amc-hornetIt wasn’t Herbie the Love Bug, The Batmobile or The General Lee. All of those would have been far too luxurious. It was a red 1972 American Motors Hornet, and that’s where the adventure begins.

In 1978 I graduated from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ College and moved to beautiful Bracebridge, Ontario for my first teaching job at the new Bracebridge Christian School. (That’s a story for another day.) I felt completely stranded without a car. However, by the time I paid my rent, telephone bill and student loan payment, there wasn’t much left over. A car was out of the question. I had only been in Bracebridge a few weeks when I received the offer of a lifetime. A local professional couple was getting rid of a car he and his wife had used for several years for the grand price of one dollar. As a philanthropic gesture, they wanted to give it to some poor soul in Christian ministry who otherwise would not be able to afford one. That definitely described my situation. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I’m positive most people would have declined the offer as soon as they got a glimpse of it, but to me, it was a gift sent from heaven. No pride in my bones.

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Where do I begin? For starters, it needed a new muffler. Everyone stared as I roared by with a big smile. I drove it, noise and all, to the local Canadian Tire. The school board member who accompanied me was trying to ask me in a tactful way if I would be too embarrassed to be seen in such a dilapidated vehicle. My answer was a resounding no, neg, nee, não, nein, nyet, nie, non. I was so excited to have something with four wheels and an engine. Cloud nine would be an understatement. I was over the moon.

As one would expect, the little vehicle required a lot of work to pass the safety inspection, and I have already revealed my financial limitations. A friend of a friend agreed to complete the repairs at a minimal charge. Then, there was the matter of insurance which turned out to cost the ridiculous sum of $200. I did not have the extra moneydad-red-flannel.

I did what most girls would do in that situation — I called dear old Dad and begged in my most pitiful voice. He grilled me with questions about the vehicle, and I painted a beautiful picture for him. I made it sound more like a Cadillac than a wreck one step away from the junkyard. I paid the repairs, and Dad paid the insurance. If Dad had ever seen it, he would ever have slept another night. Now for the truth about this treasure of mine.

  • It appeared that the oil, the consistency of molasses, had never been changed.

  • It burned a “bit of oil” so I checked the gas and filled up the oil.

  • AMC Hornets were notorious for rusting out quickly and this one was no exception.

  • The previous owners had replaced the rusted out front fenders with unpainted blocks of wood.

  • It was a six-cylinder but, only ran on five. It wasn’t noticeable driving around town, but the highway was a different story. At 70 KPH, everything vibrated and shook so powerfully that I had to have a death grip on the steering wheel. Every now and then it backfired. KABOOM!

  • The windows rolled down, but a Herculean grip with both hands was necessary to roll them up.

  • The radio did not work.

  • The side mirror had rotted off.

  • The heater only worked in the summer, so I wore a hat, mittens and snowsuit when driving in winter.

  • Typically, the driver’s door froze open and had to be held shut with a rope.

With all this information you can probably understand why my Dad would not have been impressed with it. I drove it through floods, freezing rain and blizzards and it never left me stranded. I’m embarrassed to admit that when police asked people to stay off the road because of dangerous winter conditions, I couldn’t resist the urge to hit the road. When school was cancelled, I drove three hours through some pretty desolate areas from Bracebridge to Havelock to surprise Glenn. Speedometer icon

During the time I had it, I got one speeding ticket. The policeman asked me how fast I thought I was going? I told him something like 80 KPH. He informed me that I was, in fact, travelling 110 KPH in an 80 KPH zone. I was lost for words and eventually stammered out something like, “You’ve gotta be kidding. This old thing would never go that fast!” It may have helped if I had cried or shown a little leg, but that was impossible in a snowsuit. I received my very first ticket. He muttered something like the speedometer might not be accurate in such an old car and kindly reduced the charge to 90 KPH in an 80 KPH. I was afraid he was going to condemn my AMC Hornet and pull it off the road right then and there. This was eons before computers and the internet, so my insurance company had no way of knowing about my offence unless I reported it to them.

During my ten months in Bracebridge, I drove that old jalopy to Havelock or Toronto every weekend. The first time I drove it in Toronto coincided with “Grey Cup Weekend.” It was baptism by fire. Do or die. To be honest, there were many times when I should have died, but I think my Father’s faithful prayers covered me.

I got married that July and moved to Peterborough and continued to drive my old red Hornet for three more years. In addition to all its previous flaws, it developed sizeable holes in the floor. The last straw came when the accelerator rusted off and had to be  manually operated with a coat hanger. It was time to allow my steadfast, faithful friend to die with dignity. It had given all that it had and then some. I phoned the various junkyards around Peterborough for the best price. The top offer was $50, and I had a deal. Once they saw it, the price was reduced to $35. To be honest, there wasn’t much left to reuse and rust had eaten the metal away. Oh well, I realized a profit of $34. Dad would have been proud of my business acumen.

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Now, I am the first to admit, that once in a while I stretch the truth a little for a better story, but I swear what you have just read is the gospel truth. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.