I Ran Into My First Car At A House Party

Cutlass First Car Topshot

I’m a sucker for a good house party. Not only are the vibes impeccable and the music often well-curated, you never know who you’ll run into. Friends from the past, colleagues you’ve never met, friends-to-be. As I rolled up to a friend’s birthday party on Saturday, I noticed something. Under the harsh glow of streetlamps sat my first car. Not one that looked like it, the exact same vehicle.

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So how did I end up with this relatively haggard midsize sedan as my first car? Well, I’m not always great at making decisions. Instead of something, I don’t know, good, I copped a G-Body Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham. While very little about this burgundy-on-burgundy slab of Americana fits well with someone who really likes to drive, it does have one ace up its sleeve. While American models largely stuck to Oldsmobile engines, Canadian cars didn’t. This thing was optioned with an LG4, a variant of Chevrolet’s 305 small-block V8 pumping out roughly 140 horsepower. That’s not a bad number at all, and the small-block V8’s aftermarket scene meant that a reasonably peppy 200 horsepower is theoretically possible. Vortec heads, intake, cam, proper carb, old-school HEI, and bam.

The previous owner used the Cutlass Supreme as a daily driver from near new to 2014. The oil was changed religiously every 3,000 kilometers, the interior was spotless, the drivetrain felt great, but even Zeibart couldn’t ward off road salt. The Cutlass looked a bit tatty when I owned it, but certainly nowhere near as tatty as it is today. After a whirlwind year of grinders and paint, I realized that I couldn’t keep the car anymore due to a cross-country move. Unfortunately, nobody trawling the classifieds wanted it, and I couldn’t bear to see it scrapped. Cue the internet.

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In the summer of 2015, I made a post on the Oppositelock blog asking someone who can weld to please take this thing off my hands. Nick, a machinist and lovable loose cannon, answered the call and had the right skillset to keep it on the road. Nick is a huge Ford guy, but his daily driver was just totaled and he needed a cheap and janky set of wheels. The Cutlass was both cheap and janky, so he hitched a dolly to the back of his dad’s Silverado and made the trek to come get the car. Since a number had to be written on the bill of sale, the official transaction value of the car was a single dollar. I promptly flipped Nick a loonie for a coffee after he hitched up, essentially making the Cutlass a free car. Free to a good home, what more could you want?

So what’s happened to the Cutlass since I owned it? Well, a lot. It’s been hit several times, had the frame welded up at least twice, been submerged in Lake Ontario, and yet it still won’t die. According to Nick, it always fires up right quick, no matter what’s happened to it or how old the fuel in the tank is. The old bastard is immortal. I can imagine it’s liberating driving something with the Kelley Blue Book value of a used Trojan. Nick says that drivers give the Cutlass a lot of room on the road, a smart decision given how chunks of rust that may fly off are of the finest General Motors quality.

first car cutlass

While it’s been years since I last saw the Cutlass, I’ve flirted with the concept of going back. After all, I met some really good friends through this car. Nick once offered me the Cutlass on a wicked set of slot mags for a really good price. At the time, I couldn’t take it. I was in the midst of a massive job change and just didn’t have the liquidity to confidently take on the old thing.

As I dropped off the Genesis GV60 I took to Detroit and saw my 3-Series, I realized that I wouldn’t want to go back. Call it growing soft, or old, or mature, or dull, modern cars are just so good that it’s hard for me to justify spending all my time fiddling with Quadrajets. I now have a job, a flat, bills, groceries, nights out, succulents on the coffee table, and I’m seeing someone. The sort of things that get in the way of big projects, but I wouldn’t get rid of any of them for the world. Rent Boy was right. There’s joy in choosing life, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.

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36 Responses

  1. Thomas, this gets me right in the feels.

    In fact, I was talking to my wife the other day over a mug of fantastic Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest, followed by an equally good Paulaner, about all the cars we used to own. By we, I mean me, dragging these things home and dreaming of keeping them forever, but I’ve always had a bad case of AADD (Automotive Attention Deficit Disorder).

    Anyway, I posited, and she agreed, with my theory about this. Pretty much from the age of 25 or 26 until a couple years ago around 37 to 38, I’d been on an seemingly endless automotive carousel ride. It reminded me of something Regular Car Reviews had philosophized upon: we reach for the cars that we remember, that take us back into our past, which we choose to remember with rose-colored glasses. We forget the pain, the turmoil, and recall the best of those experiences which formed us into who we are today. It’s natural to look back and try get a hold of something that served as an anchor for that time and place. Short of going back to the schools we grew up in, the homes we lived in, we have the cars that reminds us of “save points” in our lives.

    The funny thing is, a lot of the cars I’d bought were pulled from a reimagined, or different, childhood than the one I had. One in which maybe my parents had the money for a Volvo or a SAAB and not a busted Ford Escort wagon. Or one in which perhaps I had the money to buy a Toyota Landcruiser instead of an H-body LeSabre for my first car. Maybe even an alternate reality where my first car out of college wasn’t an E110 Corolla but a Celica Supra or an Integra.

    Sometimes, with an inkling of regret in my heart, fondly remember a car that upset me to the point of listing it for sale. Then, not realizing what I’ve done, sold it in a matter of hours, then starting the hunt again. My past relationship with cars feels like an amalgamation of revisionist history, saccharine reminiscing, and manufactured memories. And as much of a struggle as it was to buy, fix, and turn 62 cars over the course of my early to mid adulthood, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. But if I was given the chance to drive any of those cars again, I think I’d hold my hand to take the key.

