t look at us. So like all high testosterone males at that age, my ‘rush’ was calming down and I was regaining my senses, as we travelled the QEW 12 miles towards home. I would never had done that had my girlfriend been in the car, because if she ever told her older brother I was doing 125 mph on the Lakeshore in Toronto, he would have made mincemeat out of me for sure (he was much bigger and four years older and very protective of his baby sister).
I drove my Chevy for five more years, until I joined the RCAF and had to sell it. But I hated to give it up. Unlike today’s cars, it had a definite simplicity to it that meant it could be fixed quickly. Spark plugs were easy to get at, and adjusting the butterfly valve in the carburetor took only minutes. Tires cost $17.00 each. A full “Continental Kit” for the rear end cost $225.00, but I couldn’t afford it at the time.
After the Air Force my next car was a baby-blue, 4-0n-the-floor Pontiac Bonneville convertible, but that’s a whole other story for another time. I only wish I had kept both of these beauties.