"My Mother's Cars"
Recently I thought that it would be interesting to get a women's point of view regarding the hot rod culture of the 50's in Southern California, so I asked my Mother to write me a short story about some of the cars that she owned and her experiences with them while growing up in the 50's and 60's. The following is an edited version of what she had put together. I'm sure that some of the following information may be considered boring, however, I thought that it might be interesting to some of you readers, please remember that she is writing to me in first person.
Thank you !
Jeffrey W. Hillinger A.K.A. Moldy Marvin
Webmaster / aeclassic.com
Side Note: I put this page together back in 1998 for this website. My mother passed away on October of 2007. This story is a dedication to my mother.
My Mother and Father back in the Day!
My first car was a '39 Plymouth coupe. We were living in Canoga Park at the time. We had moved there in summer or fall, 1951 from the Sunland/Tujunga area because of my fathers work. I started my junior year at Canoga Park High.
I bought the car before my 16th birthday which was in March, '52 and of course couldn't drive it at first as I didn't have a license yet.
Actually don't remember very much about learning to drive. I took Driver's Ed in the fall semester '51, but wasn't allowed to take Driver Training as I wasn't old enough. I do remember a boy friend, (David a trombone player and a straight A student), taking me out in his father's car and letting me drive. I Don't remember my Father teaching me although he may have. He was probably a little gun shy as he had tried, (only once), to teach my mom to drive. Scary, I remember being in the back seat at the time.
I remember going to the DMV immediately after my 16th birthday to get my learner's permit and soon after received my license. I took the test in my first husbands Jim's, (the marriage that didn't count), '48 Mercury convertible, black w/white top. Great pipes, really loud and mellow! I had to make sure the top was up because I was afraid that the guy giving me the test wouldn't like the noise and would give me a failing grade.
That old Plymouth had a few dings in it, but a friend of a friend came over with a mallet and banged some of them out. I bought two different shades of green paint, dark for the body and lighter for the dashboard. (Can this be why most greens are not my favorite colors?) I painted that thing with a paint brush, no fancy sprayer for me. That was truly a "handcrafted" car! It did putt around, though. Never had to go to a mechanic. In fact I named it Putt, Putt.
Shortly after I started driving I was turning around on our street, using a neighbor's driveway. My friend, Vera, who was with me told me that I was "okay", so I backed out and proceeded to tear down the neighbors little short, white picket fence!
The summer after my junior year I really yearned to go back to Verdugo Hill High and somehow my father managed to get a job back at the Record Ledger in Tujunga. However, we wouldn't be able to move back before school started so that little Putt Putt and I made the trip from CP to Tujunga and back several times a week. I can't imagine Mother letting me do this, but she did. I remember that on a couple mornings it was so foggy I couldn't see a thing. There were a few times, too that I stayed with my best friend, Lila Lewis, at her home in Sunland instead of driving.
I don't remember when I got rid of Putt Putt, but it must have been sometime soon after that. I bought it for about $125 and sold it for about $110, so didn't lose much.
The next car that I drove was the '48 Merc that belonged to Jim. Guess it was kind of mine, too, as he's the one I married New Year's eve, 1952. Shortly after we had eloped he received his draft notice, so we decided that we may as well tell our parents that we were married. He left his car with his mother, but told her that I could use it sometimes. So, I would zoom around town, putting those wonderful pipes to their best use, also, turning off the ignition on a downhill ride, and then turning it back on. Boy, what a bang! Then every once in a while, the local police would stop his little old mother, who could barely see over the steering wheel, and bawl her out for going around town making such a racket. She denied
that we were married, his father never did know. And one day I had the car at school and a friend came up to me and said he thought he had just seen me driving down the street. It wasn't me of course. I went to the parking lot to find that the car was missing. Almost had a heart attack! That woman had taken the car without telling me or leaving a message at the school office.
My next car... let's see. Ah, I was going to Metropolitan Junior College, taking a merchandising course and working part-time at the Broadway Department store, downtown Los Angeles. Thoroughly bored with all but my math classes, I was in Pasadena checking into going to modeling school. On the way to the school I spotted this 1949 cream w/black top Chevy convertible. It had to be either the school or the car. Well, you never saw me on magazine covers, so I must have chosen the car!
