Hardly a Hot Rod

For last week’s Throw Back Thursday (#tbt) post, I shared a picture of my first car. Here she is, in all her glory.


To my utter amazement, one person commented, “that car is AWESOME!”

I can only assume she was being sarcastic, because my first car was anything but awesome, whitewall tires notwithstanding. Hell, I was being sarcastic when I called it “a real babe magnet” on Facebook. The only things it attracted were:

  1. Ridicule from my friends and classmates
  2. Hefty repair bills from the local auto mechanic

Maybe in an alternate universe where crappy cars painted bright yellow are coveted, it would have been considered awesome. But this was Planet Earth, circa 1986. And my six-year-old Chevy was hardly a hot rod. It struggled to reach 55 mph on the freeway, and sometimes would inexplicably begin losing speed, even with the gas pedal pushed all the way to the floor. I’d be going 40 in the slow lane, and have angry old ladies flipping me the bird as they zoomed past in their Volvos. Oh, and the gas gauge needle was broken. It would “float” somewhere between empty and full, usually coming to rest in the middle. I had to keep careful track of my mileage, and despite this, I did run out of gas one time. My future sister-in-law dubbed it “generic” because of the color scheme, the same applied to generic foods in the grocery store. I countered by telling people “I drive a ‘Vette,” an admittedly misleading statement since this was a CHEvette and not a CORvette. It’s amazing what a difference two little letters can make.

The ironic thing is, this was the car I wanted. Before moving to California in the summer of 1986, I’d lived in South Dakota, where a friend of mine drove a Chevette, too. I thought his was a decent little car, and it was certainly affordable. Besides, what’s more American than baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? So when we moved to San Jose and I was ready for my first automobile purchase, I sought out a Chevette. And found this little beauty, priced to sell. I was thrilled at first. There’s an undeniable bond between a boy and his first car. But I soon grew to despise the color, and ended up having it painted candy apple red and tinted the windows. I kid you not. This was a very trendy color in 1987. Unfortunately, a new coat of paint and darkened glass did nothing to improve the car’s performance. It lasted about two years before I traded up to a Honda Civic.

So now I’m left wondering. Was Michelle being serious when she called my car “awesome?” Could it be that, nearly 30 years later, nostalgia for the past has grown to the point where a Chevette is seen as a desirable vehicle to own?

Have I become cool three decades after the fact?!

Better late than never, I suppose.

What was your first car? Did it make you cool?

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Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

18 thoughts on “Hardly a Hot Rod

  1. ” Was Michelle being serious when she called my car “awesome?” ”

    Yes Mark, I think she was being serious because I also think it’s awesome as well! And you know me, I have such a passion for vintage things. And from looking at the photo, that car looked in great shape!

    My first car was a Chevy as well. A tan Chevy Nova. And I loved that thing. It lasted forever too. They don’t make cars like that anymore.


    1. A high school friend of mine had a Chevy Nova. That was before I got my Chevette, so I was pretty envious of his car. Then again, at that time, even a Big Wheel would have made me happy!

      I was looking online after posting this, and discovered that cars from the 70s, like the AMC Pacer and Gremlin, have become sought after by collectors these days. Maybe the Chevette will be next.


  2. I have to say, that’s an odd color for a car. I don’t remember ever seeing one quite like that! My first car, which was really my parents’ car, was a 72 Chevy Nova. I’ll call it forest green. It was small compared to the hand-me-down cars a lot of my friends had. We called a lot of their cars “boats” back then.

    I might have to do a car post this summer!


    1. It’s probably a sun-faded yellow. This was California, after all. And, look – another Nova! I guess Chevys were popular back in the day.

      I’d love to read a car post of yours.


  3. My first car was a green 2000 Ford Taurus. I actually loved it when I first bought it. It was spacious, it wasn’t too old and best of all it was all mine. There was no bill hanging over my head, and I was one of only a few of my friends to have bought the car all on my own. To me that was something to be proud of. But like you, I grew to hate it. I hate to have the transmission repaired not once but twice. It broke down in the middle of the road more times than I can count. But it got me through and never had a major accident so all in all it wasn’t an awful car. And for the record I think your car is pretty cool looking despite all its problems.


    1. I guess when we first get a car, we’re just thrilled to be driving anything. Then after awhile, reality sets in. Hmm…I’ve had the same experience with certain women I’ve dated…

      The more I get positive comments on my Chevette, the more I miss it. How strange.


  4. Isn’t that the way it goes? Things that were crappy when we were young are like trademarks now? My friends all made fun of me for driving my mom’s old lady LeBaron with velvet interior. And yet, now they all miss it! Same with clothes. I never wore name brands, but I definitely had me some whitewashed, high waist jeans and the pics to prove it. That’s like a status thing now just because my clothes identify the time period.

    How bizarre.


  5. My first car was a1974 Monte Carlo. White with maroon interior and bald tires. The only thing holding it together was rust and spit, but it was a tank and I drove the wheels off that thing!


  6. My first car was a Pontiac T1000–and everyone always asked, “Is that a Chevette?” It didn’t have FM radio…but I was just glad to have a car! I totaled it within a year in a car accident. (Doesn’t take much to total a car of that little value…) I then got a used Honda Prelude that I LOVED.


  7. My first “new” car was an 80’s something (82 or 83) Pontiac Acadian (which is the exact same car as the Chevette). Mine was silver though & lasted me 8 years without any major problems at all. My hubby finally started using it as a courier car during the last year of our ill-fated marriage, racking up so many parking tickets the police came to the door with a warrant for my arrest (since the car was in my name because I bought it before I even met hubby #1). After paying off all the parking tickets, searching my plate for any additional tickets, I transferred the car into his name so he would get the tickets from then on. Unfortunately, the Wpg. Police were in the midst of putting their tickets on a computer system when I did this & so the police showed up at my door with a warrant again for another $300 in parking tickets which had been in the process of being added to the plate when I did the search. Hubby #1 & I were separated at that point & he wouldn’t give me any money so I pawned my wedding ring to raise enough money to keep myself out of jail.


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