I’ve never had much luck with cars. Over the years I’ve had my share of lemons, but perhaps none as bad as my first vehicle, a 1976 Chevrolet Vega station wagon.

It was burnt orange with a hint of rust. Real rust. The kind you can see through to the ground below.

It was a two-door model and had a hatchback. And in the eyes of a 16-year-old first-time driver who yearned for four-wheeled freedom, it was marvelous.

The clunker belonged to my brother-in-law and had been parked in my grandmother’s driveway for a dozen or so years.

Various types of vermin had nested under the hood and in some cases under the seats and the interior had a unique smell to it.

Musky. With a hint of Pine-Sol courtesy of my grandmother who placed an open bottle of the lemony goodness in the back window.

In Oklahoma, driver’s permits are issued at age 15-and-a-half and for the six months leading up to my sixteenth birthday, I would sit behind the wheel and imagine what it would be like to drive myself to school and points beyond.

I vividly remember driving it for the first time from my grandmother’s house to my parents’ house.

Technically I suppose since I was being towed behind my father’s Cadillac, it probably couldn’t actually be considered driving. But it felt good nonetheless and that’s all that mattered.

During the course of the next few months, I did my best to spruce up the ol’ girl. New seat covers helped cover the urine-stained squirrel spots and the bottle of Pine-Sol became a permanent fixture in the back window.

It stunk. And it was rusty.

But it was mine.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have much luck with the ladies in those early car-driving days.

But my buddies and I had a helluva time.

Once, after purchasing a set of big 12-inch speakers for the back of the Vega, we drove around town with the hatchback open belting out an audio tape of cats meowing.

The following night, the newspaper ran a story about an unusual upswing in feral cat complaints to the local pet shelter.

I eventually sold the Vega for $250 cash to an unsuspecting animal lover who didn’t seem to mind the musky smell that lurked throughout it.

I thought about the Vega for the first time in years last week when a friend’s daughter began searching for a new ride.

Fortunately for her, she wasn’t looking for a Vega and her budget was a little bit larger than mine was back in the day, but the excitement of the hunt immediately brought back memoriesof my first car and all of its glory – or lack thereof.

They say experiences like that help build character. Or, as my grandfather used to say, “it puts hair on your chest.”

I’m not sure of the connection between the two, but now that I think about it, my grandfather had an awful lot of hair on his chest. And he was quite a character, too.

Guess he was right.

Mr. Gustafson’s second car, a 1977 two-door Buick Regal was more than twice the length of the Vega. By his best recollection, he has owned 11 vehicles of various makes and models including five Chevys, two Buicks, a Chrysler, a Jeep, a Suburu, an Audi, and a Hyundai. These days, the not-so mild-mannered editor of the Chagrin Valley Times cruises around in a 2005 Toyota 4Runner. Email him at: editor@chagrinvalleytimes.com.

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