Every teen wants a car. I was no different. I begged my parents, unsuccessfully I might add, to buy me teeny weeny car. A sleek Chevy Camaro, a noisy Pontiac Trans Am, a streamlined Pontiac Firebird or a sporty Ford Mustang would have made me very happy. However, most teens that I knew were driving Dodge Darts, AMC Gremlins, Dodge Furys, Chevy Novas and Ford Pintos. There was nothing glamorous about this collection, but a car of any description meant freedom and independence.
I had to wait until 1978 when I was twenty-one and began my first job. I wish I could tell you I got a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar, but I cannot. My first car was a totally worn out, bottom of the barrel, humble, red American Motors Hornet, affectionately known as Little Red. It had so many strikes against it, but a car was a car. On the bright side, the price was right — just $1.00. Little Red was no ordinary car.
- The six-cylinder engine only ran on five. As a result, at speeds greater than 70 kph, everything shook. It required a death grip on the steering wheel to keep Little Red on the highway.
- Once in a while, the engine backfired with a startling KABOOM!
- There were holes in the floor.
- The radio did not work, so I used my modern, state-of-the-art cassette tape recorder for music.
- The heater only worked in the summer.
- The rearview mirror had fallen off.
- Rust had eaten the side mirror.
- The rusted out front fenders had been replaced with unpainted wood.
- The brake light stayed on permanently so I covered it up with a Band-Aid.
- It burned a “little bit of oil” so long trails of blue smoke followed me everywhere.
- The speedometer was not trustworthy.
- I could roll down the driver’s side window, but it took two people to put it back up — one person pushing from the inside and a second person pushing from the outside.
- Every winter, the driver’s door froze open and had to be tied to the passenger’s door.
On my first long drive from with Little Red, I notice that the engine started to overheat whenever I slowed down or stopped at a red light, but it cooled off again when I sped up.
My Dad had told me to stop immediately if the oil light came on, but he did not tell me anything about the Hot Engine light so I continued on my way.
I reached Havelock, three hours away, with the engine hot, medium hot and extra hot along the way. As soon as I stopped the steam began to roll from under the hood. Little Red’s water hoses needed replacing. Phew! That was a repair I could afford. American Motors billed the Hornet a “Tough Little Car” and Little Red delivered.
Little Red triumphed over floods, freezing rain, blizzards and all manner of weather phenomena. I only went in the ditch once during the entire winter. While traveling a hilly portion of road, Little Red fishtailed and then spun in endless circles. I could see a long line of vehicles coming towards me. Time stood still. My entire life passed before my eyes. I braced for the big crash. Instead, Little Red missed the oncoming cars landed gently in a snow-filled ditch.
A concerned gentleman stopped immediately to rescue me — a damsel in distress. I could not drive out of the ditch. My Good Samaritan used his fancy car phone, the size of a suitcase, to call a tow truck. I paid the tow truck driver $15.00 and resumed the trip. Little Red and I hurried on our way and arrived at school only a few minutes late.
Little Red and I traveled from Bracebridge to Havelock or Toronto every weekend between September and June in all manner of treacherous road conditions. A warning from the police to stay off the roads because of blizzard conditions and zero visibility could not stop us on a Friday night.
I admit, Little Red wasn’t the prettiest looking car on the block because his previous owners neglected him severely. Some people would have been too embarrassed to be seen with him, but not everybody. A next door neighbour who had no car approached me with an offer. Could his wife use my car to do errands around town while I was at work in exchange for a tank of gas? I considered it a win-win situation and heartily accepted.
My greatest fear was the police would pull Little Red and me over, and give me two weeks to fix everything, or worse, take him off the road on the spot. Although they pulled me over for speeding once or maybe twice, they did not condemn my beloved Little Red.
At the end of the school year, I moved to Peterborough where I continued to drive my trusty Little Red for another two years. He had clocked more than 300,000 kilometres which equals more than seven times around the world.
The time had come for Little Red to cross over to that big car lot in the sky to receive his eternal reward. I believe he received a brand new rust-free body, a shiny crystal floor, soft Italian leather seats, a rearview mirror and two golden-edged side mirrors, power windows, six turbo cylinders and top of the line speakers, including an ear-splitting 15-inch subwoofer. Little Red will be better than he was when he came off the assembly line in Brampton in 1972.
Thank you, Little Red, for going above and beyond to keep me safe. You were my guardian angel and best friend for three years. I can truly say you never let me down. You will always be my favourite car.