This was my first car. It was a 1969 Chevelle and cost $25. I was dating a mechanic, Pat, at the time and for my 18th birthday he bought it for me off a farmer in Lunenberg, Ontario. It had been sitting in the farmer’s barn for years with a seized engine, missing hood, front quarter panel and driver’s side door. My boyfriend’s boss gave him an old engine and transmission and over the winter we rebuilt the engine and transmission, salvaged the missing body parts and put the car together.
I couldn’t afford to get it painted right away so the next spring I drove it as you see here – lovely shades of dark and light blue and primer. This is a photo of me and my kid brother Ricardo at my uncle’s farm in Rigaud, Quebec. On weekends I used to drive from Ottawa to Ruby Foo’s in Montreal just for something to do. Gas was still sold by the gallon then and five bucks filled my tank. On the way back from Montreal I’d sometimes stop at Rigaud to say hello to my aunt and uncle.
Pat was into muscle cars. He had a ’55 Chevy that was candy apple red. Pat was still riding the wave of the popular film, American Graffiti and in the two years we dated I don’t ever remember him taking me to a restaurant where you actually got out of the car and ate inside. Although I begged, if the restaurant didn’t have a drive-through, we didn’t frequent it.
My Chev had wide tires, mag wheels and an engine scoop in the hood of the car. I don’t remember what size engine or type of transmission but I do remember him using the words “turbo hydromatic” in reference to (I think) the tranny. All I knew was that on the steering column “drive” was somewhere between the “R” and the “D” and I had to look closely to make sure I had it in the right gear before I hit the gas. Boy oh boy, when I hit the gas that thing could MOVE. With my white-knuckled hands on that leather-wrapped steering wheel I felt like Steve McQueen in the movie Bullit. Yeee, haaaw!
I had many adventures in that car but two are the most memorable – my first car accident and my first police stop.
A friend and I were on our way to see the movie Norma Rae at the Place du Ville cinema in downtown Ottawa. This was the first time I had ever parked in an underground garage so I didn’t know to pull up closely to the ticket machine. When I couldn’t reach the ticket, I put the car in “park” and opened the car door to reach the ticket. It was dark in that garage so when I got back into the car I couldn’t really see the gear indicator in the steering column very well but I put the car in gear anyway. There was a long line of cars on the steep ramp behind me and I was nervous so I gave her a little more gas than I should have. Well, I had missed that “sweet spot” between the “R” and the “D” and the car flung in reverse, slamming into the car behind me wedging his bumper firmly between my bumper and trailer hitch. We were coupled like rail cars. The only damage was done by the parking attendant as he caused a scrape in the chrome bumper of the car I hit when he pried our cars apart with a tire iron and car jack. That little boo-boo cost me the $167 I was saving for a paint job.
The next incident could have landed me in jail for assaulting a police officer.
I had taken a summer job in Arden, Ontario. After work a few of the gals and I would drive over to Sharbot Lake for a bit of water skiing (or in my case a lake enema). One night we were driving down highway number 7 returning to our billet in Arden when someone in a truck came behind us and flashed their bright headlights. I thought this was very rude so I slowed down so that they could pass me with the intent of flashing them my brights so they’d know how it feels. (I was young and stupid, what can I say?) I remember saying as much to the gals when one of them said I shouldn’t do it because it was a cop.
I looked at my speedometer and saw that I wasn’t speeding so I kept driving. Being a city gal, I never knew cops drove trucks and didn’t believe her. Why would a cop be stopping me if I wasn’t speeding? It was pretty dark on that highway and we were three girls in the car and I was a bit scared it might be some locals out for a good time. I kept driving. By now whoever was in the truck behind me was getting insistent, coming up to my bumper and flashing their headlights and I got even more afraid. Finally, they lit up their red police lights and I pulled over.
I didn’t know what to do. I had never been stopped before. I just sat there and waited for the OPP officer to come to my car. He tapped on the window with his flashlight. I rolled down the window and he asked for my license and registration papers. I gave it to him and he handed it to his partner who was standing behind my car. I was shaking like a leaf.
While his partner ran my info he asked where we were from and where we were going. He seemed like a nice man so I asked him why he stopped me. He told me my tail light were out. I had been having some little electrical problems with the car so I learned little tricks like pounding on the voltage regulator and stuff like that so when he told me about my tail lights I swung the door open and jumped out of the car to give the tail lights a thump to get them working.
I had just leaned over the rear of the car to start thumping when I heard another thump. I looked over the trunk of my car and saw the policeman writhing on the ground holding his boy bits. The doors on a ’69 Chevelle are very long and very heavy. Apparently, when I leaped out of the car, the door hit the officer right where it counts and he dropped like a stone.
My knees wobbled as I envisioned spending the rest of my youth in a gray cotton shift in a concrete cell at P4W (the prison for women). Instead, the cop’s partner got out of their truck and started laughing. I started crying and apologizing as he helped his partner to his feet and into the truck. He handed me my license and registration and told me to get the car looked at in Perth the next day. Then wished me a good night while he strolled, still chuckling, to the truck. As we drove back to Arden in silence, I knew I must have a horseshoe up my wazoo.