Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Caroll Shelby. My next-door neighbor was the VP of Sales and then President of the Budweiser distributor in Orange County California. Consequently, he was well connected in the racing world and could get access to pretty much any event he wanted. Two racing people I was able to meet via his connections were Carrol Shelby and Paul Newman.
Paul Newman was actually a pretty quiet guy and didn’t talk much. Mr. Shelby, on the other hand, would talk your arm off and was the kind of guy you wish you had as a next-door neighbor. Anyway, we went to this chile cook-off in Newport Beach and I got to enjoy some Caroll Shelby chile and chat a bit.
What a great down-home guy he was. So if you take the time to watch this video you will see he was genuine and not phony in any way. This is the type of person whose handshake was as good and any contract a team of lawyers might draw up because he always delivered the goods.
The other day I was thinking about the cars I have owned over the years and my love of cars in general.
I believe this love of cars is rooted in the fact that as a kid, my parents never owned a new car. For the most part, we had clunkers that my dad bought at local used car lots. He would have them repaired to keep them going, but they were always several years old.
I remember once as a kid we were on a pretty long trip to visit relatives when the car we were driving just quit running. It just so happened that we were near a car lot so my dad traded that piece of crap in on another one that wasn’t much better. What used to bug me though was that friends and neighbors, whose incomes were likely no more than that of my family, were able to afford a new car every now and then.
I remember the annual new car introduction when I was in junior high school. My best friend, who lived down the street, and I would walk several miles to “car dealer row” and collect brochures on the latest cars and drool over them in the showrooms. It was fun to day-dream. I knew that one day, I would buy myself a spanking new car. I guess deep down, however, I realized that I would have some pretty average cars along the way.
Before reminiscing about The Cars I Have Owned, I want to say that I never bought anything that I couldn’t afford or that meant my family would go wanting in any way. That said, here we go. (In most cases, these are photos I gathered online of a cars like the one I owned. We probably have photos for some of them tucked away somewhere, but who knows where.)
0 – 1957 Lambretta Motor Scooter
This obviously isn’t a car, but it is the first motor vehicle I ever owned. When I was about 14, one of my friends had a Vespa motor scooter and another a Mustang, which was like a miniature motorcycle. I wanted something like that too, so my dad took me to a local dealer to check them out. When I first saw the Lambretta, my jaw dropped. It was gorgeous. I used most of the money in my savings account to buy it. I don’t really remember now how much I paid for it, just that I loved it so. I could write pages about my adventures with my Lambretta but will save that for another time. Mine looked just like this one.
When I 15, two of my friends had Model A Fords that they bought for next to nothing. We would work on them and drive, illegally, around our neighborhood. None of us ever got caught. Anyway, a car like this one sat across the street in our neighbors’ driveway for years, just gathering dust. I talked them into selling it to me for $15.00.
My father and I pushed it home, put some gas in the carburetor, and jumped it from the battery in his big ½ ton Dodge panel truck. The old Chevy started almost immediately. Boy did it smoke though. I remember it had a big dent in the left front fender and the upholstery was all ripped. Guess what, it was faster than the Model A Fords. I sold it to a friend about six months later for $30.00.
I think I paid about $100.00 for this nine-year-old car. I got it a couple of months after getting my driver’s license. It was nice looking and big. I polished it often and it looked great. I remember it had a switch on the floor that would change radio stations when you pushed it. Pretty neat, huh? When you started it, the engine was perfectly quiet. After it warmed-up, however, the hydraulic valves got pretty noisy and made a clicking sound. I tried several things to quiet them down, but nothing worked.
Special Bonus – Corny Commercial for 1952 Oldsmobile Line-Up
I paid about $250 for this used car and bought it from a guy who owned the gas station I worked at on the weekends. It was the cheapest model they offered in 1953. I put a floor shift kit in it, painted it fire engine red, and had black Naugahyde tuck-and-roll upholstery installed in Tijuana. I sold it to a friend to get part of the money I needed to get my next car. I never had any trouble with this car, but Brad said he did and thought I stuck it to him. Things were never quite the same after that. Guess I learned something from that experience.
This was the first car I owned that was truly fast. I bought it from a classmate in college for $600.00. It was what we called a “sleeper” back then because it looked stock. However, it had a powerful police interceptor engine with three two-barrel carburetors and a racing transmission. For its day, it was very fast. I really loved that car, but it was not something that a responsible married person would drive. So I sold it after getting married and regretted doing so for a very long time. (This is an actual photo of my car. Click Here to see more.)
