The Penis Mobile

Who can forget their first car?


The first car that I tend to claim as mine was a1979 Ford Thunderbird, which was so 1979 that pimps were stopping me and saying, “Bro, that car just ain’t right.” Dad bought it from a guy he knew to give me something to learn on when I was 15. Since he drove the station wagon and Mom couldn’t figure out the complex way in which you start a Ford (she was a GM lady), the car was essentially mine.

However, the first car that had my name on the coveted pink slip was aPontiac Firebird. Red. Of course. I bought it from Dad who had apparently finished his mid-life crisis and acquiesced to the car of the late-life crowd, the Cadillac. For something like four years, I paid him $100 a month, which he would dutifully check off of a payment schedule posted in my room back home. My folks could have given the car to me, but felt this was yet another way to teach me the value of something. It worked. When I paid off the final installment, I drove around on the freeway for about an hour, feeling the wind whipping through my hair (I still had some at the time).

Many other folks have bemoaned the loss of the Pontiac division this week and with good reason.Job loss, loyal customers getting jobbed and the general sense that we’re giving up all seemed to flow forth.Some reports have cast this move as GM lopping off limbs to save the company’s torso for its greed-filled executives. To be fair, I haven’t bought a domestic car in nearly a decade, so I’m sure I’m partially to blame for these closures.

Still, I fondly remember that car and all its two-door, V-8, bat-out-of-hell glory seemed to represent.

Hot cars for college guys were supposed to be like Spanish Fly. The first time the Missus saw the car, I figured she’d be impressed. Instead, she dubbed it “The Penis Mobile” for its supple shaping and the sense I was overcompensating for something. Friends of mine with a better sense of car savvy called it “The Rocket” after having dubbed me “The Rocketeer” for one particularly insane ride in which I drove 70 miles in 42 minutes. (For the record, I didn’t do it in the Firebird. I was driving Dad’s old Chevy Celebrity. Go figure.) Neither name stuck, but “The Penis Mobile” became part of our group’s lexicon.

Winters with that car were particularly painful, as it had the back-end weight of Kate Moss. The thing would fishtail on about two flakes of snow and that was before you put it into gear. I ended up taking Dad’s weight bench out of his workout room one year, stealing all the weights off of it and loading them into the trunk of the car. It didn’t help the traction much, especially since the car was already about three inches off the ground. The noise made when plastic scrapes the asphalt while driving down a steep driveway was my like a soundtrack to my life at that point.

Still, it never failed me. One time, my boss at the newspaper sent me down a two-lane highway in the middle of a blizzard on an assignment. The goal? To pick up photos of three people who had died in a horrible crash earlier that day on that same two-lane highway when the roads were much better. I was going about 35 miles per hour and no one was passing me. The snow was scraping the undercarriage of the car and it was so loud, I couldn’t hear the stereo. Suddenly, some jerkbag in an SUV behind me was honking and flashing his lights and gesturing that I should move more quickly. When I failed to do so, he tried passing on the left, swerved in front of me and over-corrected into the ditch. The Firebird, however, never wavered.

In the 15-plus moves I made during college, I got through most of them with the Firebird, cramming my crates of crap and parts of a rickety futon into the back of it. The car developed serious problems after being used as a pack mule/U-Haul, including some issues with the tailgate seal. This meant the occasional spring rainstorm would fill the depths of my trunk with water. I’d often get out of work at 2 a.m., see drops of rain on the windshield and then spend the next half hour bailing out the trunk with a margarine cup. The thing smelled like a tuna boat in dry dock for the three days after that. The compression springs in the front had failed as well, so when I had to change the plugs or the oil, I’d need a broom to prop the hood open.

But it was mine.

When the steering started to go and the transmission finally started to fail, the Missus and I went looking for a new car. We weren’t married at the time, but it felt like a transition to married life was occurring. We swapped out a car that had such lousy back seats that they would give a dwarf leg cramps for an SUV that felt like an airplane hangar. The touchy gas pedal and unbridled speed was traded in for something that seemed to go from 0-60 in a month and a half. The winter sliding gave way to the sureness of four-wheel drive. Rebellion was replaced by responsibility.

