Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cars

1961 Ford Galaxie from Ford ad

1961 Ford Galaxie from Ford ad

Dad let me go with him when he went to Baglier Ford to trade in his old Dodge for a sleek, dark blue 1961 Ford Galaxie. I remember the new car smell, the gleam of all that chrome, the front grille with low and high beam headlights side by side, the big round rear tailights and the hint of tailfins!

I think that was the day I fell in love with cars. That same year, my grandfather bought a 1961 Chevy Impala. I took lots of trips with my grandparents in that car. And the Ford-Chevy rivalry ran through our family. When I’d go for rides, I’d count Fords and Chevys. Chevys usually won.

That was the era of slot car race tracks. I had a big layout in my basement and everything from Ferraris to Buick Rivieras in my collection of cars. Later on, I would use some of the money I made cutting grass and delivering papers to go down to the Mahoning Pharmacy to buy the latest issue of Hot Rod or Road & Track. When I would walk to West Junior High, I would try to identify every car by year, make, and model. I was always on the lookout each fall to see examples of the new models.

1967 Pontiac Bonneville"BonnevilleLookRiverbendNOLA" by Infrogmation of New Orleans - Photo by Infrogmation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

1967 Pontiac Bonneville – Photo by Infrogmation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1967 my brother brought home a black 2 door Pontiac Bonneville coupe. It was the new definition of sleek with a sweeping roofline, stacked headlights and a 400 cubic inch V-8. I believe this was one of the cars styled by John DeLorean while he was still with GM. It came equipped with an 8-track tape deck and I couldn’t believe what Jefferson Airplane sounded like as Grace Slick sang “Want Somebody to Love.”

Not too long after, my dad bought a 67 Ford Galaxie — it also had that sweeping roofline and stacked headlights but was not quite as stylish. That was the car I learned to drive in and the car I was driving the first time I took out the girl who became my wife. I was working my way through and paying for college so borrowing the family car was the way we made ends meet.

1967 Ford Galaxie 500 By JohnBgon (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1967 Ford Galaxie 500 By JohnBgon (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Youngstown is a car town. For years the steel manufactured in our mills supplied the auto industry. Then the auto industry came to town when GM opened a plant at nearby Lordstown in 1966 that became a new source of labor jobs and also a case study of labor troubles. Somehow, through all the ups and downs of the auto industry, GM has kept this plant open and it currently manufactures the Chevy Cruze.

I never owned a muscle car or a hot rod, despite my love affair with cars. But its funny how I still connect cars to different seasons of life. There was the Volvo I had my first year out of college that taught me about all the things that could go wrong with a car. Then there was the 77 Plymouth Volare’ (at least it had that sleek roofline like my brother’s Bonneville). That was the car we took on our honeymoon and later nicknamed the Plymouth Ruster. I associate our years in Cleveland with the silver Chevy Malibu that we bought second hand and ended up getting $1500 back from the state because the folks we bought it from had tampered with odometers. It was a good car we had for five years and ended up costing us just $1000.

Most of our time in Columbus was defined by Ford Taurus station wagons, the second of which we had for 17 years. That was the one my son learned to drive on. Now as empty nesters, we drive a Subaru Outback–good for hauling and the snowy winters we’ve had of late. It’s funny the things we associate with the times of our lives.

Are there cars you particularly remember or connect with a particular time of your life?

Want to read other posts in the Growing Up in Youngstown series? Just go to the “Growing Up in Youngstown” category on my homepage.


3 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Cars

  1. found your Y-town posts from a friend. I grew up on the west side of the city on South Lakeview Ave in the era Bob describes. Brings back good memories of Holy Name School, Bort’s Pool, the stores on Mahoning Ave, Dairy Queen, Schenley Theatre and my favorites–time spent in Mill Creek Park and so much more. I live part of the year in Canfield. Keep writing Bob! Michelle Humans White

    • Thanks, Michelle! We lived on North Portland, very close by and so share all those common memories of the West Side. Part of the point of the blog is that people often look down on “working class” when I think in fact we had lives that were rich in so many ways.

  2. Thanks for the reply. We lived a fine life in Youngtown–not much money but great family and friends. My family did not go past 10th grade but encouraged me to pursue higher Ed and ultimately earning a doctorate. My memories are fine and deep!! Keep writing and I will keep reading and enjoying. Michelle Humans White

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