Here is a photo of me sitting at the wheel. If you look at the wind-wing, you will be able to see a reflection of my then future wife, Georgia, taking this photo with her little Brownie camera.
Can you imagine what it was like going from a super-car to a Ford Falcon? When I look back on it, I can’t believe I did it. Actually, the Ford Falcon was a wedding present from my wife’s parents, so what could I do.
Here is a photo showing what our friends did to our car while we were at the reception. They weren’t too bright and used magic markers. I tried cleaning the stuff off during our honeymoon in San Francisco, but could never get it completely out. We got an Earl Scheib paint job and painted it metallic blue. Actually, it came out pretty nice.
A few months later, we almost died in this car. We were heading south along the coast between Newport Beach and San Diego when a guy started to make a U-turn and stopped on the highway right in front of us. (There is a freeway there now.) We were doing about sixty when we plowed into the side of his brand new ’64 Chevrolet Impala. It was like hitting a wall. Our little Falcon literally bent in the middle from the impact. We had no seat belts at the time, so my wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat, could have been killed. Luckily, the impact threw her down below the dash. She could have instead flown out the windshield. There was blood everywhere.
Because of this accident, Georgia required a lot of dental work over the years, the cost of which dwarfed the settlement we received from the other drivers’ insurance company. Looking back on it, we should have gone to court.
My wife’s parents felt we needed a bigger car after our near-fatal accident in our wedding gift, so they got us a car just like this one. What a boat! It was a fun car to drive and definitely very big. Gas was cheap then, so MPG was not an issue. We would just pull into the gas station, get ten gallons, and receive one of those glasses they used to give you. Some of you may remember them, they usually had depictions of old cars on them.
This was our first “second car.” I bought it for $50.00. The outside looked horrible, with some peeling paint, but the inside was very nice. It ran perfectly and we never had any trouble with it. My wife drove it to work at Household Finance, where she was a bookkeeper. I worked part-time while going to college.
We bought a car just like this one from a Volkswagen dealer in Van Nuys and sold the Olds. I don’t recall what we paid for it, except that we paid cash as with all of our cars to this point. It was a small car but ran great. I remember it being so quiet and smooth that I would sometimes try to start it and then realize it was already running.
Finally, our first brand new car. We bought it from Georgia’s uncle in Santa Cruz, CA. We flew north on Air California and they picked us up at the San Jose airport. We then spent the night with them and drove back home the next day.
I remember being on the road for a short time when we decided to turn on the heater. There was a knob you twisted to allow air into the cabin from a system using engine heat. Nobody told us that they put oil in the system to keep it from rusting while being shipped across the ocean from Germany. Anyway, the car filled with smoke very quickly. We had to open the windows and drive for quite a distance before it burned away. It was fine after that.
This was a great car, but didn’t run as smoothly or a quiet as our ’58 Beetle. It had much more power though. This is the first car that we made monthly payments on.
The VW was a good car, but too small for a growing family. We found a beautiful, low mileage, Impala at our local Chevrolet dealer and traded in the VW.
This car was wonderful, with bucket seats and a center shifter/console. It even had air conditioning and was truly a joy to drive. Although Chevrolet offered their big 409ci engine in the model year, this one was equipped with a 327ci V-8. Actually, I think they had one like that on the lot. But that would not be a good car for a young family.
Here is a photo of me holding our first daughter, Michelle, with the Chevy in the background. As you can see, I am already getting a little thin on the top.
We decided it was time to be a two-car family again. This guy I worked with had a friend who sold cars that had been wrecked but repaired to as-new condition. This car was perfect and looked just like the one below. I got it for about half of what I would have normally paid from a private party or used car dealer.
We never had one bit of trouble with it, but did have one harrowing experience on a trip from Orange County to Sacramento to visit my wife’s brother, Cliff. We were going North on Highway 99 late at night. All of a sudden there was a big-rig truck stopped right in front of us with its lights turned off. I saw it just in time and swerved to the left, missing it by inches. Why didn’t that idiot have flares out? Talk about adrenaline. I had no trouble staying awake and alert the rest of the way.
One day I was out in our ’65 Chevy and dropped by a dealer to look at used station wagons. Luck was with me, as somebody had just traded-in a very big station wagon in pristine condition. It wasn’t even on the lot yet, but back in the shop being cleaned up.
