My Old Man The Car Guy

My Old Man The Car Guy

My father is the quintessential “car guy”, he was a diesel mechanic by trade (trained by the US Navy, employed by Chicago Transit Authority), but he ate, drank and lived cars. He also reeked of diesel fuel when got off of work. That claimed the life of a washing machine or two as well.

I have fully inherited the car gene, I’ve owned 8 cars in 21 years of driving (only one was totaled), and currently have my dad’s last car in my garage. I look it daily and think about his legacy of cars. I admit with him now being hospitalized for three months and not being cognizant of his surroundings, seeing that car some days is tough.

But I often think of “back in the day”, living in West Pullman and our garage being not just a storage place for two cars and some tools but a place where cars were actively worked on, improved and at times made to go fast.

My father owned an array of cars, I’ll try to name them all, I know he started off with an early 50’s Chevrolet that legend has it was run over by a garbage truck in the alley behind his Wabash Ave childhood home. I know after his honorable discharge from the Navy he bought a new Ford Falcon that he often drag raced at the old US 30 Drag way in Indiana. My dad also had an old van he drove as his daily driver at the time when my brothers were little.

But I think my dad’s favorite car was a his new 1972 Buick Electra 225 (aka Deuce & a Quarter), he bought it new and had up until I was born a few years later and then bought his first truck, the first vehicle I remember, a 1976 GMC Sierra pickup that was orange and two wheel drive. It fit for us because at the time we had one of those campers that goes on the bed of a pickup (imagine sleeping in a tin can), and also we had a small boat as well.

And then we had those tremendous late 70’s winters (much like what we just went though the last few months), and my father bought a new 1979 GMC Sierra pickup truck that was black with the big “jumbo monster mudders tires”, as he called them. It was a full fledged off wheel vehicle. I believed dad paid $ 9,000 for it, he bought it from the old Kole Pontiac/GMC on 95th Street. My dad and his buddies all had various off road vehicles (Jeeps, Ford Bronco's, etc), and they would go “off roading”in various places on the south side and suburbs, one site was behind Carver High School near the Altgeld Garden public housing project and another was in south suburban Crestwood, across from the current day Menards store on Cal Sag Road back when it was undeveloped and a small airport was nearby.

After that my dad went back to cars, in fact for a while I remember he didn’t have a good working car for the truck died from abuse, now granted my father had two “project cars” he was working on, a 1969 light blue Volkswagen Beetle that he was customizing (I loved it because it reminded me of the "Herbie The Love Bug" movies I used to watch), it was a cool little car with a crank sunroof but the floor was rusting out, Literally you could see the ground under you and could probably do a “Fred Flintsone” and stop it with your feet.

He also had a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro (see pictured with me sitting on it), that he converted from a plain six cylinder car to an eight cylinder hot rod with a 350 GM engine, but that change just never went well for long. He made a few fast runs in it but so many complications with the transmission and electrical systems that he ended up selling it to one of my brother’s buddies (Jeffrey), and not sure where it went from there.

So my father still needed a daily driver, so he bought a 1975 Oldsmobile 98 Regency 2 door from the people across the alley. Now this was 1984 or so and this thing was huge and a gas burner  but dad worked at the CTA garage at 103rd & Vincennes so with that short drive, no big deal. I loved the 98, we named it the “Gray Ghost”, it was old school GM luxury and I think it reminded dad of his old “Deuce and a Quarter”. I was a little guy so  I barely saw over the dashboard but it rode like a dream. Big Oldsmobile 455 V8 engine, soft seats and a great Delco radio, man that’s black man heaven.

But then dad got reassigned to a CTA garage on Washington Street in what we now call the near west loop. Coming from West Pullman it might as well have been Oregon.
So dad needed a more gas efficient car, so he bought a brand new light blue 1986 Nissan 200SX sports car, hatchback with a five speed manual transmission. Now granted when he sold the 98 (he put an ad int the paper and a dude walked up and signed his paycheck over to dad for the car), I cried that day but the new 200SX was great (he’d later give it to me when I was in high school and I thought I was the man), and we got a good 10 years out of that car.

Also in 1991 dad bought a blue 1982 Chevrolet conversion van from a  friend of a friend, yes with the captains chairs, drapes in the window, folding bench in the back and table behind the second row of captains chairs. That was the family vehicle and served us well for road trips and going fishing.

Then after both the 200SX had it brakes completely fail on me (and dad), and the van’s engine had a smoking problem worse than the Marlboro Man, dad went back to trucks and in 1997 bought a 1993 GMC Sierra four wheel drive pick up truck.

Funny story about that, we were shopping for it at a south suburban GMC dealer and a fast talking sales guy makes dad a too good to be true offer on it. Now dad believed in paying cash for everything. And at the time the van was not really running well so I was driving him around in my beat up 1992 Chevy Corsica (that he had bought for me while I was attending DePaul University), and I guess the sales guy thought dad was broke or something.

So the next day dad got the van running decently and drove to the dealership to buy the truck with the too good to be true deal the salesman gave us. Turns out it was his day off but the sales manager called him at home and asked him about the offer. The sales manager honored the deal and we bought the truck at that low price and to make the deal work the sales manager had the van worth over $ 5,000 in a trade. Dad didn’t care, he brought the sales manager a certified check for the truck and thus the deal of the year was made.

Dad’s last car was a 2000 Ford Escort ZX2, gas prices had risen again and dad needed an efficient vehicle for errands because the truck was costing too much in fuel. He bought it in 2004  (my brother right now has my dad’s truck), dad took good care of it, just like he did all of us.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum (LA&S '99), and know and love Chicago. Writing is my passion, what I write is what I feel, know and have experienced. I simply want to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions. And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say.

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