First car offers freedom; serves as storage facility

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2000

The other day, as I sat creating my usual pile of bones that looked like a chicken graveyard at Rotary, the topic of conversation turned to cars. Well, I think it turned to cars, but it's hard to pronounce certain words while you're working your way around a wing. What it actually sounded like was "wmmhoshh plihjhjjekkk floruusbarmned", but for those of us versed in lunchtime conversation, it was clear as the clarion cry of a set of Cherry Bombs on an SS 396.

My first car.

This conversation came about when somebody's niece, nephew, or child (take your pick) was preparing to take their driving test. Everybody started reminiscing about their first foray with Detroit's finest.

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A 1966 Dodge Dart 270. Slant Six engine. No options. I mean no options. A motor, a chassis, and wheels. It was heaven on earth, painted dirt brown. Got about an hour to a gallon, since that was how we measured performance: not in miles, but how long you could "ride around".

A lot of folks had bright, shiny, many-hundred horsepower muscle cars. My mother must have been clairvoyant, because had I owned one of them there's a good chance that either jail or Johnson's Funeral Home would have been in my future. As it was, I spent a good portion of my time trying to extricate the "Dart" (every young man must name his car: so mine wasn't too original) from ditches after attempting certain curves at too great a speed.

Who cared? It was freedom. I could load it up with Newton and Marvin and the other host of local loonies, charge them $1.00 each for gas (remember, a fill-up was only five dollars), and head out. We knew every stretch of road in Butler, Conecuh, and Crenshaw counties. I outfitted the "Dart" with mud grip tires and shackles so we could do what eventually became a sport-"dirt roading" (I think it's now called "mudding").

The "Dart" was a great RV, as well. The trunk was about the size of some Caribbean islands, and stayed liberally stocked with sleeping bags, fishing rods, tackle boxes, golf clubs, shovels, tool boxes, old baseball gloves, extra changes of clothes, a Coleman lantern, flashlights, some dried stuff that must have started as bait, paper bags containing remains of sack lunches, and some stuff that defied identification. The great thing was that even with all this "necessary" equipment, you could still shove it all over to the side and sleep three in the trunk.

This brown four-wheeled freedom machine also served as the base outpost for all-night fishing expeditions; a cafe haven from summer showers while working in the hay fields; a warm place to recover from early morning deer hunts; and, on the rare occasion that it got washed by more than running through a creek, a cruising machine around the perimeter of Pasquale's parking lot.

Man, I miss that car. Went off to college, came home and Mimi had sold it out of the yard. I don't know where it is now, but the last time I saw it the paint scheme was

electric lime green, and the new owner had actually washed and cleaned it up.

Regardless of if it's in a junk heap, or in somebody's garage as a classic, the "Dart" will always live for a bunch of country boys as a gateway to freedom, wide open heading down some country road, 2-60 air conditioning (that's when you roll down two windows and go 60 mph) going wide open, telling stories, chewing tobacco (I think that's why it stayed that brown color), and heading full tilt into a collision course with adulthood.

Kick the tires and light the fires, boys. It's time to head back down a lost highway.