It was a nine-passenger model just like the one below, with a seat in the back that faced the rear window. Our kids loved sitting back there. It was so big you could fold down the middle row of seats and set up a playpen for the baby, not even thinking about how dangerous that was.
One day a couple of minutes after Georgia told me I was driving way too fast and should slow down, I got pulled over for speeding. My two oldest daughters thought it was very funny to look out the back window while I got my speeding ticket. Needless to say, it was very quiet in the front in the front of the car the rest of the way home.
This was a present to me 6-months after starting a consulting company earlier in the year. Unfortunately, because of smog regulations, Nissan put equipment on this car that caused a lot of problems. In addition to reducing the horsepower, the car would experience vapor-lock at the most unfortunate times. I was almost broadsided once as I pulled into the street from a parking lot because my Z-Car stopped dead in its tracks.
The following year, Nissan introduced fuel injection, which fixed the problem on newer cars. After two years I couldn’t take it anymore. I sold it to a dealer, took the cash, and used it towards my next new car.
This was a top of the line Oldsmobile and had all the options. Mine was a creamy yellow though. I loved this car. It had great styling, lots of power, and was like driving on a cloud.
I remember the night I sold it to the first person that responded to my ad in the newspaper. I bragged about how clean it was and without a scratch on it, plus nobody had ever smoked in it. When the guy returned from his test drive and said he would take the car, I noticed his wife sitting in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette. It really bummed me out. At that point, I really didn’t want to sell him the car, but the damage had already been done, so I wished him the best and took his money.
Georgia and I owned a second home at Lake Arrowhead. It was a townhouse right on the lake. Unfortunately, many of the tenants argued about the dumbest things and would file lawsuits against their neighbors as well as the association. Before long, we were spending as much on legal bills as we were on the payments for the townhouse. We started renting it out, but had some bad experiences with renters, so ended up selling it. We did pretty well when we sold it, so agreed we would use some of the money to buy a classic car.
We went to an auction intending to buy a Model A Ford with a rumble seat. Then this gorgeous car drove up on the stage. I just had to have it, so told Georgia I would make just one bid. If I got it fine, if not, I wouldn’t bid again. I bid just as they removed the reserve. Guess what, I got the car.
I must say that this car got more looks on the road than any car I have ever owned. You see, it looked very much like a Ferrari of the same year. It was not unusual for people on the highway to mouth, “what is it?” To solve the problem, I decided to get a vanity plate. Maserati was not available, but I was able to get MAZRATI.
It had fuel injection, dual ignition, and was built to really go down the road. It even had knock-off wire wheels. When I bought it I had no idea how much it would cost to maintain though. LOTS of MONEY. After spending some cash to bring it back to original, I decided to sell it. I sold it to a guy who collected cars in Scottsdale Arizona. Wish I would have kept it, that car is worth big bucks today. The photo above is identical to mine and shown so you can see the front of the car. The one below is my car.
There was a lot of hype about this car and its introduction to the American market. I did a lot of research and decided it would be a very nice family car, so we bought one. It gave us a lot of good miles and handled well. We liked it a lot, but it developed a leak in the front-wheel-drive seals, so we traded it in on another one two years later. As you can see, being a German car, the styling didn’t really change that much.
This was a very nice family car and gave us a lot of good miles. It was Silver, rather than Copper color, and had different shaped headlights, but other than that there was really nothing particularly special about it.
We liked the 5000 sedan so much, we bought a smaller version as a second car for me. Mine was bright red though. Our oldest daughters got to use it on the weekends.
When we moved to Northern California, we bought an El Camino like this as a third car for hauling things and for our two oldest daughters to use. The one we had was all white though.
When I decided to sell it and a guy at work came over to do a test drive. It was the first time I had been in the car for months. As soon as we started down the road, I heard something wrong in the engine. He heard it too. I said, “Well, I guess this car is not for sale after all, sounds like a rod is starting to knock. It turns out my daughters never checked the oil. I have to blame myself, however, I assumed they would check it.
I bought a low mileage V-6 engine from a local junkyard and installed it. After doing the engine swap, I hated to sell it since it ran so well, but we no longer needed the extra car.
I was feeling kind of guilty because we were not buying American cars. Buick had great ads about the T-Type Century model, with special suspension, lots of power, etc. The one we bought was a dark charcoal color. It was a very nice car when it was new, but didn’t hold up very well and was actually depreciating at a faster rate than we were paying down the loan.
After relocating to Pleasanton, I recall how it would bounce along the highway during my daily commute to Silicon Valley.
