True Stories From A Former Car Dealer #33: Before Demos

In segment #32, I told you all about the many demonstrators I had through the years, which prompted inquiries about what I drove before that.

My parents were not wealthy people by any stretch, but about six months before my 16th birthday, my Dad ran across a car he thought would make a great first car. I had no idea he was even looking yet. I got home from school one day and my Mother told me to go out in the backyard to check on the dog, and there it sat: my first car. I could not drive it yet, I had not finished driver education to get my learner’s permit.

Driver Training Certificate
It was a 1967 Chevy Malibu coupe, blue exterior with blue vinyl seats. It had a 283 V8, air conditioning, and a 3-speed manual transmission on the steering column. It could have been a new Corvette and I wouldn’t have been happier. I got “the speech” from my Dad with all the ground rules that day.

This was “the only car he’d ever buy me” he explained. He handed me the title and told me I could do with it “as I wished.” I could sell it that day if I wanted to, but he was finished with my car needs.

For the next six months, I did something to the Malibu every day while it was just sitting there. I cranked it, I polished it repeatedly, shampooed the interior, checked the fluids, SOMETHING just to be around it.

I got my driver license when I turned sixteen and the Malibu and I became fast friends. Remember from an earlier True Story that I was working at a Ford dealership after school and during the summers. At the time, I was assigned to the used car manager, a guy who really liked me, named Joe Davis.

I spent every extra dollar I had on the car. Glass packs came first to give it some sound. I added an 8-track player under the dash, and I bought a chrome air cleaner to replace the factory one.

1966 Chevrolet Malibu
1966 Chevrolet Malibu. Credit: Barry Blackburn/

One day I got to work straight from school and Joe told me we’d traded for a GM vehicle that was wrecked badly BUT had a beautiful set of Cragar mag wheels he was sure would fit the Malibu. It also had a nearly new set of tires. Joe told me that after I got off, if I wanted the tires and wheels, I could have them, the car was going to be sold to a junkyard. What a dream for a 16-year old, and it completely changed the looks of the Malibu.

Bear in mind, I was around cool cars often at work, driving different cars all the time, and a youngster gets antsy driving the same car every day.

I had to stock-in every car that was traded in, drive them, give a report to Joe on what needed to be done, and he decided whether to resell the car or wholesale it.

I went in after school one day and grabbed the trade-in key box, and headed to the back lot to locate and look over the new inventory. The first car up was a 1968 Pontiac LeMans coupe. It was love at first sight. I asked Joe if he would allow me to buy it and what he could give me for my Malibu. He told me to put the Malibu on the front line and whatever it sold for, I could have. I don’t recall the dollar amount, but the Malibu sold for enough to purchase the LeMans, and I was a happy camper, especially since the Cragar mags fit the Pontiac!

1968 Pontiac Lemans Coupe
1968 Pontiac Lemans Coupe. Credit: Sicnag via Wikimedia Commons

Well, I was happy until a few months later when a 1969 Buick Skylark 2-door rolled in. It was a dark jade green color with a matching vinyl top. I was sure this was “the one” I wanted. I put it through the same process I used for the other two, complete detail, swapped the tires and wheels, except this time I went a little farther and added dual exhaust with glass packs, and I changed the top from green to white. It was a beauty.

The Buick got me through my entire junior year in high school. We all had CB radios, so of course, my handle was the Skylark. Finally, I was completely happy with a car, and then it happened. I pulled up to work at the Ford dealership just to run into the dealership for a minute, and somebody asked me: “is that Skylark for sale?” I’d been around the dealership now for a couple of years and knew the correct answer was: “everything is for sale at the right price.”

1969 Buick Skylark
1969 Buick Skylark. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The man looked to be around 30-years old, and this number I do remember: he said he had $2500 in cash, to which I said: “you own yourself a Skylark”.

The elation quickly wore off when I realized I didn’t have a car. Now what? I checked the lot and there just wasn’t anything there. Joe said I could drive something off the back lot while I figured it out. I grabbed a 1974 Ford Gran Torino 4-door that had been traded in by a big fleet company called PH&H. It was ugly, in a baby blue color, black wall tires, and complete with dog pan hubcaps. It had around 60,000 miles on it, which was a lot for a one-year-old car. It looked very much like an unmarked police car.

Much to my surprise, I really liked the way the Gran Torino drove. I had $2500 burning a hole in my pocket, so I asked Joe, just for grins, how much the Torino was and he said we had $1800 into it. The wheels started to turn in my head, and I made a quick decision to buy it but knew I had to do something to make it look better. I fully knew this was not a long-term car, but I was kind of getting into this “flipping cars” thing by now.

Step one was I sent it to a place called Loop 12 Trim for a dark blue vinyl top and matching pinstripe. I had a guy burn-on white wall tires, which was something we did a lot of. We had a used wheel cover guy and he had a set of Gran Torino Elite wire wheel covers, and I put those on the car. I detailed it, and it had transformed from the ugly duckling to a real beauty.

