In early 1981, I just got out of bootcamp and went to Millington, TN to continue my education as an electronic technician in the US Navy. I knew I was only going to be there for nine months or so, but my young mind got the idea of owning a car stuck in it. I didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time and I was making shit for money as a newly minted enlisted man. These obstacles should have shut down that idea, I wish they had. But no, youth and ignorance just plunge on regardless.
Surrounding the base at that time were many used car dealers and using the word “predatory” to describe how their business practices would be too polite. Anyone with a military ID card, “E-1 and UP,” and a down payment, could drive one right off the lot once all the paperwork was signed. In my recent travels as a truck driver, I driven to many such military bases and those folks are still there, right outside the gate, in some cases.
Not my original car, just one that looks alike. Click for the sales listing.
So at the age of 18, I was the happy owner of a 1977 Ford LTD 2 door coupe. I can’t even remember what the payments were, that’s how stupid I was. But the cars was a dream (for its time), it was white, with a red vinyl half top and beautiful red upholstery and driving it was like navigating a land yacht across smooth seas. I drove that sucker everywhere and would load it up with my (so-called) friends and cruise the tittie bars of Memphis and the surrounding areas, spending what little I had left of my paycheck on beer and lapdances.
But into every life a little rain must fall and I started having engine problems, starting with oil burning and overheating. A trip to the auto shop revealed that the engine in this beast was the legendary 400M. Legendary for its aability to crack its own heads. But, not having any money left for a proper repair, I tried to fix it myself at the auto bays that were on the base, where they rented out space and tools. Armed with a Chilton’s manual, I attempted a repair only to find out I was helplessly over my head (after I’d tore down the engine) and gave up.
I managed to save some money to have “professionals” do it and was able to get it put back together enough to drive it to a real shop. That must have been quite the sight driving through Millington that day, the car’s hood strapped to the roof and smoke boiling from every orifice as I got it to the shop.
I got it back shortly before I was due to move on to my next duty station in Virginia. It seemed to run well and I packed my meager belongings and set off to drive the 700 or so miles to my next home. I’d just got past Nashville, when the overheating began and I had to stop frequently to cool it down and add water. Just east of Knoxville, the engine started smoking in earnest and I managed to get it to a campground/rest area before it completely seized up on me.
The good folks there let me stay the night for I was nearly broke and managed to get some money from the Navy Relief to get a greyhound ticket to my destination with the idea that I’d come back for the car later, but I never did. I was too busy and too broke, still paying for the smoking ruin I left in Tennessee.
It may still be there, quietly rusting in place for all I know, but I doubt it. Yet for all the trouble that car gave me, I loved that beast and I still miss it.
A young man’s first love, I guess.