I ended up trading it in on a new BMW. Because its resale value was dropping so fast, I had to come up with extra cash to pay off the car loan on it. (At that point, I felt we would probably never buy another American car.) I also traded in the Audi 4000. I discovered later that one of the employees at BMW of Pleasanton ended up buying the Audi. I would see it around town from time to time.
This was our first BMW. All I can say is that BMW makes fantastic cars. We put many miles on it and the only repair it ever needed, in addition to brake pads, was a water pump.
When the car was less than six months old, Georgia was driving down the main street in Pleasanton and stopped at a red light in front of the old Pleasanton Hotel. When the light turned green, she started to move, when all of a sudden a girl slams into the side of the front quarter panel and landed face-first on the windshield. Since there was a van to the left of Georgia, she couldn’t see that the young girl was trying to cross on a red and ran out of time. The girl didn’t get hurt, except for being very sore for a couple of days. Luckily, there were lots of witnesses who saw what happened. It really scared Georgia though.
I had been thinking about buying another ’55 Oldsmobile to restore for several years. I put money aside for some time and finally found a car that was complete, although it looked a lot worse than I thought it would when I went to pick it up. It took several years to restore it. When it was finally done, I realized something I had heard was very true – “The restoration of a classic car will take twice as long and twice as much money as you thought it would.”
Here are the before and after photos. You can see a lot more if you are interested by clicking here. I still have the car to this day, with a little over 6,500 miles on it since its complete restoration.
This is the first 5-Series we owned. It was an excellent car and had a CD changer in the trunk. Unfortunately, I got laid off from a company that was doing poorly, so we had to sell this one and get along with one car for a while. I learned sometime later, the wife of the guy I sold it to totaled it about a week after he bought it from me. What a waste.
I consulted for a while and landed a job that paid pretty well, so got myself this BMW. After driving a 5-series, I really never liked this car that much.
Georgia decided she wanted an SUV, so we got her a new Blazer. Although I was leery about getting another American car, a friend had one of these and liked it a lot. It was a good car, but when you put it into 4-wheel drive it smelled kind of funny. We only did that a few times, so didn’t worry about it.
About 1,000 miles beyond the 36,00-mile warranty, the transmission literally melted. Georgia drove it to visit our daughter’s family in Redding before we moved here. She pulled in the driveway and parked. When she was ready to return home, the car wouldn’t move. After much online investigation, I proved that GM was having lots of problems with that transmission. They agreed to cover all except $1,000 for a new transmission. After the car was fixed, I sold it to a wholesale dealer and swore I would never buy an American car again.
Times were good, so I traded-in the 325 for another 525. I got this one on a lease. This was another excellent BMW. When the three-year lease expired, I had to turn it in or buy it. I liked the car, but decided to check out the new models, just in case.
The new ones weren’t any nicer than what I had, so I was thinking that I should just keep this car. Then, as I was talking to the salesman I mentioned always wanting a BMW 850, but that they were just too expensive. As it turned out, somebody had just traded one in. It was not on the lot yet and was being prepped in a nearby shop. We jumped into my car and drove over to see it. When we got there, he asked me if I wanted to go for a test drive. I stood there thinking, should I do this, knowing what the outcome would be. As soon as I started it, a chill went up my spine and my heartbeat increased. How could I not buy the gorgeous car you will see next.
This was hands down the best car I have ever owned or even ridden in, except maybe for a friend’s Ferrari. It was beautifully styled, had a powerful V-12 engine, and made me feel like a king when I drove it. Who cared if it was used. It looked almost identical to the new ones anyway. When driving this car, I no longer complained about my daily hour plus commute.
This car was very fast. I took it up to 120 MPH a few times and it got there very quickly. It was so airtight that when you opened the doors, the windows would move down about ½ inch so that when you closed the door the air pressure wouldn’t hurt your ears. Once the door closed, the window would go back up.
Unfortunately, I crashed this beauty one evening on the way home from a company event. I got lost and tried an unfamiliar route home through the hills of Sunnyvale. The 850 took turns like it was glued to the road, so I was probably going faster than I should have been for the road conditions. How was I to know, however, that the turn I was approaching was slightly moist and had Eucalyptus oil on the road from overhanging trees. I slammed on the breaks when the car didn’t turn left, but to no avail. It continued straight ahead, up an embankment, then fell back right on top of the car.
