Hagerty.com

My first car was my worst car—by far


#1

We all have cars that echo in our memories. We likely remember our first cars fondly, and look at them through hormone-impregnated rose-colored glasses. As we get older and purchase cars for more practical reasons, they often become less memorable. If you order that list from most-loved to least-loved, there’s bound to be a car that, due to mediocrity and unreliability, you particularly despised.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/10/29/my-first-car-was-my-worst-car-by-far

#2

I currently have a '74 Spitfire 1500…with the same rusted-out control arm issue. I felt the flimsy rust/metal break loose one day as I came to a stop at a stoplight; I had known the day would come as I was aware of the issue, so it wasn’t a surprise. I left the car at a nearby gas station while I had a friend take me to get my truck and trailer. That was about a month ago - which has given me plenty of time to rebuild the front suspension while I wait for somebody to attempt to un-swiss-cheese the rear of the floorboards. These old Spitfires/GT6s may have their issues, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.


#3

Not my first car, but I once had a 1981 Cutlass with the infamous 350 Oldsmobile Diesel. By far the worst car I’ve ever had. It leaked fuel everywhere from the injector pump, the head gaskets started leaking exhaust into the coolant shortly after I bought it and it had so little power that it could barely get out of its own way. Not to mention it had a GM Goodwrench replacement engine, so it was not the first time it failed. The glow plug controller went out so I had to wire in a switch. Even in the summer I had to really get those glow plugs going or it wouldn’t start. It was rust free and $500, so I couldn’t complain too much. I eventually stripped the car with the intent of gas swapping it, but car ADD got the best of me and I bought a '66 Caprice project car instead.


#4

Not my first car, but my fourth, after a string of fairly reliable Pontiacs and a Chevy. I bought a 1972 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe. Why? Because my cool college roommate bought one, and it would be better on gas than the Pontiac 400 V8. An important consideration during the gas crisis of 1979. Overall, i enjoyed the little Fiat, but it left me stranded more often and in more expensive ways than any car before or since. and then there was the rust… Fiats rust at least as quickly as Spitfires. I couldn’t patch the patches fast enough to stay ahead of it. Few things are more disheartening than jacking your car up and watching in horror as the jack crunches through the rocker panel. Ouch! I bought another Fiat to drive in the winters! What was I thinking??? After 3 years I junked it when the left front control arm violently detached from the body during moderately heavy braking, nearly breaking my thumb as the steering wheel jerked hard to one side. To add insult to injury, a year later I came across the little bugger while browsing a local junkyard with a friend. It was completely as intact as when I had it towed away!


#5

First car was probably not one I should have had at 17 years of age. It was a 1963.5 Falcon Sprint. Acquired it in 65 from my brother who was called up for active navy duty. The Sprint was a dream come true. Had followed the Sprint exploit at the 63 MonteCarlo Rally where it was dominant in its class, and its relationship to the early Mustangs. A great car, 260 cubic inches with 164 hp, 4 speed standard. Corinthian white, red interior, similar to the one Jay Leno has in his collection. Had it for 6 years and would have kept it much longer had it not been totaled in a hit and run incident that demolished the whole rear end. Insurance wrote it off. The only issue i had with it was worn valve seals after 4 years of use. Worst car only from the haunting perspective that it was “taken from me”.


#6

@ghache - Having driven a '64 1/2 Mustang with the 260 a good bit, I have come to really like that engine. It is plenty for the little Mustang or Falcon. A Sprint would be a fun car to won.


#7

Not here. My first car was an Alfa 1750 GTV. I was 18, 1977. Childhood dream going back to the day I sat in one at the 1969 auto show. I couldn’t really afford it, it needed bodywork and general fettling. I spent the summer working on it, then sold it without really driving it. A year later I had money, a summer job, and got a 1300 GT Junior. Drove it for two years, never really let me down. It was followed by a Ford Capri, then I graduated and owned both a pristine 2000GTV and Lotus Elan. And I bought a Saab 99 as a winter car. THAT was my worst car ever. Out of 45 so far.

I still own a 2000GTV and an Elan.