    1. You summarized my life as well. With cars and bicycles (I’m a lifelong bicycle mechanic). At 45 I’ve come to realize that my wheeled vehicle ADD needs a sharper focus. So I’ve been selling and saving instead of flipping. Yes I miss the 56 Lincoln, but I like my garage space again, I regret selling the rust free 69 Scout 800 for a song and never getting to drive it, but I have no time in my life to complete it. The DelSol I learned to love autocross in was great for 6 months, and now I want a simple track and backroad car. So instead of searching for whatever little amount is in my savings, I’m going to sit in Park for a while and let the coolant chill on my “next one”. There is a tempting NA miata nearby, but I’m talking to myself like Rent Boy and saying I deserve more then a beater.

  2. I would be genuinely shocked if I encounter the 1984 Subaru GL 4×4 sedan my father passed down to me when I was in high school. I didn’t appreciate it when I had it, but now good luck finding on, much less a GL sedan with a digital dash. Yeah, it was powerless, but it looked good. If I saw that car today, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t make an offer on the spot.

  3. “Nick once offered me the Cutlass on a wicked set of slot mags for a really good price. At the time, I couldn’t take it. ” So the dude you GAVE the car to wanted you to pay to get it back? I hope just to cover the cost of the wheels at most! Anyways, it is always great to run into an old rusty friend!

    1. To be fair to Nick, 80 percent of the price was the slot mags and 20 percent was the parts cost of completely revamping the brake hydraulics and he’d do all the labour for free. It was an absolute screaming deal.

  4. I’ve totalled the majority of cars I parted ways with. Two of the three that survived were my wife’s cars. I still have to check out any car that might be the one that got away. Never saw it after the day I sold it.

  5. My mind cannot understand how anyone sees a 305 as a desirable or powerful engine…

    The best use for one is to put it at the end of a chain to keep your boat from floating away.

  6. This reminds me an awful lot of my first ride, an ’83 Pontiac Grand Prix Brougham. I loved that car when I had it, but I’m pretty sure that’s because it was my first car, not because there was anything particularly good about it.

  7. I knew a guy a while back whose first car was a hearse (it was cheap, had low miles, and it worked, can’t really blame him!). I think this was in New Mexico or Arizona. We were at Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, CO (look it up), and they have a hearse parade. His first car hearse was one of the parade cars. We hit the owner up, confirmed it was his, and the stereo he installed was still in the dash and functional! Sort of a trivial small world story, but I feel it takes the first car run in, and raises.

  8. I’m pretty sure my first car is long gone at this point – ’71 Super Beetle, sold to a college student taking it with her to Shippensburg in 2002. Ironically, I sold it partly because I didn’t want to be the one to subject it to endless winters of salt and brine, but out of sight, out of mind

    1. Maybe he meant 3000 miles, which works out to about 5000 kms? Although I did know an old Canadian who after the switch to metric in 1975 kept the 3000 number in his head and changed his oil way too often.

  9. That’s a grandma’s car, specifically, my Grandma. It was grey with a matching mouse fur interior. Her eyesight wasn’t that great, so I drove her around in it. It had the 305ci V8 with a mess of emissions hoses all over it. Wasn’t fast enough to get out of it’s own way, but it did a nice one tire fire!

  10. While it is great to find your first car or any previous older car, the biggest mistake is looking for it.

    It is either thrashed beyond all recognition or made pristine. Either one will cause pain.

    While I wonder where some of my old rides ended up, I don’t go looking for them.

  11. It has the vibe of something owned by the protagonist of a golden-era (’70s and ’80s) cop show.

    The unorthodox detective who plays by his own rules (no matter how many times the brass chews him out) but gets results damnit. And can nail a tire on a fleeing car with a handgun at minute :56 to save just enough time for a quasi-comedic, freeze-frame wrap up in the squad room.

    Rick Hunter, this is your car.

  12. Well, my first was a VW Passat B3 Variant turbodiesel, in a sort of colour of a Belgian autumn sky, seen a lot of backroads and mud with it, being a biology student. It was liberating to have a cheap thing to toss around, throw a lot of dirty stuff in, crossing a Jeep Wrangler on a dirt track in fifteen centimeters of snow, to forget to close the sunroof during a summer rainstorm, … It took it all in stride. It had seen its adventures till I came to almost 300.000 kms and there were costs coming up for the brakes and suspension parts that were failing with age, I couldn’t justify it at the moment, at the same time running a Vanagon diesel (which I still have). I traded it in for a secondhand blue Passat B5 Variant 1.9TDI 130hp, my best car ever, but I often wonder about my grey Variant. Two years after the sale, I came across it, but it wasn’t well treated. The minor rust bubbles I had treated ten years prior were now back in full force and nothing was done about it. That is now 9 years ago. I hope it still lives, but I’m afraid it’s no longer amongst us now.

    Well, that was a trip down memory lane, thank you.

        1. Crazy how either would fit.

          Or an even more obscure, era-appropriate bumper sticker. A few years back, I came across a beat up late ’70s Skylark in a parking lot one night. What absolutely made it for me was the faded Rislone sticker affixed to the back bumper.

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