I wasn’t going that fast so wasn’t hurt, but it sure was hard on the car. As neighbors gathered, I learned that this had happened before to other drivers and they asked the city to put up a warning sign, but they didn’t. The car could be repaired, but it would take over $24k to fix it. I decided it was a sign from above that maybe I shouldn’t keep it, so I sold it to the guy who owned the local BMW body shop in Pleasanton.
About six months later, my wife and I were walking toward the local Best Buy when I saw the son of the body shop owner driving my 850. I could hardly believe what I saw. It looked better than new, with high-profile tires and fancy rims just like the ones I had planned to buy for it. I almost cried while watching him drive by.
Update – I was looking at cars on the Bring A Trailer site this morning and came across the video below. It is about a red ’94 that is being sold but gives you an idea of how great these cars were and still are. I wish I could buy it, but it just isn’t in the cards anymore.
So what do you get after owning one of the truly greatest road cars of all time? I wanted something sporty, and nice, but not so fast. I ended up getting this low mileage car from the dealer we bought my wife’s car from. It was a nice car, but I was never really happy with it because I couldn’t help but compare it to my BMW 850.
When we went looking for a replacement car for the Blazer, I told Georgia that since this would be her car, it would be totally her decision. She test drove a Lexus SUV, BMW 525, the mid-size Infinity sedan, and their SUV, plus a Lexus GS 300. She decided on the GS 300. We had this car for over twelve years and it never gave us one bit of trouble. Other than regular maintenance and brake pads, we didn’t spend one cent on repairs. We finally traded it in on a new Lexus in 2011.
When we decided to move to Redding, and get a house in the country, I realized we would need a pickup truck. We sold the SC 400 just before leaving Pleasanton. While the moving van with all our worldly possessions drove North to our new home we each drove one of our two remaining cars. My wife drove her Lexus and I drove my ’55 Olds.
After we settled in, I went looking for a mid-sized truck. I planned to get a Toyota, but they seemed overpriced. I was ready to buy and decided to walk next door to the Nissan dealer to see what they had. I lucked out because a loss-leader was advertised that morning in the newspaper, but I hadn’t seen it. The truck was fully loaded, compared to the Toyota, and was a couple of thousand dollars less. This has been a great truck and will probably outlast me. It is a four-wheel drive, so easily pulls our boat out of the lake. With over eighty thousand miles on it, the only things I have ever replaced are the fan belts, the battery, and an air conditioning hose.
31-2011-Lexus – ES 350
Well, our 1999 Lexus GS 300 passed the 162,000-mile mark and I started to wonder when something would finally break on it. Other than regularly scheduled maintenance, the only thing we ever had to do was replace the battery and front disc brake pads. Anyway, I knew it wouldn’t last until they took our driving privileges away, so gave Georgia a bunch of reasons why we should get what I thought would probably be our last new car.
While she was in Tucson caring for Amber after surgery, I made the rounds of car dealers to narrow the selection down to a few marques and models. The bottom line, however, was that we loved our GS 300 so much, and it was so reliable, staying with Lexus was an easy decision.
So it was an ES 350 vs. a GS 350. The GS has 35 HP more and is rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. The car size, interior space, and trunk space are almost identical, but the GS goes for $10,000 more so the decision was pretty easy. There are no Lexus dealers in Redding, so we bought it while visiting Georgia’s aunt in Newport Beach. South County Lexus, in Mission Viejo offered us the best all-around deal, so we went with them.
We drove it back from Newport Beach, with an overnight stop in Monterey, so the car had a little over 800-miles when we got home. You don’t realize how cars change over the years until you drive some distance in a car that is 12-years newer. The steering, ride, and power are so much better it is hard to believe. We absolutely love the car!
32-2020-Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid
The odometer on our Lexus reached a little over 145,000 miles, so we decided it was time to trade it in for a new car. After much consideration, I couldn’t justify paying an extra $12,000 to $15,000 for another Lexus ES, which in my opinion is just a fancy Toyota, so we went for the Toyota. I was leery about a 4-cylinder hybrid, but it has much more pep due to the electric motor assist and gets great mileage. After 2 and 1/2 months we are getting 45-MPG. The smart cruise control is fantastic and the adjacent lane warning control is much appreciated too.
Here is a placeholder photo until I take a few of it setting in our driveway.
A Little Fatherly Advice
So, as I said when I started this post if you can afford it, why not buy what you want. If you work hard, you should spoil yourself once in a while. If you can’t afford a new car don’t get one.
I wish I had this keyholder hanging in a very large garage with these cars in it. Unfortunately, I can’t afford it.