Tag Archives: Engine

Unsafe at Any Speed

At lunch today my husband and I talked about our first cars. His was a 1948 Chevy.

Knowing that he is not all that mechanical, my first question was, “How did you keep it running?”

“It never broke down,” he said.

Now, that’s just not right.

Growing up, I don’t remember a single car we possessed that didn’t break down. My earliest memory is of sitting next to Dad as we careened down a steep hill, all the while he was frantically trying to re-attach the steering wheel to the column.

Dad owned clunkers where the engine literally dropped out on the road as we were driving or overheated at the slightest incline. (One time I watched Dad resolve the problem by pouring a can of cola into the radiator, but that’s another story.) We once spent an entire month camping in the mountains because the car broke down as we pulled in the campground and we had no transportation, or money, to drive down to get a new part.

I remember riding with my older sister in the first car Dad bought for her. We were sitting at a stoplight. People started pointing and shouting and it took us a while to realize the car was on fire. In our defense the car had the engine in the rear, so it wouldn’t have been immediately obvious to us.  I mean, we didn’t have the radio cranked all the way up and we weren’t fighting over the rearview mirror to check our hair and make-up, if that’s what you’re thinking.

So, my first car was a slightly burnt, hand-me-down from my sister (as were all my clothes by the way – I mean they were hand-me-downs, not burnt – that would be weird.)

One problem was the heater. Heat was conveyed to the interior of the car by a system of ducts connected to the cylinder head. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know I often arrived at school slightly dizzy from inhaling exhaust fumes.

There was also no Park. The display read “R-N-D-L”. No “P.” I’m sure that originally the manufacturer installed some sort of system whereby the car stayed where you parked it but by the time it reached me, that portion of the car was no longer working. My only option was to find a level place to park. In my first week of driving I often came out of school to discover the car had rolled across the parking lot, jumped the curb and sat sweetly in the grass.

On a morning drive to school my love/hate meter shot from one side to the other several times.

“I love this car,” I’d say if I was lucky enough to get it started and out the drive. My love continued unabated, until I hit a bump.

“I hate this stupid car,” I’d yell when the motor shut off. As the car rolled onward I screamed and cursed it, until I’d hit another bump, which caused the motor to engage and I’d make my panicked way to school with the needle on my love/hate meter jumping wildly.

My first car?  It was a Corvair. The car declared by Ralph Nader to be”Unsafe at Any Speed.”

I have to agree with Ralph.