The Red Chevette

I swore I would never buy a Chevy Chevette. I swore I would never buy a Ford Pinto or a Ford Escort. I've owned all three, in fact, two Escorts.

I bought the 1976 candy apple red Chevette, just after I got my first real job, in the spring of 1982. I needed dependable and affordable transportation to and from work. I was looking for a small car with a stick shift. This car had an automatic transmission. It was six years old with only 5000 miles on it and as clean as the day it was first driven off the showroom floor.

I took my dad with me. I needed a ride down to the Chevy dealership in Franklin, PA and he knew half the guys down there. A couple of them were alcoholics. One was drying out in the hospital one time and a nurse came in the room and found him moving beds around. It turns out he thought he was moving cars around the parking lot at work. The other guy sold only new cars and he sent us over to see Harry. "Harry has what you're looking for." he said.

Harry showed us the car and then got the keys. We took it for a ride through Rocky Grove. It handled like a dream. The engine was smooth and the rack and pinion steering responded to the slightest movement. My dad said if I didn't buy it he would. It came with an extra set of wheels, with winter tires on them. I paid the asking price, around $3000.

My dad co-signed the loan since I had no credit. I asked the loan officer how many payments I could miss before they came to repossess the car. My dad cut in and assured the man I would make every payment. The banker said it was a good question and told me about three months.

The only thing worn on the car were the front brake pads. The car had been owned by an older woman who lived up in Franklin Heights. She must have ridden the brakes the whole way down the one mile hill into Franklin. One of the first lights to burn out was a rear brake light.

I had been working on cars, a little, and was up to the challenge of changing the brake pads myself. It took me two hours using Chilton's Manual that first time. I had to put new brake pads on the front about every 8000 miles. The last time I would change them would take me 20 minutes, without the book. I changed the back brake pads once too. They were drum brakes, unlike the front brakes which were disc brakes. You need a special tool or two to do drum brakes properly. I spent an entire Sunday afternoon working on those rear drum brakes. Monday morning I was headed for work and went straight through the first stop sign I came to. I had to let a real mechanic fix it right.

A couple years after I bought the car, which I would own for eleven years, it was broken into. The AM-FM cassette player was ripped right out of the dash, leaving a rough gaping hole. The door speakers were removed in a similar fashion. Two boxes of tools that took years to accumulate were lifted out of the back, off of the floor. Some of them were tools my grandfather had given me and were virtually irreplaceable. They took my 12-speed Kabuki bicycle which was my pride and joy. And they smashed a lamp I bought and had left on the front seat. I was devastated, but the rest of the car was fine. It was rear wheel drive and would go anywhere in the winter (with those winter wheels I got). It always started, except when the timing belt would go later.

Ironically, my brother and sister had Chevettes the same time I did. I bought mine first. I lucked out, they got lemons. But my car did develop a strange quirk over time. When I ran the windshield wipers the horn would honk. As the wipers went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; the horn would honk with each pass, "honk" - "honk" - "honk". People would turn and look as I passed them on the street. Some would wave. At stoplights I would put my hands up to show that I wasn't touching anything. I could never find the source of the mystery so I disconnected it. A few months later I got the car inspected and the mechanic said he found the strangest thing, the horn was disconnected.

At 55,000 miles the car wouldn't start one day. The engine would turn and turn but it would not catch. I had no idea what the hell was wrong. I had it towed to the garage and found out it was the timing belt. I was told this was typical for this car at about 50,000 miles. It would go a couple more times before I sold it. I got my money's worth out of the red Chevette. I eventually sold it after I got tired of working on it. The body was starting to go and it was leaking fluids. I sold it in the late winter of 1993. It had almost 90,000 miles on it. Some young guy gave me $100 dollars for it. I told him everything that was wrong with it. A year later he was still driving it.

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