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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 6:35 am | Fair 42º


Tom Purcell: America’s Lost Love Affair with Cars

I’m a car guy.

As a teen, I spent hours working on my dad’s car, buffing and polishing it with the hope that I’d be permitted to take it out for the night with my friends.

The automobile was our ticket to freedom, you see — our chance to make new friends and, hopefully, meet some ladies! So it saddens me that younger generations, according to a variety of recent studies, couldn’t care less about the automobile.

The smartphone is their connection to the outside world, after all, and their Uber driver will take them wherever they want to go.

But they have no idea what they’re missing.

The very first car I ever drove was Donnie Kriegor’s 1969 Chevelle SS. With its 396 four-barrel engine and 375 heart-stopping horses under the hood, it was then, and still is now, an American icon.

From a dead stop, Donnie encouraged me to floor it, pop the clutch and let out a tire-burning, all-hell-breaking-loose eruption that I dream about still.

My first car, which I bought fresh out of college, was a bright orange 1972 Plymouth Duster. It was nothing to boast about but it was all mine and gave me the freedom to explore God’s great open spaces anytime I pleased.

I rounded out my 20s with a 1987 Pontiac Firebird with a T-top roof. My social life was at its peak during the five wonderful years I owned that car. I had the T-tops off every chance I could and used it to date some of Pittsburgh’s loveliest ladies!

I picked up a 1970 VW Beetle convertible for $400 when I was 24. I cleaned up the paint and the mechanics and enjoyed, to date, the best summer of my life. The car took me to more social gatherings that summer than I’ve been to since.

I bought a 1978 MGB convertible a few summers after that and enjoyed driving with the top down every chance I could. That, too, was one of my most memorable summers.

I’ve driven a variety of cars since then — some manual shift, some automatic, some wicked fast and fun to drive, some practical and economical.

During the past five years, I’ve been through a lot of car changes. I bought a brand-new 2010 Nissan Maxima, which was an amazing car. It was spacious, sleek and fast, but it was terrible in the snow.

So I picked up a 2000 Jeep Wrangler 4x4 — like most sane people, I’ve always longed to own a Jeep — but I ran into costly mechanical issues and had to part with it. I traded it and the new Maxima for a brand-new 2012 Jeep Wrangler.

I loved that car at first but had some issues with it that wore me down. I got rid of it and leased a brand-new 2013 Infiniti G37X with all-wheel-drive. That car was a blast to drive and it whipped through the snow, but it was too flashy for my current needs.

Now I’m driving a 2008 Toyota 4Runner that is incredibly reliable and spacious. I am able to haul construction supplies and furniture to property projects my partner and I always have going. I marvel at its quality every time I get behind the wheel.

In any event, every single car I’ve owned over the years evokes powerful memories — which is why, like millions of car-loving Americans before me, I can spend hours talking to other car guys about our cars.

Such talks will be lost on younger Americans as they age. They’ll never discuss their Droids and iPhones the way car guys discuss cars.

They will never know what they're missing.

Tom Purcell, author of Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood and Wicked Is the Whiskey: A Sean McClanahan Mystery, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist​ syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @PurcellTom. Click here for more columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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