Cruising memory lane -- A teen boy's dream: Muscle car replaced the family's wagon

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When my mother moved to a senior care facility, it was time to sell the family home. As I was cleaning out the attic, I discovered that my dad had saved the sales receipt for his favorite car. Memories came roaring back.

After years of frugality, Dad made an entirely irrational purchase in 1965: He traded in my mom's perfectly functional, spacious 1961 Bonneville station wagon for a 1966 Pontiac GTO -- an impractical, expensive muscle car.

He couldn't afford the car on a probation officer's salary, even if he assumed my mom would contribute her substitute teacher's income. It also was expensive to drive, as the four-barrel 389 engine got less than 12 miles per gallon.

He probably justified his purchase by telling himself that gas was only 29 cents a gallon, he got a "great deal" from the car salesman and a great rate on an auto loan. And, after all, it could carry at least half the groceries Mom could fit in the station wagon. If she had to take two trips to Foodland, even better, since time spent behind the wheel of a '66 GTO was precious.

He also (correctly) assumed that the days of family vacations in the spacious station wagon were over, as my sister and I had lost interest by our late teens in family trips to Florida and family outings in general. Friends, sports and social activities had become far more interesting and important.

The purchase date on the contract shows that my dad bought the car on Christmas Eve, 1965. Without telling any of us, he quietly left our driveway in Upper St. Clair with the station wagon and returned with a muscle car. He called us out of the house to take a look at his "Christmas miracle."

We ran out of the house to check out the new car. It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Navy blue. Convertible. Bucket seats. Red pinstripe. Fantastic. I was thrilled. I had glued together and painted a '65 GTO plastic model that was one of my favorites. I never dreamed that we would own one, much less a '66 model.

My mom's reaction was mixed. She expressed delight since Dad had presented the sports car as a Christmas present for the family, but we could tell she was harboring some reservations. The disappearance of her fully functional station wagon may have tempered her delight.

It was once-in-a-lifetime warm weather for a Christmas Eve day -- 65 degrees and sunny. So we piled into the car and went for a drive with the top down to show off the new car.

We drove slowly past the Washington Terrace homes of the Yohees, Butlers, Kutschbachs, Cahills, Oelschlagers, Mulvihills, Marmions and Fornears, honking the horn and picking up neighbor kids who wanted to (or were allowed to) join us on our slow ride in our fancy new GTO.

It was a great day.

It was also a great car. When my mother wasn't in the GTO, Dad would thrill us by demonstrating how fast it could take us from 20 to 70 mph on Route 19 as we watched the gas gauge fall. It was like going to Kennywood without leaving the family car. I remember being a little scared -- pinned against the seat, hoping my dad would slow down before he lost control of the car or the police took notice of his antics. But, overall, the thrill rides were fun!

Now, the bad news. Dad had another surprise in store, and his timing was perfect. On the day I got my driver's license, the GTO disappeared from the driveway. A low-powered, homely, pale-green hardtop Pontiac LeMans was in its place.

As they say, the anticipation is greater than the reward.


Jay Lynch of Upper St. Clair, a marketing consultant, can be reached at bkefather@yahoo.com.

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