#8

It was my second car, but I kept a '78 Spitfire for five years in college. It had a stricter schedule than I ever did, breaking down to the point of undriveability each and every four months. Failing parts included four alternators, three clutches, a timing chain tensioner, a water pump or two, and a handfull of burned valves. Then there were also odd repairable things, like a welded front rollbar mount that just let go one day. Valves had to be manually adjusted, so there was always something that would eat up a valuable weekend afternoon even when the car was running pretty well. On the plus side (in the sense that a lack of negatives look positive in this context) that southern car was rust-free, service accessibility was great since the whole front body pivoted forward like an E-type, it had the Laycock de Normanville overdrive, it failed to leave me stranded on the interstate (oversight, I’m sure), and 13" Michelin XZXs were $40 at the time.


#9

It wasn’t my first car, but the worst car that I ever owned was a beautiful '57 Oldsmobile. It had a continuous string of transmission troubles,but the main issue was the awful vacuum-operated heater and ventilation controls. At one time or other I think I replaced every inch of the miles of vacuum hoses - all of which were difficult to access, plus numerous vacuum diaphragms and valves - all of which failed during winter when the heater was needed. It was a nice car to drive, but if the designer of that heating and ventilation system is still alive, I wish him and the suit who approved the design, a chronic case of poison ivy


#10

I’m 85 so my first car was a Model A Ford, 1930, bought it from granddad for 25 bucks in 1948.
Battery was dead, the brake pedal arm under the floor had bared on the cable, it wore thru’. I fixed that temporarily with tape, cranked to start and drove the 83 miles home. I more or less restored the car, rebuilt the engine, new door upholstery, new muffler, drove it to high school 3 years, college two years. By then we had a 9:1 head, 3/4 cam, dual downdraft carbs, light flywheel and 3-54 rear end, cops clocked me at over 90.
One of the best cars I ever owned really, never let me down ever, never should have sold it, big mistake.
Warren Sjoberg
Milaca, MN


#11

My first car should have been my worst car. It was a 33 Chev. 2 door sedan chocked full of potential that I bought for 100 bucks when I was 14. What I had envisioned as a “neato” hot rod became a fenderless dune buggy in the face of the reality of lack of money and lack of skill. My WORST car was a '59 Ford 4 door sedan that I had to drive for a while after high school. 292/2bbl/automatic/black & white. Nothing wrong with it really but it was just plain “fugly”.


#12

First car I ever bought for myself was a 61 Rambler American wagon. Anything would burn less gas than the old family wagon (72 Pontiac Catalina!) my dad had graciously (and I mean that… I had wheels!) given me instead of trading it in. That little flat-head six Rambler was almost worn out! Had about 1/4 turn of play in the steering due mainly to worn lower trunnions (Rambler used those instead of ball joints), would get out of it’s own way and that’s about it! Three speed on the tree, had to time getting out in traffic just right, and the synchro in the trans was stuck. A mechanic friend of my dad’s pulled what was left of it out and told me I’d soon learn to time shifting so I didn’t grind gears (I did!!). He also told me how to double-clutch when down-shifting (and why!). Bought from a furniture store that used it for a TV service vehicle throughout the 60s and early 70s. Bought for scrap price – told me they’d let me have it if I could get it running. Had sat for 8-10 years, but with just a little coaxing it fired right up!! Seats were rags, but a local junkyard sold me some Fiat reclining buckets for $25, I pulled some vinyl over the rear seat and hog ringed in place. Some scrap carpet completed the interior. Store found a service log book a few weeks after I had it on the road and called me to pick it up. Darn thing had 180K miles on it – unheard of for those old cars!! It was well maintained over the years, but it was still on it’s last legs. I drove it for about a year then bought a two door parts car with no title. Flat towed it home over back roads with a friends truck after I made sure it had brakes. Lived out in the country, just a 20-30 foot rope to tow with! That thing “drove” better being towed than mine under power! Ended up getting a title for the two door and junking the wagon instead of swapping the front end parts over as intended. Rebuilt the engine from the wagon.

It was worn out and drove like crap, but I put a lot of miles on it and loved the little thing! I STILL have a Rambler… just not that one (63 Classic… WAGON!). The one I got after that was a 63 American two door sedan with the OHV six. Decided right then I’d never have another flat-head six for a daily driver… what a difference 35 more hp made!!


