Saturday, September 25, 2021

“What a Car!” by Carolyn Wilker



A car pulled into the driveway, tires crunching in the snow that crisp January evening. Its headlamps lit up my bedroom window, but since I wasn’t expecting any company, I paid no attention. I heard the car door close, and soon after the doorbell rang.

My landlady called upstairs and said that I had a visitor.

Who it could be?

There was Dad with a huge grin on his face, a sparkle in his blue eyes, and a set of keys in his hand.

I didn’t expect to see my father that night – and much less did I expect him to be there with a car for me to test drive.

“I made a deal at Elliot’s today,” he said. “Thought you’d like to see it.”

On the weekend, we had talked about the possibility of trading my trusty Corvair for another car, but I hadn’t expected anything this soon.

“Want to go for a drive?” he said.

Of course, I wanted to drive it! I ran up the stairs and pulled on my winter coat, taking a quick look out the window as I put it on. Under the reflection of my landlady’s outdoor light was a ’68 lemon yellow Camaro. Whooee!

I hurried down the stairs and out the door to where Dad waited, keys in hand.

I got in, readjusted the seat, rearview mirror, and side mirrors, and off we went for a drive around Waterloo.

“Do you like it?” he asked. “Is it a good fit?”

I agreed on both counts. I liked it very much.

When we returned to my landlady’s home, we sat in the car and talked about how much it would cost and how soon I could have it. One thing was for certain, I’d have to get a loan from the bank. Dad was willing to co-sign. All he needed was my approval and he could complete the deal. We would make the appointment at the bank the next week.


I had been driving a silver 1960 Corvair that once belonged to my grandfather Ted. My parents bought it from him when he decided to move to Florida. The Corvair had taken me safely and reliably to my weekend job at the nursing home during my last year of college, and then on the commute to Waterloo, where I boarded while working in a day care centre.

The Corvair was an experiment, with its engine in the back, and the trunk under the front hood. Ralph Nader had criticized General Motors soundly for it, but as it had been for my grandfather, the Corvair was a good little car that delivered a smooth ride. Its seat was just right for my short stature as it had been for my grandfather.

Grandpa Ted had always driven slowly down the freshly gravelled country roads so the car wouldn’t get stone chipped; its body was still in excellent shape. Dad said that it might run awhile yet, but sooner or later it would require some new parts and getting parts would be an issue, since the car was no longer being made. My favour, once set on the Corvair, was shifting rather quickly to the sporty Camaro, both for its appearance and for the practical reasons that Dad had explained.

The Camaro had just been traded in by a priest, who had purchased a brand new vehicle. The lack of stone chips on its shiny fenders and hood meant that the priest had treated the car with as much care as my grandfather had with the Corvair. The interior was clean and the upholstery looked like new. The Camaro was set low and the seat was easily adjusted. I felt like a queen behind the wheel, even if my bank book didn’t reveal a queen’s pay.

Dad and Mom said they’d cover the down payment temporarily, but I’d have to pay it back by March, so they could buy fertilizer for spring planting. I’d also need new snow tires to navigate the country roads. I was getting poorer by the minute and I hadn’t yet paid a cent for the car. Of course, I still wanted it. It was a dream car.

Dad drove the Camaro home that night and closed the deal the next day. I drove home for the weekend in my soon-to-be-retired Corvair, and Dad gave me lessons on changing tires, testing spark plugs, checking the oil level, and knowing when to add oil, as he had when I first drove the Corvair.

On Monday, after a trip to the bank, and an offer from the manager to work there, I left for the day care centre. When I drove into the parking lot, Penny, a fellow teacher, was out supervising children in the playground area. She whistled as I got out of the Camaro and approached the gate.

“Where’s the fancy clothes to match the car?” she asked, with a cheerful grin.

“Spent it all on the car,” I said, and I had.

Dodge Dart Swinger
I took good care of my lemon yellow Camaro, gave it regular maintenance, and far from the notion of cars being lemons, it proved reliable and took me many miles safely and in style.

It eventually needed a paint job, after someone backed into it in a parking lot at another day care centre. The driver had mistaken the Camaro for a snow bank on a dark winter morning. The supervisor, arriving in daylight, noticed the dent in my car. The parent admitted to his error and offered to pay for the repair and paint job, and I had it painted the same lemon yellow as before. The colour reminded me of sunshine – a particularly cheering sight on a gloomy day.

My future husband noticed me driving this car, so I suppose it was good for more than taking me places in style. We continued to drive the Camaro after he sold his fancy, gas-guzzling purple Swinger. 

When our first child was born, she had to ride in her baby seat up front, since her car seat didn’t work on the narrow back bench. About the same time, my car showed signs of rust, and so we agreed it needed to be patched and painted. I loved the lemon yellow and only grudgingly let my car be painted an electric blue. That wasn’t as painful as the white hood stripes and the wire trim that my husband said would suit it. He must have been missing his Swinger more than he let on.

We had barely brought the car home with its new paint job, when our neighbour, Larry, came across the street and offered to buy it. I was glad he liked it so much, because I didn’t. Those white hood stripes and wire trim had turned my car into something foreign. We made the deal with our neighbour, and we went out that week and bought our first family car – a station wagon.

But I always remember the first real car that I bought with my own money: a sporty, lemon yellow Camaro that turned heads when I drove by.


Carolyn Wilker is an author, editor, and storyteller from Kitchener, Ontario.  She blogs at

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