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Monday, July 6, 2015

OUR 1964 PLYMOUTH VALIANT

BRYCE ON AUTOMOBILES

- Remembering our first automobile.

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Men tend to have a love affair with their automobiles, particularly the first few they drive. As for me, it was a 1964 Plymouth Valiant, painted red, with a red interior, and a black convertible roof. This was the car I first learned to drive and took my behind-the-wheel driver's test when I was 16. It took me on a lot of dates and several High School football games. My parents bought it new in Connecticut and we took it with us when we moved to Chicago and Cincinnati.

As a convertible, it was considered sporty, but had great gas mileage. It was a comfortable car to drive and easy to maintain, not to mention a model of simplicity. Featured was a push button transmission, with 1 - 2 - D - R as buttons. My brother managed to break the buttons when he learned you could drive it like a manual transmission. Believe me, you push the buttons long and hard enough, they will break.

There was no air conditioning in the car, just a horizontal bar you would move from left (hot) to right (cold), along with a knob to adjust the fan. Simple. It came equipped with an AM radio which was fine as FM was not yet a major factor in the entertainment world. My brother and I added an 8-track tape deck, state of the art for the times. When I bought the new "Abbey Road" album in 1969 as an 8-track, I listened to it over and over again while sitting in the car in the garage. I'm surprised I didn't kill the battery.

Inside the engine compartment was a 6-cylinder engine, battery, air filter, etc., all of which was easy to access. So much so, we would change the oil and filters ourselves. You could change the battery in less than five minutes. Simple.

The windows and retractable roof were manually operated. It would take less than a minute to put the convertible top down or up. It was also the first car we had with standard seat belts.

My father taught me how to drive in the Valiant, and we started by traversing the neighborhoods before I graduated to the open highway. Frankly, it was a great car to drive, not to mention to learn to drive. Yes, we were taught to change the tires and care for the car. More importantly, he taught me the value of keeping a set of jumper cables and a good tire iron in the trunk. During the great blizzard of 1967 in Chicago, my father happened to travel out of town on business. The weather was so bad, it took him days to return home. Since he had left the Valiant in O'Hare's parking lot, we had to go and retrieve it. Unfortunately, it was covered under several feet of snow. We patiently removed the snow but the battery was dead. Next to the car was a pickup truck, so we removed the snow from it, popped the hood open and put the jumper cables on, and "Voila" the Valiant started right up.

When I was taking my behind-the-wheel driver's test in Cincinnati, an Ohio state trooper drove with me wearing "Cool Hand Luke" sunglasses and a drill instructor's hat. I was driving fine during the test, and he loved the car. When he looked at the 8-track tape deck, he saw a cartridge resting in the deck and shoved it in. As I had forgotten I had left it on a loud setting, I suddenly heard Jimi Hendrix blaring "All Along the Watchtower" from his "Electric Ladyland" album. Fortunately, nobody was around us as the sound snapped my concentration and I swerved. Fortunately, I regained my composure and turned the volume down. The D.I. wrote something on his clipboard, but I still passed the test.

I believe it was in 1973 when my parents traded in the Valiant for an Audi which turned out to be a lemon. Shortly thereafter they traded it in for a Mustang, thereby marking the end of an era. We never had another car as simple to use and drive as the Valiant. It was a great example of American engineering and we miss it even to this day.

As I said, men possess a fondness in their hearts for their first car. Mine was the 1964 Plymouth Valiant convertible. What was yours?

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2015 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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