All total, I had roughly $2200 invested in the car, and I’d had it for about six weeks when Joe Meharg (my friend who died tragically in episode #32) asked if I wanted to sell the Torino. I actually said: “not really” but he went on to say his customer had $3500 to spend and that we didn’t have anything on the lot that would work. I told Joe to get him to $3700 and I’d give Joe $200 in cash. It went down like a Disney movie.

I have no wheels-AGAIN-but I’ve got $3500 cash and just to recap, I have not spent any money since the $450 Malibu my Dad gave me.

The following day, a wholesaler named Tommy pulled into the lot in a 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville coupe, red with a white vinyl roof, white interior, and a 455-cubic inch engine under the hood. It was love at first site. Tommy had just bought the car and I told him I wanted it for a “driver”, the term we used for our personal cars. He had $3300 in it and sold it to me for the same amount since we were friends. Finally, a car I had to do nothing to, it was perfect and low miles.

1973 Pontiac Grand Ville
1973 Pontiac Grand Ville. Credit: Greg Gjerdingen Willmar, USA/Wikimedia Commons

The Pontiac kept me happy through my senior year of high school, and a friend’s Mom had always admired the car. Something happened with hers, and she asked if I was ready to sell it. I said yes, and I’d love to see it go to a good home. We settled on $4750 and she wrote me a check.

I wanted a Corvette so bad I couldn’t stand it, but just could not afford what I wanted, so I found a chocolate brown 1976 Trans Am, but I had to get a loan for it, I didn’t have enough cash. My Dad co-signed a note for me at the Grove State bank, explaining that he’d only do this once. He introduced me to a loan officer named Clyde and I was off to the races. Oh, how I loved the sound of that Trans Am when I got on it.

I was perfectly happy with it, until…I saw the new 1979 Trans Am that debuted in Smokey and the Bandit II. When Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds, may he rest in peace) showed up on the screen, I knew I had to have the same car.

After the movie, I called a guy I knew with a very small Pontiac dealership in Kaufman, TX and told him what I wanted. It was in the fall as I recall, and he said he’d try to get it to me before Christmas. We verified the equipment, black inside and outside, T-Tops, gold wheels, gold eagle on the hood, and an automatic.

A month or so later he called and said someone else had ordered the same car, except it had a gold interior, and the guy backed out. I immediately said SOLD, that I’d be there in an hour. He gave me top dollar for my old Trans Am and I called Clyde at the bank and asked if he’d do a loan for me. He was a cool guy and said: “sure, just tell the dealer to draft on me, and when you get time, stop by and sign the note”. Ahhhh, how I miss the good old days.

1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Credit: allanw/

Clyde and I did this many times over the years. It was a standing joke between us, I’d call and say “we bought something” and he would just simply say: “you know what to do”.

I loved this new Trans Am, I had the T-Tops off and the heater blowing as hard as it would go those first few weeks, it was winter by then.

One night I found myself coming off highway 175 toward home. It was around 10 PM when I hit a long, straight stretch of road we called the Bruton bottoms. A lot of racing happened there, and as long as you got off the gas pedal before a big hill headed eastbound, it was a six-lane NASCAR track.

When I got to the straight part, I hit it…pedal to the metal as my hero Bo Darville would say. I was getting pretty close to the hill, the speedo was showing 120 and was still climbing, when a Dallas Police car popped over the hill, coming toward me. Immediately, the red lights went on. I thought to myself, “you’re screwed” and just pulled over.

When I get stopped, I smelled something burning and smoke overcame the car. I can tell it’s coming from the engine. I managed to get the hood open and the entire engine was engulfed by the time the police car pulled up. He had already radioed for the fire department.

I was extremely happy to see my friend Jerry (from episode #23) get out of his squad car. As it turns out, he had recognized my T/A immediately (he knew my car well) and flipped the lights on to tell me there were flames coming out the bottom. We’d had an ice and snowstorm a few days earlier and there was still ice on the ground. We started chunking ice on the engine, and by the time Dallas Fire got there, it was pretty well out.

I could see the wiring had burned to a crisp, the beautiful eagle on the hood bubbled up, and the fenders were scorched. It was a sad sight. I had it towed to the nearest Pontiac dealership and they determined that the transmission fluid was over-filled at the factory. When I got on it that hard, the transmission got hot enough to push the dipstick out, and transmission fluid hit the manifold starting the fire.

It took a month to get the car back after arguing between GM and my insurance company. Finally, GM took responsibility and fixed the car, but it was never the same. Odd things would happen: like I’d turn on a blinker and the horn would blow. The lights would go off for no reason on the dash. It just truly was not “my car” anymore.