#13

My fist car was a 1965 Vauxhall Viva. I was 16. The Viva was 11 years old when I bought it. It rusted out pretty fast. The gas tank on these beasts was located in the rear trunk against the fender. One time I was driving down a busy city street when I heard a bump in the rear. A few yards later the car died. After pulling to the side of the road I noticed my gas tank laying in the middle of the road. I went back, picked it up (still about 1/2 full), set it back in the trunk, made a messy connection on the steel gas line (with black tape) and drove it home. I pulled the engine out of this beauty and installed it in a 1967 Viva (now a different style). I had to add 4" to the drive shaft to make it work. Anyway, this car was a whole new set of nightmares (about 6 distributer replacements). Horror stories for another time.


#14

I bought my '70 GT6+ in April '77. Still driving it today. Insured by, yeah, these guys.


#15

My First Car was a 1976 Triumph Spitfire :sunglasses: 7500 original miles. Literally started disentigrating around me as I drove it. Would love to still have it. Have almost bought others to replace. But after owning 100’s of cars in the last 30 years, no need to beat my head against a wall to drive a Spitfire. The F355 is all I need.


#16

I had a different Triumph experience. I bought a no-rust 1978 Spitfire 1500, Pimento Red (orange, really) with 80k on the odometer and an unknown number of miles (and years) since the original engine was replaced with a factory rebuild. Had to be a long time, given that the “factory” was long, long gone. Did I mention this? Every electrical item worked fine, including the map light. My daughter and I did a light “restoration” to fix the immediate things that ailed it: new leaf spring, new shocks, new seat upholstery/foams, new soft top, and a rebuild of the single Stromberg carburetor. Once these things were done, the car performed flawlessly for years. This is not to say it didn’t require attention. Every week we’d go through the car and tighten what had loosened, lubricated what seemed dry, checked for leaks (none!), replaced what seemed sketchy. And it never once failed to start (thanks to electronic ignition), and never once left any of us on the roadside. In fact, when my wife’s Toyota coasted to the curb with a blown inverter coolant pump, I rescued her in the Triumph.
Victory was sweet.
Robin
Spit%202


#17

My first car/worst car story is eerily similar. It was 1970 and I was 17 years old with a little cash in hand from bagging groceries and a part time job in a jewelry store. My dad wouldn’t let me have the ’65 GTO I lusted after but I found two Austin-Healeys for sale locally that I could afford. For some reason, I too passed on the ’62 A-H 3000 and picked the ’64 A-H Sprite. Hey, the price was right at $600! It was a cute little car but it had a lot more wrong with it that I could ever imagine.

My dad bought it for me and drove it home because I was at work. When my brother and I took it for a test drive that night when I got home, it went about half a mile and quit. I should have taken that as an omen and unloaded it immediately but I loved the quickness of the car and the 4-speed! It had a red interior and the previous owner had repainted it a correct grey color. Unfortunately, they used a circular sander for the job, leaving thousands of swirl marks under the new paint!

The first job was to repaint the Sprite and fix the sticking transmission and the brakes. I didn’t like the grey color so, for some unknown reason, I selected a ’69 Camaro Rallye Green out of the paint book at the parts store. If you’re familiar with that color, you can imagine what the car looked like with the red interior! To quote one observer at the base hobby shop where we worked on the car and painted it, “that thing looks like a damn Christmas tree!” It did too but it was too late to change it now!

Other problems such the opaque side windows, leaking top, and flat spot on the flywheel ensued and were addressed or ignored as required. The car was almost impossible to start on a damp or humid morning which made leaving for school interesting. Luckily, I had kept my Honda motorcycle and could jump on it in case the Sprite was a no start.

Mr. Lucas also touched my life several times. For instance, while driving home from the jewelry store in the rain late one night, I hit a puddle of water that I didn’t see. First, all the car’s lights went out, then the engine quit and I was encased in the above-mentioned “sudden anticipated darkness!” A restart was out of the question; it wasn’t fun walking through the rain to find a house with a light on so I could call my own house for a rescue.
Despite all the problems it was a great car for a teenager when it was actually running back then and I loved it! Would I want another one? Not no, but #!*# NO!?!


