Cars have fascinated me since childhood. The first one that thrilled me was a 1936 Plymouth sedan that my grandfather’s brother bought in the summer of 1938. I was just 6. It was a “used” car on display at the corner of Myrtle and Irving avenues in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Propped up on a wooden platform with the car tilted upward, it reflected light from the ornate street lamps of that era; it looked absolutely special and it now belonged to my father’s first cousins, strapping youths who worked for their father’s company, loading four-cylinder Mack trucks with pistons the size of garbage cans, chain drives, solid tires, kerosene headlights and a hand crank to start them. Many were in use before World War II, which interrupted and changed our lives.
My cousins returned from the war and went back to work in the trucking industry, heroes to our family.
As a freshman commuting to Columbia College in 1950, I was informed by a neighbor that a 1946 Plymouth Special Deluxe Convertible was for sale in the neighborhood for $800. It was a beautiful Sumac Red color. I excitedly told my father, and he bought it. What a spectacular first car — and a Plymouth, to boot!
In the late ’40s and ’50s, my parents worked in sweatshops. When I had early classes, I would rush home and, after 80 minutes of BMT subway rides, I’d get into my convertible and pick my mom up from work. She was so grateful for the ride. Usually, she not only walked home but often shopped at the A&P on the way back, carrying her bags.
In 1953, my beloved Plymouth was traded for a barely used Chrysler Windsor, a four-door sedan that made it easier for Mom to get in and out. But I never forgot that Plymouth.
In 1960, Agatha Jane Rapisardi and I were married in Holy Family Church in Hicksville, and a year later, her parents bought us a new Plymouth Savoy in Levittown. In 1967, after four children and three Collies, my wife and I purchased a red Plymouth Fury III station wagon. The kids learned how to drive in that car and, before they went off to college, each one had to show me they could change a flat tire, attach booster cables for a jump start, check the fluid levels and inflate the tires. Those and a prayer sent them off.
Last year, while browsing through collector car sites on the internet, I found a 1947 Sumac Red Plymouth convertible for sale and made an offer (models hardly changed in those years). It was accepted. I had my incredible old car back!
Although I have in the past installed mufflers, water pumps, radiators and tires, I no longer do much more than wash and polish cars these days. I often think of the ones that brought my newborn children home from the hospitals, those we rode in to go on vacations, drove to school, parties and yes, wakes and funerals. All the memories blend together, and for those of us car enthusiasts, they are more than just transportation; each has a character and a style that sing to us.
Reader Leonard J. Marino lives in Northport.