Saturday, June 23, 2012

Men and their cars

My daddy drove a Hudson.

And not any Hudson, mind you. Father drove a 1949 Hudson Commodore 6 Sedan. In the slang of the times, it was truly the Cat's Meow.

You may have trouble picturing this now classic automobile. Think "Driving Miss Daisy," the 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. The car Freeman drove in the film was a Hudson Commodore (pictured above). Dad's car was identical to it. Fortunately, I own an old black & white photograph of my then 23-year-old father posing beside his brand new prize on a Chicago South Side street. You’d need a big ruler to measure the length of the grin on my dad’s beaming face. Turtleneck-clad and pencil-mustached, he sported a fedora in the photo. The gleaming Hudson sported 1949 Illinois license plate "1700 202".

Dad always dreamed of buying a Cadillac. But he never did. A practical family man, he could never quite justify the cost of owning one -- even when he and my mother became reasonably secure empty-nesters. But at least he had once owned a Hudson Commodore. Talk about a "dame magnet." In 1949 he was courting my mother (who could have given 1940s actress Dorothy Dandridge a run for her money in the beauty department; mom is on the left in the photo below). I wonder if that Hudson had anything to do with him closing the deal (they married in 1950 and stayed that way for over 50 years).

As the curtain fell on the 1950s, dad found himself saddled with three kids and a wife to feed. There were few two-income families in the Mad Men Era. The Hudson, alas, had to go. Enter car number 2: The iconic 1960 Rambler station wagon, complete with roof rack and fins. When he purchased it, the car's blue color probably matched dad's unconscious mood. For it was a reminder that his freewheeling days as a man-about-town were gone for good. (Ladies, think of it this way: You end up buying that nice pair of sensible pumps because it's the right thing to do. But what you really want are those hot, black stilettos, right?)

When the family migrated to southern California in late 1961, mom and my siblings flew to the Golden State. Dad and I drove the 4-door Rambler cross-country to Los Angeles via the old Route 66. A memorable trip, it was. As dad’s life progressed, other cars -- Buicks, Chryslers and even a yellow Ford Pinto for mom -- came and went in succession. But the Hudson Commodore had to have remained special to him.

I know that special feeling. When I turned 23 myself, as life would have it, I bought a screaming-red Triumph TR7. It was called "The Wedge." And we’re talking 0 to 90 in six seconds, baby. Like all rebellious teens, I swore I’d never become my father. But let’s face it, that hot TR-7 was my version of his Hudson. Dad was duly impressed, too. When the damn thing would start (always an iffy proposition with Triumph sports cars), it was a dream to drive. And talk about a “chick magnet.” As cars go, it was my first love. Like father, like son -- inevitably.

(Historic Sidebar: The manufacturer of dad’s Rambler, American Motors, was headed at the time by one George W. Romney -- yes, Mitt Romney's father -- before he entered politics. Rich is the generational irony.)

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