#18

I was a poor college student in 1971 and bought a 65 Spitfire for $500. My new wife wanted to learn to drive a stick, so I drove it a few minutes, showing her how to work the clutch and gas. We traded places, she gets heavy on the gas and drops the clutch, the differential disintegrates. I had her towed (the Spitfire, not the wife) to a foreign car mechanic who had a beautiful mid-sixties Lamborghini in the showroom and was working on classic Jaguar and Mercedes sedans in the shop. After about a month I went to pick it up, and when I got about 2 blocks from the shop I saw smoke billowing in the distance. It seems the Lambo had a fuel leak and the fan they were using to push the fumes out had a short. All those beautiful cars and my little Spitfire were toast. Insurance (not Hagerty) paid me double what I bought it for and no repair bill. I still have the wife, but she won’t drive my GT6.


#19

My 2nd car war a GT6 Mklll when I purchased after I graduated college in '76 … LOVED it… Only problem was the Lucas system… I never understood how a car from rainy England didn’t start ( 1/2 the time) in the rain
During the winter I’d place a 1/4 inch steel plate in the hatch… This car drove though snow banks like a tractor


#20

Rob, What a nice treat to find you here. I recognized your name immediately from the Roundel, which I have not read in years, after I no longer had BMWs. I have enjoyed seeing Sam Smith in R&T now too. Is he still on the Roundel team?

My first car was my best car. When I graduated from college, my parents offered to buy me a Honda Civic (~$4,000 at the time, spring of 1978) as a graduation present. I had seen an ad for the special edition 1978 VW Scirocco, which was $6,500. They agree to let me put my savings together with their $4,000 and get the VW.

I need to back up a few months here. My dad had replaced his 71 Saab 99E with a 74 99 EMS. He told me I could use the 71 in my senior year, but he would still own it. It was about as reliable as your Spit. I couldn’t drive it anyplace without having to fix something. I, too, had been a bike mechanic, so doing the car was not a big transition.

During spring break of 1978, we went to The Small Car Company, the VW dealer at the time in Westport, CT, and bought the Scirocco. I did not want to drive it to Rochester, NY, to return to college, since it is still the middle of winter there in March. We arranged to leave the car at the dealer, so it didn’t need to be registered or insured until I returned after graduation. A few days later, driving the Saab to Rochester, in a terrible storm, on a day I did not need to go, but did, because my passengers had classes on the next day (I did not), I got into a multi-car pile up on a frozen over bridge in Binghampton. Heard about it on the CB, couldn’t see a thing in the blinding snow, drove right into the back of the line… and then someone did the same to me. Fortunately, not at great speed.

We all waited for the police, and eventually gave that up. I guess they were busy with lots of wrecks that day. Swapped insurance info, and found that my crumpled heap still ran, so we continued. It was misfiring badly though, did not have enough power to get out of first gear. Made it to Rochester like that, then parked the car until graduation, by which time it was almost warm enough to pry the hood open and diagnose it. The problem was nothing more than a spark plug wire that had been knocked loose.

I drove the car back to CT, and took delivery of the VW, which was like a rocket ship compared to the Saab. Much smaller, but everything I owned fit in it, easily.

The insurer declared the Saab a total loss, but I made a deal with my dad, and the insurer, bought the salvage for $300, and my dad let me keep the Saab. I beat it back into some semblance of shape, so at least the hood could open and close. I remember tying a chain from my mom’s Plymouth Fury to the Saab’s radiator bulkhead, and using the Mopar power to pull the rad forward, so it was no longer touching the engine.

So, this left me with a cool VW, and a very roachy Saab. This set the stage for me always having a winter beater, and because of that, the VW lives to this day. In fact, I had it out for a ride this morning. One part at a time, I have converted it to something very similar to European GTi spec (the special edition already had the GTi interior), and it has been my good friend for 40 years now. The only part that has ever failed, leaving me in the lurch, has been the fuel pump relay, twice. Now I carry a little jumper wire so I can bypass it, if need be.

I am uploading a photo of the car that I took this morning. Eagle eyed old timers will look at the headlights with a WTF? They were an unusual option on a European version. I brought them back from Switzerland in a suitcase decades ago. Still have the original ones, too.

Nice to catch up with you, Rob. I learned lots from your columns in the Roundel. Thanks!

Mike Hodish
Bethel, CT