It was a 1966 Chrysler Newport, completely original. The body was solid, with no dents, missing chrome or rust. The interior was not so lucky. Though it wasn’t ripped up, it was badly faded and bore a few distinct stains.
The car belonged to a family my boyfriend knew. It was sitting in their driveway, unused and unloved. It was filthy and there was a big black spot on the side because they parked their truck in front of it and the exhaust blew right onto the side of the car. It came with a name, it seemed that all cars of a certain era did, the name was Norma.
I had never owned my own car before. I had never had a need. But… well, it was time. I had a limited budget and Norma fit the bill. About the same time, my best friend’s parents “gifted” her with a car – an early ’70’s station wagon that had been brush-painted (no joke) with dull grey primer. She promptly dubbed it “The Grey Ghost.” Did we both get teased about our rolling tanks? Sure. That is, until one of us offered to be the designated driver and people realized, in those pre-seatbelt law days, how many people could be crammed into the back seat.
Before that, however, Norma needed to be road worthy. First things first, she got a bath. Then a full fluids change – yes, I did it myself, thank you very much. The boyfriend and I spent hours rebuilding the carburetor (those things that existed in pre-fuel-injection cars). Believe me, my blood, sweat and tears were in that engine. I pulled leaves out of the oil pan and things to disgusting to mention from the air filter.
We installed seat covers and polished the chrome. Sure, she was still a flat, faded, dull mustardy color – a pale shadow of the original… which was some sort of metallic gold or bronze. And yes, she was missing one hubcap – they were very hard to find and included a Lucite center piece that matched the Lucite steering wheel (which was intact).
The turn signals, even the little ones on the hood, all worked. In fact, the only things that didn’t work were the odometer and the gas gauge. Which left me in sort of a pickle. How was I to know when that behemoth needed gas? After an incident where I did actually hit empty (and was rescued by the boyfriend’s long-suffering parents), we managed to fix the odometer.
That Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a hubcap, and it was an awesome gift.
I had that first-car love, but it wasn’t too long before I got something much newer and nicer. Meanwhile, someone saw Norma parked on the street and offered a rather pretty chunk of change to take her off my hands. She was dirty, there was a scratch in her formerly pristine side courtesy of a careless idiot in a grocery store parking lot and she was looking unloved again.
A sense of nostalgia crept in and I had to ask if he planned to chop the car up for parts. His reply sealed the deal, “Hell no! She’s in near-perfect shape. I plan to restore her.” He was the president of a major local car club, and loved the ’60’s lines.
So I signed the papers and said goodbye to Norma.