Ellen Byron

My Love Affair with a Vintage Car

One thing I’ve learned in L.A. is that certain cars reflect and even possess certain personalities.  I can pretty much count on BMWs to zoom in and out of freeway lanes like a soccer forward moving down the field. Pickup trucks seem to revel in exceeding the speed limit and bullying people out of their way by tailgating. (Hence my dream to one day own a license plate that reads DNT TLGT.) Minivans will inevitably drive too slow in the passing lane and sport those stick figure decals boasting the number of kids, cats, and dogs populating the family unit.

And then there’s this type of car, which usually wanders from lane to lane at the slowest pace imaginable as if in the early stages of dementia…beater-car

The fact that I anthropomorphize automobiles is why I put a lot of thought into choosing the cars my protagonists drive. And why Maggie Crozat, the heroine of my Cajun Country Mystery series, drives the most important car of my life. The car I would have legally adopted and put through college if I could have…

ford-falcon-convertible

My family’s ’63 Ford Falcon convertible – with red interior AND a red top – was what we on the East Coast called a “station car,” meaning it was the used car my dad drove to the train station, where he’d get the 7:05 to Manhattan for work. It’s also the car he taught me to drive in. The passenger side door eventually broke, so you’d either enter through the driver’s side or put the top down and leap over the door into the front or back seat. The first time I went to take the driver’s test for my license, the DMV refused to let me due to this flaw. My mother had a brilliant idea when we went back the second time. She held the door open for the instructor and maneuvered it shut. “No one’s ever held a door open for me before,” said the grateful instructor. I passed with flying colors.

I loved that car so much. I remember flying down the Bronx River Parkway in the middle of winter with the top down, singing to “Knights in White Satin” with friends as it blared from the radio. Eventually, the car died and my parents sold it for five dollars. When the new owners towed it away, I lay on my bed weeping as if a pet had died.

I immortalized the car in a play I wrote, where a very damaged character has a monologue about “Scarlotta,” his beloved Falcon convertible. After the car finally gave out, he had it buried in the town cemetery with its very own tombstone. When it came to giving my mystery protagonist a set of wheels, it was a no-brainer. Maggie inherited a ’63 Ford Falcon convertible from her late grandfather – black exterior, red interior and rag-top roof.

I didn’t own my own car until I moved to Los Angeles in 1990. My first impulse, of course, was to buy a ’63 Falcon convertible. They were still around, but when I checked them out, the emotional connection was missing. Maybe it would have developed over time, but I decided to make a more practical choice and bought a ’84 Toyota Corolla. It’s been a series of practical car choices ever since.But that ’63 Falcon convertible with the broken door and red top will live on in my memories and in my character’s driveways.

What do I drive now? You’ll find out in our group post on Friday.

Readers, have you ever had a love affair with a car? Or is it just me?

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12 thoughts on “My Love Affair with a Vintage Car

  1. My first car was a used Volkswagen Beetle and I loved it. Reading your blog brought back a lot of memories about that car and the times. All good. I even had a furry-ball key chain hanging from the rear view mirror for luck. Remember those? I actually saw them for sale again in Urban Outfitters the other day. I suppose everything old is new again – when do we get to be new again?

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  2. OMG! My family also had a 1963 Ford Falcon–black with cream interior (though not a convertible), which my folks inherited from my grandparents, and then which both my older brothers inherited in turn. But alas, when it came my time, the second brother had pretty much trashed the thing. For years I dreamed of that car, and then during my first year of law school my honey bought me one–and yes, it was a convertible! I loved that car dearly, but eventually had to sell it because it wasn’t big enough to carry my band’s PA speakers. Sigh…

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  3. Many cars today don’t look what I think of when I think of a car. Your Falcon does. That’s got lines. And you must’ve had a hell of a good time rolling down the road singing Nights in White Satin or anything else. Fun stuff, Ellen!

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  4. Nothing so cool as a Falcon, and no love affair, more like a dependency. After many carl-less years in DC, I broke down and got a used Datsun from a mechanic in Western Virginia. The engine had spent a year in pieces in a box in his shed. It was a 4-door sedan with a bubbled black vinyl top and a paint job that undoubtedly had started as a cheery red color when it shipped out of Tokyo, but had become more of a chalky bruised magenta by the time in inherited it.When the time came, I sold it at a bargain to an Albanian with an expectant wife.
    Love your story of the Falcon, Ellen, especially your mom’s ingenious ploy with the door.

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  5. Great story about your Datsun. We had a Datsun too, at one point. The car was totaled, but I escaped death by opting out of going with my parents to the city at the last minute. I literally jumped out of the car as a light changed. Half hour later, my brother came to the party I was at to tell me the car had skidded out of control and wrecked. If I’d stayed with my parents, I wouldn’t be writing this post now.

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