Since the weather has been perfect for convertibles here in the East Valley of Phoenix, I have noticed a plethora of shiny Mustangs being driven by Baby Boomers, many with convertible tops. Some brand new. Some older models stunningly refurbished. All beautiful.
I noticed them because they are Mustangs. Seeing these cars sent my thoughts soaring back to the 1970s.
Between my freshman and sophomore year at the University of Nebraska, my folks sold the bakery in Columbus and moved lock, stock, and barrel to the mountains of Colorado. I elected to stay in Nebraska and continue attending the University.
But with Mom and Dad being far, far away, it was time to purchase my first car. I had a bit of money from an insurance policy my dad had purchased when I was born that matured when I turned 18. Now, at 19, I just needed to figure out just how one went about buying a car.
The answer, it turned out, was simple. My Uncle Dale.
Dale was married to my dad’s sister Venie. He and my dad had been buddies since high school. Dale was kind, funny, and knew a little about a lot.
And he apparently knew more than a little about cars. So it was to my Uncle Dale that my dad turned to request help on his second-born’s purchase of her first car. As I was thinking about my first car purchase, I asked my brother why he thought Dad asked for Dale’s help in this matter.
“Because Dale was always finding good deals on cars,” my brother said. “Remember, he always had a different car, something he got for a smokin’ deal.”
I have little recollection of shopping for this car. I frankly suspect I wasn’t involved at all. Dale found a great deal on a used car lot — Ernst Motors — owned by a friend of his. At any rate, I ended up with a bright red 1969 Ford Mustang, red with a white hardtop. Automatic on the floor. No recollection of the number of miles on the car. I didn’t care that it was a sports car. I didn’t care that it was red. I simply loved my first car.
Again, I asked my brother, “What exactly did my Mustang look like?” I literally could only remember that it was red with a white top. David told me it was just a simple Mustang, “stock” he called it, not “souped up” in any way. Probably a V-8 engine, however, because it was, after all, the early 70s. Gasoline was 54 cents a gallon. Who cared if you had to fill up the tank every couple of days?
But as used cars are wont to do, things kept going wrong with the car. Not big things. Maybe the car window wouldn’t roll up. Or maybe the headlight went out. For some reason, I got it in my head that since the car had come from Ernst Motors, it was up to them to keep fixing things on the car. At no cost to me.
They did for a bit, probably because of the friendship with my Uncle Dale. But then Mr. Ernst likely talked to my Uncle Dale because at some point Dale gently explained to me that now that the car was owned by me, REPAIRS ARE MY RESPONSIBILITY.
Oh. That’s how it works?
Anyway, time passed, and eventually my Mustang and I moved to Leadville with my family. That car took me on many, many trips to and from Denver, and it provided transportation for many, many trips back to Nebraska, often with my grandmother in the passenger seat. What a sight we must have been, a 19-year-old and her grandmother racing down I-80 in a red Mustang. Was she Mustang Sally or was I?
While I have conveniently forgotten about this, my brother says I made him the happiest boy on earth when I lent him my Mustang to take his girlfriend to the school dance in Leadville. That really was generous of me, except for the fact that my brother was apparently only 15 at the time. Whatevah.
I still had that car when I married my first husband in 1977, though it had seen many better days. Finally, it got to the point where it just stopped running. So my husband and I managed to get it started, and drove it to the car lot where we wanted to trade it in for something that, well, did actually run. We left the car running and went into the dealership to talk to a salesman. The car salesman got into the car and took it for a spin with my husband in the front seat and I in the back, both of us hoping like hell that he wouldn’t shut off the car. Or, if he did shut it off, that he wouldn’t try to start it again. Our theory was that the car was probably worth more if the engine worked. Go figure.
The car performed magnificently, and the salesman was beginning to talk about our deal as he pulled up to dealership. He put on the brakes, and as David and I held our breath, he SHUT OFF THE ENGINE.
The looks on our faces must have given him pause, because he immediately tried starting the car again. It was, of course, a no-go. The deal we had been discussing was off the table.
But he did give us a trade-in – the formerly beloved 1969 Ford Mustang for a dinged-up 1968 Toyota Corolla. Plus some cash. From us to him.
Ride Sally, ride.