My first car was a Buick Opel. It turned out to not really be a Buick, but manufactured by the German company, Adam Opel, and then sold by Buick in North America. And while I now know that the Opel was considered something of a sports car and cult classic, mine had an automatic transmission and was a “Kadett C” wagon model. It was also sold in some parts of the world by Isuzu as the “Gemini.” By all current standards, it would be considered a compact car, but in those days it was marketed as a large family vehicle. From the car covers to the engine everything of that car was so elite.
I used my first car for all things teenager. It was my transportation to school, to tennis outings and beach trips, to piano lessons and to summer jobs. The storage “trunk”, accessed through the back hatch door, was like Hermione Granger’s magical bag. At any given time it contained school books, clothing, a field hockey stick and cleats, a tennis racket, my majorette baton and boots and other trappings and refuse of my mad dash teenage lifestyle.
The car was bought used by my father in 1976 as an economical mode of transportation for my mother. Because of the Opel’s terrific gas mileage, he intended it as something she would use to run errands.
Before actually handing over the keys, my father (a diesel and heavy-duty mechanic) realized the car might have an engine problem. He spent some time attempting to replace one of the pistons and, after several attempts, he finally re-installed the original piston. Then the car received a snazzy paint job. Its dull gold color was repainted a metallic light blue. By this time, I had turned 16 and gotten my license, so the car was given to me.
My Opel, or “squirrel mobile” as it was dubbed by friends (more on that later) was a perfect first car! It was reliable and got great gas mileage. As mentioned previously, the trunk area was ideal for carting belongings. And three of my friends (or more if three could fit in the second seat and the “trunk” area was cleaned out for passengers) could ride along.
The car did have one distinguishing feature. You could hear me coming a mile away because when accelerating through the three gear speeds, the car made a sound like oooohhhmmm, OOhhmmm, HHHMMMM. With each gear shift, the sound would drop an octave or two. My friends and I joked that it was the sound of the squirrels running exercise wheels to power the car. Needless to say, I really didn’t need to worry much about speeding tickets.
When I headed off to college, I had to leave the car at home because freshman weren’t allowed to have cars on campus. Imagine my dismay when I returned for my first visit home to discover the car had been sold — to a high school classmate of mine!