Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Second Car

After killing off my first car, my dad helped me find a "new" one.  The Opel Kadette had been reintroduced by Buick in the early 60's as the American answer to the VW Beetle.  I have always wondered why the bigwigs at Buick never thought to question why the Germans had discontinued it in the first place.  That vehicle had some quirks.

This car presented challenges from the start.  It had a manual transmission.

Now, I had taken driver's education in high school and back then all the driver's ed. cars were manual transmission.  I remember that I had done really well on the first written test after the introduction lectures (I did school well) and the instructor handed me my A+ test and  remarked about how easy it was going to be to teach me how to drive.  He changed that particular prediction as soon as he sat next to me behind the wheel and discovered I had no feel for the clutch at all.  Let's just say my mechanical ineptitude is epic.

I did learn to manage the manual transmission--at least enough to pass the course, but a few years had passed.  I pretty much had to learn to drive a manual transmission all over and once again it was not pretty.  Stalling out on hills and then trying to get going again was my biggest problem.  Did you know that Vermont is nicknamed the Green Mountain State?

The picture above is not my actual car, but it was very much like that.  It was small but roomy.  After the effort of maneuvering the Chevy, I found I really liked small cars.  The most immediately apparent quirk of the Opel was that it just did not care for wet, rainy weather.  Drive that puppy through a puddle and it would just stop.  Stop dead and wait to dry before it would go again.  This is an inconvenient feature in a vehicle as you might imagine.

Another quirk was that the lock on the shift stick that kept the car from inadvertently being shifted into reverse did not function.  It was a delicate operation to shift into first instead of into reverse.  This was an inconvenient feature as well.

Not being mechanically inclined, I knew absolutely nothing about car maintenance.  Had I been more aware, I maybe would not have had all the trouble with mechanical break downs.  The biggest blooper on my part happened during the 70's gas crisis.  Remember the long lines at the pumps and the gas stations that were only open for select hours?  Oh, that reminds me, the gas gauge was often wonky.  Anyway, it was so much of a hassle to just get gas through that time that I never wanted to bother the station attendant to check the oil.  The car used oil like my grand children use toilet paper.  So I learned the hard --and expensive-- way that a car engine simply will not run without oil.  In fact, it will start to make very loud noises that even turning the radio to maximum volume will not fix.  Then it will seize entirely.

I traded that car for a 1973 VW Beetle probably around 1975.  Driving to the VW dealer, the Opel stopped and I just sat there and cried and tried to figure out how to push the darn thing over a nearby cliff and still be able to explain how I got out without a scratch--you know, for insurance fraud purposes.  Some poor guy stopped to see if he could help and I was so hysterical, he kept his hands up in the air like I was pointing a gun at him.  He called my then husband (from the Veteran's Hospital, which caused its own bit of hysteria), who came with some part from our mechanic (who by then knew the car intimately) and got it running.  He followed my in his car the rest of the way. 

By the time I got to the VW place, the brakes had started squealing.  We made the deal and they offered $200 as a trade-in.  As I was leaving in my new car, I saw a mechanic get into the Opel to move it on the lot.  The car lurched into reverse and the brakes started shrieking. I stepped on the gas and got me and the VW out of there before the salesman could come running out to demand the $200 back.

Can you believe there is actually a club for Kadette enthusiasts?


  1. My father was in the New York State Police. He had ridden a horse, a motorcycle, and driven a car, while in the Troopers. No way was a child of his, going to learn to drive, other than on a standard shift.

    So I did.

    So I always know/knew how to *do that magic.* :-)

    Not to say that I liked, doing what's necessary to play-with-clutch-and-brake-peddle to not stall out on hills. But! I learned at 16, and that sticks with you.


  2. I feel so nostalgic seeing those old car photos!

  3. So you pulled a fast on on the car dealer, huh? Well, good for you. My first car was a stick, and I had a very patient friend teach me. It was hard for me to learn, but it's pretty flat here, so I guess I was lucky.

  4. I love that you are writing about your cars. This is getting me thinking about my own.

  5. That was just so funny. I love how your tears affected that poor fellow trying to help.
    Can't wait to hear about the VW. I am a huge fan and finally got a 74 that I restored when I was 65. It was a real geezer magnet.


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