Somewhere along the way I became unmarried, quit school, went to work as an information operator with the phone company, (the pay sounding so fantastic! not!), moved to Glendale with another girl into an awful old brick apartment building. The bed stood on end in a little hallway when not in use and then we rolled it into the living room where it was let down flat. The kitchen had a tiny refrigerator that sat on top of the counter next to the sink What a depressing place.
It was at this time that I had my first and only encounter with a "car club". I started dating a guy who belonged to one. Now I wonder why he was in it as I don't think he even owned a car! I lived in Glendale and he lived in the Pasadena area. We would go places with some of the other members of the car club, but I later realized that we always used my car. I also realize how incredibly stupid, naive and fortunately, lucky I was. Including the fact that this guy was using my car with other girls or at least one other girl. He was going to lower my car in the back, strip all the chrome off, fill it in and paint it. He did do these things through the sky blue primer stage, but it seemed to be taking a very long time and he had the car all the time. I didn't live far from work at the time. Finally I found out that he either had another girlfriend or was actually living with someone and I got my car back and it never did get it's new paint job.
I remember buying my Pontiac, my Father went with me to find a car. We went somewhere in Los Angeles. Father and Mother had to co-sign for me so the salesman sent forms in the mail to them with absolutely NO FIGURES on them at all. Well, he picked the wrong woman to fool with. My Mother called him and really told him off and we proceeded to get financing elsewhere. He really must have thought we were stupid!
Anyway, the Pontiac was cream w/black top and interior. Just like the Chevy before it. (I later had it painted a light green/blue, can't figure out why as the cream was nice looking.)
Somewhere around this time your father came into the picture. I lived in a different place in Glendale with two roommates, Joyce and Myra. This was a better place that the apartment. It even had a bedroom. I got a phone call from a guy that had been given my name and number from one of the members of the car club mentioned above. Not sure what he gave as my references. This guy was named Cliff. He called several times before I consented to meet him. Each time he would call he would play the saxophone over the phone to me. When I said I would go out with him he asked if I could get a date for his friend. I think that perhaps Cliff didn't have a car and had to be brought to Glendale from Altadena by his friend. Anyway, I got my roommate, Myra to agree to meet this other guy. Enter your dad! I'm pretty sure he had the "46 red Merc convertible then as I don't remember him driving another car. He had the mandatory fuzzy dice, made for him by a previous girlfriend who had dubbed him "Hickey Happy Honey". I thought that Cliff was really handsome, looking like the sexy movie star Victor Mature. (Wonder if he really looked like that?) However, lucky for me and for you, I hit it off better with your dad and Myra liked Cliff, so we switched dates.
When we got married your dad and I had the same cars, '53 Pontiac and '46 Merc. I'm sure he's told you the sad story of the Merc. It met it's demise while we were living in the tiny house in Sunland. A large car across the street
rolled down the driveway and ran right into the Merc which was sitting at the curb. (We were gone at the time.) If the car hadn't been parked at the curb, however, the other car probably would have gone into our living room the curb was knocked loose as it was.
I'm sure your dad has taken care of the cars we had while together but I'll run over it lightly. He next had a "49 or "50 brown Pontiac, convertible, a '55 or '56 pink Chevy. (not necessarily in that order). An old Hillman convertible, which was later traded for a new Hillman stationwagon. We later traded the '53 for a Mercedes 220S. Can't remember what year it was. This car had been in storage for a long, long time and lucky for your dad and I it was covered by a dealer's warranty as things had gotten rusty and they had to do a lot of work, I think that they had to rebuild the engine. Also, the door panels were upholstered with fabric and all I had to do was barely touch the panel with a fingernail and the material would disintegrate.
Sometime later we bought the Mercedes 190SL, year ? maybe '55. Don't know what was traded in on that one. We bought it as a Christmas present for ourselves. Your dad then drove the 220 and I drove the 190. So you can tell people that your family was a 2 Mercedes family for a while!
Your dad sold the 220 when you guys went to Europe and I later traded the 190 in on the 1966 Mustang. I really loved the 190, but it was expensive to fix !
Things sure have changed. The most comfortable, easiest to drive car I've had, however is the '88 Olds that I drive now.