1963: My First Car – 1952 Chevy

(c) LGC Leo G Campbell 12/26/2020

1963: My First Car – 1952 Chevy

1963: My First Car – 1952 Chevy

I got out of high school at the start of Summer 1963, and my parents let me buy my own car. They knew I had saved up enough, over $150 ($1,300 in 2020 dollars).

So in June, I spread a blanket out in the back yard, and started marking newspaper classified ads. Life was simpler then, and so were the cars, and for $1,300 you could get a “daily driver” – ran okay, fairly reliable with decent tires. I was going to go to university. I would need a car every day, to drive back and forth from home.

The newspaper listed used car, “For Sale By Owner” categories, by year, make, model, and car condition. Every nice summer day in Portland, I’d lay on the blanket, mark car ads that I liked – most car ads were for American cars – Ford, Chevy, Buick, Pontiac etc. – few foreign cars.

I wanted a car that ran okay, and had “R” and “H” in the ad (Radio & Heater) because in those days, they were ‘options’, no kidding. Less than half of the cars had them both… often “H”, but no “R”… and no AC (Air Conditioning) at all. I read the ads, marked better ones that were near $150 in price, made some phone calls on ads.

By the Fourth Of July, I was still looking, when my mom, a RN Registered Nurse, came through. All RNs seemed to know all the other RNs in Portland, and mom said that the son of one RN – Hank, had gone to high school with me, and was going to sell his car. Might be a good deal, mom said.

I called Hank, and he brought the car over, it was a green, 1952 Chevrolet 2-door, Coupe (CooPay). Inline straight 6 cylinder motor. We drove it down to Yaw’s Top Notch drive-in and restaurant, in the Hollywood District. Hank parked in a drive-in customer spot. We switched places so I could try driving it, but first we ordered from the car hop girl: cheeseburger, fries, cherry Coke. $0.37 total each, no tip ($3.15 today).

I drove the Chevy around for awhile. Drove okay. Instead of the usual “column shift” (gear stick mounted on the steering column), the car had a 3 forward-gear box, mounted on the floor. Very cool. Had an actual working heater, plus a decent AM radio.

Also, with a wide, bright chrome 8 inch high, original dashboard. Hank said, “Get a date, you can look up her skirt in the dash reflection, see her knickers.” Sold. The Beatles were huge, and us Catholic horny lads, we all knew what knickers were… Hank said, not to drive over about 50 mph (83 kilometers), or it might start burning oil – out the exhaust. Blue smoke.

U of Portland began classes September 17 (my 18th birthday). I was enrolled in the College Of Business for an 18 credit hour semester, and the ’52 Chevy drove fine from the start. Some mornings, I ran late, and drove the Banfield Freeway out to the U of P (about 10 miles) at 60 mph – to be on time.

Winter came, and I learned the trick of shoving a big width of cardboard in front of the radiator (and behind the fan), to keep the engine water from freezing in the cold, icy freeway air. By New Years, the car began blowing “blue smoke” – burning oil. Hank had warned me.

I learned another trick, as I filled up the gas tank at a Flying A filling station on North Lombard – the mechanic said, “Never put any fresh oil in the engine, until the “Add Oil” mark on the dip stick, is- below- that mark. Otherwise, the engine’ll just blow the new oil out – until the dip stick says, “Add Oil” again. Just watch that mark.” Okay. Good Deal.

Time passed. The ’52 Chevy began running rough. I parked it at the curb, in front of my house. A friend and I had the hood up for days, tinkering. Finally we adjusted the valves – and the car would barely drive 20 mph.

About that time, our neighbor, an old guy, rang our doorbell and complained to my mom. “Those boys are cluttering up our street, with an old clunker that won’t drive. Do something – or I’ll report you.”

So, Saturday morning, mom and I got in her ’62 Pontiac Tempest. “We’re going to buy you a better car.” she said. We went checking the many used car lots out on S.E. 82nd Avenue. Mom said that she would pay cash for the better car.

I picked a 1961 Chevrolet, 2 door Impala Hardtop, aqua green color, with the sexy white painted ‘swoosh’ on the sides (ahead of NIKE), and sexy tail lights… it was beautiful. Low miles, too.

Mom paid $1,600 cash ($13,400 today), and the dealer gave me scads of S&H Green Stamps. In sheets. It took me hours, but I separated and licked, all the Green Stamps, and glued them into about 40 stamp redemption books. Cannot remember what I redeemed them for, out of the S&H premium catalog.

Ran an ad in the newspaper, sold my ’52 Chevy over the phone, to an older building contractor, who was buying it for his nephew.

He said, to park it in the parking lot at his big warehouse – I drove (chugged along) for 9 miles at 20 mph, to his warehouse, parked my 1952 Chevy. Went inside, gave the contractor the car title and car keys, he paid me $150 cash. I said, “It runs a little rough right now. Needs new spark plugs.” And got outta Dodge.


* The ’61 Impala, a wonderful car, had a 348 cubic inch V-8 engine. I later drove – across 100 miles of Interstate – in empty New Mexico. That engine got 13 miles per gallon, on high octane gas – at 100 mph. LGC

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