As GM shutters its Pontiac plants, I’m sure gear heads across the nation are also reflecting on their beloved muscle cars. From the GTOs to the Firebirds to the Trans Ams, Pontiac seemed to represent a feeling of freedom. Many of its cars were irresponsibly poor in adverse conditions and lousy on gas mileage, but to own one was to walk with a swagger.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the fact that I can haul, literally, a ton of shit (we just filled the garden with about 50 bags of cow manure) and that the snow doesn’t phase me. Still, on warm days when the sun hangs low in the sky and the radio has something particularly Fog Hat-esque on, it’s hard not to long for the days of the Rocket, a long stretch of untamed road and the hair the wind used to blow through.

9 thoughts on “The Penis Mobile

  1. “The thing would fishtail on about two flakes of snow and that was before you put it into gear.”
    That sounds familiar. Mr. BuggyQ refers to his late-80’s Fiero as “the frictionless saucer of death.”
    My first car was a ’68 Bug. I once did three 360s on a highway after a snowstorm left a surprising amount of slush in one spot. Ended up sideways with a semi bearing down on me. It’s amazing how fast you can get in gear when you need to.
    After that, I kept sandbags in the back seat in the winter.

  2. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! “Frictionless saucer of death”!!!!
    My dad had a silver Firebird when I was a kid. He wanted it largely ’cause of “The Rockford Files” and ’cause he couldn’t buy the car from his youth that was his first love, a Dodge Charger. He made a big deal out of cranking down its windows in the summer heat of Houston and turning on the heat. I didn’t realize ’til later, when I asked him about it, that that was the solution for keeping the car from overheating. But boy, he loved it anyway!

  3. My first car was a 1975 Mustang II hatchback. If I drove it faster than 70 mph, I could literally watch the gas gauge drop. It had a big V8 engine in a chassis the size of today’s Corolla. I did donuts in the snow on my high school parking lot (on purpose) and it was like riding The Scrambler at a carnival. It wouldn’t start if it was colder than 40 degrees, but once we fit 13 teenagers, myself included, inside the thing as we moved from one party to another. I drove it to pieces and replaced it with a 1984 Pontiac Sunbird that was nothing but headaches and grief from day one. I’m not surprise Pontiac is dead–they were dead to me almost 20 years ago. I replaced the Sunbird with a Toyota Tercel that I drove for more than 200,000 miles.

  4. …I’ve owned or been the primary driver of a passel of cars over the last nearly four decades of driving, but never had a Pontiac. One of my college frat buddies made up for that oversight, though; he had a’68 Firebird with the 400 V-8. On Friday and Saturday nights when our attention and intentions were focused on girls and beer, there was never any question over whether we would head downtown or out of town in his Firebird or myChevy Vega Notchback
    It was loud and fast, kind of scary from the driver’s seat (especially when you’re used to driving with only about 1/3rd the horsepower), occasionally terrifying from the passenger’s seat, and an absolute handful during a Northern Idaho winter. If I could have afforded it, I would have bought one in a heartbeat…

  5. Late 70s-early 80s T-Birds didn’t have much winter traction either. I remember driving a friend’s up in Madison once or twice (Dave had just moved back from Las Vegas and insisted he hadn’t adjusted to winter driving)…I very distinctly recall sliding an entire block or so, through a stopsign (fortunately no cross traffic) while uselessly pumping the brakes and equally uselessly engaging the emergency. Yikes.
    My time in Madison also introduced me to the concept of ballast sand. Oh, THAT’S why they sell the stuff at Menards (owned a Ford Ranger my last two winters up there.)

  6. Back when I wasn’t a member of the Great Unhorsed, I used to drive this giant 1980-something Pontiac Parisienne. I liked driving that car, because being a seventeen-year-old quasi-metalhead, it had a certainje ne sais quoi about it. These days, I no longer have a driver’s license, so I don’t drive, and my band-t-shirt and tight jeans days are behind me.
    I’m not going to miss Pontiac, and am going to exhort everyone who might be feeling guilty about its going away to recall that there was areason you folks switched to driving imports — GM sucks, and has been a corporate vampire for its entire history, and it needs to dry up and blow away.

