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A lifetime of automobiles


After putting up with grabby brakes and no class for about a year, we decided to buy a new car. After all, Kay had graduated from college and landed her first job as a school teacher with a contract calling for a salary of $5,000 per year. After much dreaming and looking at new cars, we bought a 1968 Chevy Malibu 2-door hardtop, one of the sharpest cars on the road. This beauty was gold in color and had power brakes, power steering, a 327 V8 engine with 4-barrel carburetion, factory air conditioning, windshield wipers hidden in the cowl, and the radio antenna in the middle of the trunk lid. The fuel mileage was not great, but, with the low gas prices in 1968, we didn’t care!

One of the funniest things that happened with the Malibu occurred on a trip from Tulsa to Stillwater in the snow. Kay and I, along with Linda and Mike Whitworth and John Schantz, had met in Stillwater and driven to Tulsa for the wedding of James Redeker and Linda Freeman. During the wedding, it snowed hard, so that the roads were heavily packed and the snow continued for the entire trip home. The trip from Tulsa to Stillwater normally took less than one and a half hours, but this time it took us about six hours. The top speed under those conditions was about 25 mph, and we had to stop about every mile to clean the packed snow out of the cowl, where the wipers were supposed to go when not in use.

The cowl would become so packed with snow that the wipers could not go back into their position, so they would just wave around in the air. The era of the 1968 Malibu lasted until late summer 1969, when Kay was driving it from Oklahoma to Biloxi, Mississippi, to join me in our new home, where I had been assigned by my new employer, the U.S. Air Force. On the way to Biloxi, Kay was involved in a major car wreck which totaled the Malibu. The very good news was that although Kay was injured, her injuries were not major. (However, she does still suffer from repercussion of the whiplash injury she received that day.) I was allowed to take emergency leave and fly to Tyler, Texas, to help her with all the details, including the purchase of a new car. Hence the beginning of the 1969 Chevy Nova era.

Our choices for a replacement car having been narrowed down to the Nova and a Ford Maverick, we wisely chose the Nova. Although the Nova was as classy looking as the Malibu, it wasn’t nearly as nice, with standard transmission, no air conditioning and no power steering. Soon after completing our move to Biloxi, I received orders for Vandenburg AFB, California. It was a sad day when we loaded our little U-Haul and pulled it out of the yard at my parent’s house, headed for California. After a little over a year at Vandenburg, I was reassigned to Dyess AFB, Texas. The only complication was that Kay was pregnant with our first child and Kay’s doc would clear her for me to take the assignment only if we would fly her home. So, after sending Kay home by air, I loaded another U-Haul and toted it back solo to Oklahoma. We gathered our belongings and moved into an apartment in Abilene, Texas. We were barely settled in before the birth of our beautiful daughter Kristin Elizabeth, born March 29, 1971. I’m sure Kristin was glad we made the move, so she could be born a Texan, as she has lived in Texas since starting graduate school at Texas Women’s University in 1993.

The Chevy Nova made the adjustment from California, with only minor adjustments. We were well aware of how hot Texas summers are, so we had an aftermarket air conditioner installed. The Nova served our needs quite well, except that Kay has never been fond of shifting gears. Sometime in 1992, I got a pay raise sufficient to make a car payment, and true to form, the extra money began to “burn a hole in my pocket”. A short time after the raise, I traded the Nova for a very sporty little Mercury Capri. Now, we were getting someplace in our need to own a sporty car! The Capri was really a sports car, and it was enough fun to drive that it helped overcome the disappointment with the poor quality of materials used in the car. One of the rear windows broke a couple of times and the vinyl upholstery cracked under the Texas sun. The total lack of tinting in the windows and the black vinyl seats often made it uncomfortable, and the “four on the floor” transmission was not popular with Kay. However, the car’s bright yellow paint, sweet sounding exhaust, and overall great performance and handling helped to redeem it. One of its best features was the almost musical trill of the exhaust as the car accelerated from 60 to 70 miles per hour.

Kristin even acknowledged the Capri’s sporty attitude, as she referred to it as the “speedy fast car”. Overall, the Capri was reminiscent of my college roommates’ 1964 MGB, except that it was a four passenger coupe rather than a roadster. The Capri made the transition from military life to law school at the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 1973 and served as our only car for the three years of law school. I did acquire another set of wheels during this period, but it was the two wheel, human powered sort. We lived only a couple of miles from the law school, so I rode my 10-speed bike, rain, snow, or shine. However, sometime late in 1975, the Capri began to wane in popularity as the primary transportation for our family, due in part to the arrival on October 28, 1975 of another beautiful girl, Melanie Lynn. Thus came the end of the “speedy fast” Capri era.

To be continued.

David Barnett Contributing Columnist Barnett Contributing Columnist

By David Barnett


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