Black and gold Trans Ams were a hot commodity, thanks to Bo and his movie, and I sold the car with 800 miles on it. That begins the previous episode, #32, Demos.
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Joseph W.
Your early car-buying stories reminded me of the first new car I bought. It's a story to file under "Sometimes You're Just Lucky." But it could have ended up as "Dumbest Thing Ever." It was a 1978 Toyota Celica Liftback with a four speed stick shift. I went to pick it up and trade in the old Chevy Nova automatic my dad had given me. The salesman finished going over the car with me out in the lot and thanked me for the sale. It was time to drive away. But I said, "I have a question. With a stick shift, I should push down on this clutch pedal with my left foot with my right foot off the gas, shift with the stick, then gently give it gas with my right foot as I release the clutch with my left, right?" Dead silence. He took a long drag on his cigarette, flicked it far off into the lot, and said, "You gotta be kidding." I said "Nope, I've never driven a standard, but I figured I could figure it out." Of all the things he could have done, he told me to get in the passenger seat, and he drove us to some quiet side streets near the dealership. I took back over and he spent about 45 minutes teaching me how to get going, up shift, and go between forward and reverse. Luckily, I wasn't too bad. When I let him off back at the dealership, he suggested I have a friend who could drive a standard ride around with me the rest of the day so I could practice. I got my friend and we drove all around Boston, figuring the stop and go would require lots of shifts and be great practice. Luckily again, I took to stick shifting like a duck takes to water. I treated my friend to lunch at a famous Boston restaurant after backing into a parallel parking space at the curb out front, on the first shot. I bought my fiend a nice lunch. And I bought my next three cars from that salesman!
Jerry Reynolds
Joseph, great story! When I was selling cars, I had to teach a number of young people to drive stick shift cars. I don't recall a single one of them catching on like you did. Usually when I was done, it felt like I had a whiplash.

Good to hear from you!
Jim F.
Thank you for your work and all you do. You are an inspiration to us all!
Jerry Reynolds
THANKS Jim! I appreciate your kind words greatly.
Jim F.
Jerry, I love your stories. You are a natural and the way they unfold, -- I am just held speechless reading. My first car was a 1957 Pontiac. I was in the Marines and drove it from Natchitoches , La to Camp Pendleton. It was the runningist car I ever owned. One night, when I lived in San Clemente, I parked on edge of town, let traffic die down and hit 101 wide open, the San Onofre river bottom was about 3 miles wide and I was still getting faster, with needle buried below 120, when I looked up and saw the blinking lights. I pulled over and the California State Patrol driving 1958 Pontiac came by full blast, and I sat and waited. Finally drove to next turn around, and he came back wide open. When I returned to the river bottom, the Border Patrol was checking for illegals. they shined a light in my eyes, asked where I was going, and said I am stationed at Camp Pendleton, and going home to San Clemente, they said Go Ahead. Never saw the State Trooper again. The only explanation I can come up with is the lanes were divided about 1/4 mile, and he was sitting there, when I blazed past at over 120, and he may have been dozing off. By the time he got on the freeway heading after me, I was over the next hill. I was shaking by the time I got home. But WOW would that car run!!!
The Car Pro
Great story, I know that terrific feeling of thinking you are going to get pulled over, then don?t. It?s the BEST. Thank you for your service my friend.

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Fred S.
Love your stories Jerry - I drove a 375 hp 66 SS 396 Chevelle that looked like your first car. It was my sisters car, she had no idea how fast it was. About my third car was a 67 Buick Riveria, and being familiar with the Chevelle I think the Riveria used the same body except for the front group. They were all good looking cars

Like your Trans Am that you only kept for 800 miles, My dream car was ordering a 454 74 Corvette. The last year for Big Blocks in the Corvette. It took about 8 months to come, it couldnt live up to my expectations. I was able to buy it loaded for $1000. under sticker, which was $7800. I sold it to a Beverly Hills Doctor for his 16 year old son.

Thanks for the memories Jerry. You help us look back, and look ahead.
The Car Pro
Thanks for the kind words Fred, I always wanted a 396 in the Chevelle, but never quite got there. Thanks for being part of the show family!

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
David .
I used to be a bank loan officer. I started when the "good old days" were coming to an end. Now days the paperwork is everything, but you gotta love the 1.9% Interest Rates! Great read, Jerry.
The Car Pro
Yes, the rates are awesome. I put everything on a 90-day note, paid the interest, and did it again for a lot of years. SO simple! Thanks for joining in!

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Robert E.
Great stories about a teenager with the midas touch!
The Car Pro
Thanks buddy, I was lucky-in the right place at the right time! And I had a lot of help.

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Curtis B.
Oh Jerry, been there and done that and I wasn't even working at a car dealership! My first car was a '69 Chevelle with a 230 6-cyl and a three on the tree, and there have been many, many, many cars and pickups since then. I was also a Pontiac fan, back when Pontiacs could still be had with real Pontiac engines. The last one I had a 1979 Trans Am, but mine was a Gold Special Edition car, Gold on gold with the big gold bird, WS6 package-400 Pontiac engine, 4 speed manual, T-tops, it was a great car. A guy in a new 911 porsche didn't like that car much, it kept pace with him to well past 130...
Ramon U.
I?d kill for a 67 Malibu right now! I, too miss the days when you could call up the loan officer and bam! in a new car.