In the summer of 1947, at age 21, I bought my first car — a 13 year-old 1934 Ford.
The auto industry had been making tanks, military trucks, and other war materiel, and was just getting back into production of automobiles after the Second World War. Even good used cars were scarce at a reasonable price. A friend of mine, Frank, told me of a relative of his north of Toronto who had a car he had quit driving for health reasons.
I went to his farm and bought the car for $300.
This car had one instant appealing feature — a remanufactured V8 engine. At that time, Ford held the patent on V8 engines so only Ford could produce them. Those engines were quick on the take-off and peppy on the road but they were known to burn oil. Nevertheless, this Ford with a replaced V8 engine was a treasure to me.
After that one feature in the plus column there were several in the minus column. After all, it was a 1934 vehicle bought in 1947. Cars back then became undependable more quickly with the passing of time and needed repairs sooner than today’s automobiles.
So, let me list some of the minuses. Its two-doors opened from the front. They were sometimes called suicide doors because if they ever became unlatched and opened while traveling at any significant speed, they would catch the wind and who knows what would happen to the door, or the driver’s side of the car. Or, for that matter, the driver if it was his door. Seat belts were not yet invented when that car was built.
The bottom of both doors had rusted away quite badly so in the winter, driving in a cross-wind provided extreme air conditioning. The driver got the worst of it because he had to keep his feet on or near the pedals regardless.
Another minus was that some of the basic instruments had long since quit functioning. The gas gauge was useless. I tried to keep track of the gas level in my head but on more than one occasion I ran out of gas on the highway and had to cross a field to the nearest farm to get a small container of gas. Back then that trek could turn out to be a neighborly experience.
The speedometer didn’t work either. You had to figure how fast you were going in comparison with other cars on the road. This wasn’t really taxing because the volume of traffic even on the recently built Queen Elizabeth Way was a fraction of the traffic today.
Kathleen and I were married in late December a little less than five months after I bought the car. Soon afterward we had to drive to Watertown, New York, from Toronto — a little over 200 miles. I was to speak there for the weekend. On that trip the rain pelted the car and revealed another frailty: the cowl above the driver’s feet leaked water badly. My bride diminished the problem by unwrapping sandwiches she had made and placing the wax paper (no plastic wrappings yet) over my feet.
On occasion people referred to that vintage car as a puddle jumper or bucket of bolts. When my friend, Herald, rode in the back seat he teased that the car was equipped with buggy springs. That 1934 Ford was an adventure and, at the same time, an object for good-natured quips.
In the spring, I saw an advertisement for a car paint that could be applied with a powder puff (the puff included). The grey paint on the car had become drab so I bought the paint and on a Saturday morning Kathleen and I cleaned up the car and did the paint job with the powder puffs. It was a small act of love towards that old car. The results were a much improved shiny black body, but the doors were still rusted at the bottom.
My first car had one distinguishing feature that very few cars have to this day: a bullet hole through the back wall (there were no trunks back then). More than once, people who noticed it quipped that I must have outrun the police. I insist to this day that the bullet hole was there when I bought the car.
Photo credit: carsguide.com