  7. i loved nixon/johnson era GM.
    my uncle had a T-bird of that era, WITH the license plate JISISM. big white blond guy.
    my first car was a 75 olds delta 88 with tooooo many miles. course my MECHANIC father can’t buy cars for shit. my 72′ delta was awesome, snow? 4 door GM rear wheels are natural mudders. on side streets after snow storms i would push them for practice. when speeding on the highways of kentucky, the SS queen victoria slid MOMENTARILY. did not end up in a ditch. loved my 73′ delta too.
    but pontiac? i got my great-aunt’s 67′ catalina. 4 door. snow not an issue. oh, she was sweet. and tho only did it once, to pass a car was unbelievable. she fucking zoomed. but then the tranny fell out the bottom. had to sell her. got good $. i gotta say, even tho it was oldfashioned, the 73′ chrysler new yorker i took from my mom was a kickass ride.
    GM fucked up pontiac. and the hummer fucked up GM. greed is not good.

  8. First car? The ’75 AMC Pacer, baby! A gold (my wife says copper) bug with windows a mile wide and an engine compartment so tight you could barely get your fingers between the block and the body. Which is why it was prone to overheating.
    Circling back up to the first comment, I got the Pacer from Dad, who’d driven it in his job as a union organizer, and my folks gave it to me after Mom bought him a new Fiero for their 25th anniversary. He still has the Fiero.
    And I broke down and bought aSmart convertible last year.

  9. Oh, children, do you know what y’all are doing to this Mopar fan?
    Pontiacs are why God invented rear-view mirrors, so you can chortle without taking your eyes (too far) off the road.
    Small-blocks, slant sixes, turbo fours and real honest-to-God HEMIS rule…
    And I’ve only ever owned one Ford since I started driving. A ’70 Torino I had for three months in the spring of 1978, with a six and an automatic. Had my first wreck in that car (on a red dirt road, yeah). Learned how to get creosote off paint (didn’t put it on, but I bent that front gravel pan all to pieces) and nicotine residue off glass and vinyl from that beast (bought it used for $200 ’cause the chick who owned it couldn’t get the nasty fog out of the corners of the windshields or the telephone-pole-residue off the passenger side doors and fenders). Lemme tell ya, it takes a lot of charcoal and vinegar to soak the scent of Pall Mall out of cheap upholstery.
    Started with a 65 Dart with a three on the tree and a slant six, went to the Tor, then to the first Duster (225 auto). Sold that after two years for a healthy profit, then listened to my Dad instead of my heart and bought the yellow ’73 slant-six automatic Duster instead of the baby-blue ’73 Cuda with the 318 for the same money. (Yeah, that still stings.) Blew the paper out the speakers and the front passenger A-frame out from under that going to juco; my kid brother drove it three or four more years after I walked away from the humpty-jillionth time it ate a front tire fifty miles from nowhere. Next car was my $300 college graduation present — a ’73 Dart Swinger with a 318, over twelve years old before I ever saw it and my first v8; sold it for twice what I had in it after 18 months and bought a sweet little five-year-old shortbed Dodge Ram smallblock four-speed sport truck, and I was hooked. Twenty odd years since then, I’m still driving smallblock Dodge pickups. I wish I could say I never looked back, but one got wrecked and I blew one engine so there was a three-year-long dalliance with four-cylinder K-cars (I’ve still got the Lebaron GTS turbo) that started in ’90. Got back in a pickup with another 4-on-the-floor (handed that down to one kid) then had a 360 four-barrel (talk about a pig) for awhile. Had a dress-blue ’92 Ramcharger (handed that down to the other kid) before I got this new one. The new one is a ’97 Ram 1500 extended cab with all the toys except 4×4. (You don’t *need* four-wheel-drive; you need torque and traction, and you get that from a good motor and weights over the drive axle.) Going on our sixth year together — it still looks pretty good and I still love it, and it runs like that Mustang looked, back when I was nine years old in Joplin, Missouri: like heaven going fast.
    Still never had a ‘Cuda, or a Charger (wanted one, you bet), or a Mustang. There aren’t that many baby-blue second-generation ‘Cudas, orange ’69 or triple-black 440 Magnum ’72 Chargers, or butterscotch ’69 Boss 351 Mustangs left, and I don’t have that much spare dinero anyhow.

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