An Apology To My First Car

It was never easy for you. You were born a poor 1982 Plymouth Reliant station wagon, and then you were sold to a rental-car agency ... in Florida. After a year or so of that, my parents bought you as a second car. And then, in late 1991, you became mine. My first car.

Much unlike the cheap, AM/FM radio that was the first thing I removed from you, I’ll never forget your fleet-friendly white paint, or your vinyl-covered bench seats. Nor will I forget your luggage rack, which led me to believe sitting on your roof with an acoustic guitar, singing to pretty girls, was structurally permissible, and resulted in my skinny 135-lb. ass causing a denting-beer-can sound every time I turned a corner.

I know now that every time you broke down, you were trying to tell me something. That time your head warped because I drove you too low on coolant, I know you were telling me that I was a dumbass for not keeping an eye on my fluid levels. Or the time when your timing belt went out; you were really just telling me that I was lucky I had a car with a zero-interference engine, and that I’d have to pay more attention when I owned the kind of high-performance car I really wanted.

And looking back on it, your humble, K-car roots were, in reflection, much like mine. I didn’t appreciate you as much as I should have because I had my eye on cars I thought were cooler, like my mom’s soon-to-be-retired turbocharged LeBaron. You know. The one with the cool digital dashboard, and robotic voice that would interrupt the radio anytime your washer fluid was low.

But the truth is, I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was. I was a geek. I was as much the human equivalent of a K-Car as anyone could find at the time.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now.

Every time you broke down, you forced me to spend a weekend with my dad fixing you. And because you broke down a lot, and in a lot of different ways, you were responsible for a lot of time spent with my father learning how to fix different parts of vital automotive systems.
Because of you, I learned how to rebuild both disc and drum brakes. Because of you, I learned how to trace down a short in the electrical system. Because of you, I learned how to remove a cylinder head, and then put the engine back together well enough so that it runs. Because of you, I learned how to rebuild a carburetor, even if it wouldn’t do much good because it was “electronically controlled." Because of you, I spent several hours of my youth with my dad working on a car in our driveway.

Thank you.

I beat the hell out of you, and you only made my life richer for it. While I’d never want to rely on you as my daily driver ever again, I owe a debt to you. I mistreated you the entire time we were together, yet you are my automotive “Giving Tree.” You meant so much to me, and I’ve never expressed that.

To you, my first car, a humble, white, 1982 Plymouth Reliant station wagon, I apologize.