It was late August. Summer jobs were finishing and my friend and I wanted to do something different before returning to school. “Let’s drive north, as far as we can go!”
(Three-second pause …) “Ok!”
Although my 1962 Austin Healy Sprite was slightly damaged by a rear-ending just a week before, its fun handling characteristics and open-air ambiance was an easy choice of vehicle, not to mention great mileage for college kid’s stingy budgets.
There was little debate, and in the warm, humid air of a New Jersey evening, we decided, …the trip was on.
Back in 1966, there was no internet or Google Maps. Preparation was more fly-by-wire as our available time and financial resources didn’t allow many options besides just …going! The Sinclair, Mobil, or Exxon paper maps were our planning media, and if it wasn’t on the map, we’d have to resort to local advice along the way.
Below is the 1098 cc Sprite as it appeared ten months prior our trip, when it was …clean! (“FANG,” the dog, agreed to be the model!)
ABOVE: My grandfather was the photographer, likely in the fall of 1921 near Suffern, New York, as he took his family out for a Sunday drive. That morning started closer to home in Guttenberg, NJ, as seen in the lower picture. Grandma, my father, (age about 11,) and his sisters, (8 1/2 and 7,) were the passengers.
Below: I suspect the “Kerosene oil carriage side lights” were an option, a nice touch.
The image above is from the internet and, as a antique, selling for about $70 today. The entire cost of the new car, was about $325. A similar restored version is pictured below.
Thanks for viewing. Comments are always welcome. M 🙂
(Feature image tonight: remembering Gene Cernan from the last lunar landing mission)
Seventeen came with the privilege to drive – a legal license for liberation, freedom, wondrous opportunities to explore with friends or a date, and a major lifestyle advantage. But it would take 20 months before I would actually buy my very own car, a 1958 Thunderbird.
Unfortunatly with this particular great looking coupe, I had quickly become owner of an aging, poorly maintined chasis with unsettling grinding sounds, clunks and bumps and serious (expensive) mechanical failures deemed likely. Bought relativelty inexpensively for $500, partly financed by my older brother, I parted unscathed with a slight profit a month later.
But for those few springtime days of happily cleaning and waxing …while ambitious aspirations and fanciful daydreams played along with its radio, this beautiful classic car was mine.
I wish I had it today.
As usual, click on the image for a closer look, and thanks for viewing. Comments are always welcome. M 🙂
January 22, 1965, 8:30 PM. I was all of 18 years old and casually asked my father if I could borrow the car to go to the “bridge.” He was okay with that, as the GWB was only about 12 miles away; but would soon discover that my intentions were a little more ambitious and the bridge in question was actually in Niagra Falls, NY, some 400 miles away. I loved the recent liberation of being a licensed driver and anticipation of seeing and experiencing new adventures. I was also very aware that a winter snowstorm was intensifying over western New York State and consequently about to learn winter driving skills that would last throughout my life.
Short on time? Just browse the images below.
There are no photos of the night. I had no boots, no gloves, no sense and no ambition to try and take pictures of featureless, blowing whiteness at night. There were few “interstate” roads, and I scoffed at the idea of paying money for THE toll road, the NY State Thruway. So it was secondary and tertiary roads with little traffic all night, except for snowplows, a few trucks, an amusing Corvair, and speeding Cadillac. I hated it when snowplows passed me – made me feel inadequate and messed up my windshield!
Snow had begun falling about 150 miles up Rt. 17 before midnight and began accumulating rapidly. Around 3:00 AM I pulled into a deserted rest area just past Corning, my tires clogging and squeaking to a stop in the deepening snow. An hour later, with chattering teeth, I wiped the fresh snow off the car, rocked it to get some traction, and plowed my way out to Rt. 17.
Around 280 miles into the trip, 4:30 AM, I was on Rt 15, a two lane highway now heading north following the tracks of a patrol car who in turn was following a truck in heavy snow all doing about 30 MPH (48 km/hr.) Coming down a hill, still behind them, I cleverly decided to drop the car into low gear to slow down, and promptly spun out, sliding sideways in a panic. I quickly (yeah, right, like skillfully??? I was only 18! …okay, I luckily) got the car under control by putting it back into drive, just one of many lessons learned tonight.
Continuing in the snowy night, Rt. 15 heads west at the little town of Springwater in the western Finger Lakes region. There really was no town there, at least I couldn’t see anything. Rt 15a continued straight. I took 15 because it was a short-cut, and in a half mile came to a gradual hill. As I continued the climb, the wheels started to lose traction until I …stopped forward motion. So I backed slowly and very carefully down the hill while learning more lessons… this time about simple coeficient of friction and its relation to losing traction and then forward motion! (I was struggling thru Physics I class at this time, after all!) This “experiment” was tested several times before a guy in a light truck stopped and suggested sarcastically that I wait for dawn and the snowplows. Instead, I scoffed, imagined hearing him utter something offensive about kids, and, after backing down the hill for the third time took the longer and flatter Rt 15a.
A few miles north was Rt 20a, just a simple, two lane east-west, single path roadway in the shadow of the New York State Thruway, a half dozen miles north. In the pre-dawn snow storm, this was an interesting stretch – heavy snow falling, the long white un-plowed lane in the headlights of the car. For a while I was following a small Corvair. On the sides of the two tire tracks were about 8 or 9 inches (20 -23 cm) of snow. Occasionally, he would swerve into the deep snow throwing a white-out cloud of powder over the Buick.
While on 20a, the sky started to brighten, not very much, speading an eerie blueness over the landscape. Snow was coming down as hard as ever. There were several modest hills, some with larger trucks trapped before the summits. I needed to keep strongly focused with the car square in the tracks. Not too much later, a large Cadillac whooshed by at about 60 Mph (100 KM.Hr,) scaring the hell out of me with a blinding cloud of snow engulfing my car in its wake.
I eventually came into the town of Lancaster around 7 AM, found some breakfast, and then to Niagra Falls after going through near deserted Buffalo. Later in the day, I would car-surf on “waves” of snow drifts along a road skirting the southern edge of Lake Ontario; stop and skitter up in my white sneakers across high drifts and stinging gale winds to catch a glimpse of the lake – its just barely visible shoreline marked by enormous blocks of ice showered with angry, spraying wind-blown waves of frigid water.
The long day ended that night, me sleeping well at an $8 motel in Bath, NY, 658 miles since beginning. Part of that afternoon was not without more adventures, but that will be noted on a short follow-up post including information about the camera and photos. I was back to New Jersey on the following day, after a total of 967 miles.