In the next 11 months, my oldest daughter will begin driving…  I’ll pause there while you all pray for me…  Contrary to the popular trend of today, she will NOT be getting a brand new shiny automobile that costs nearly as much as the mortgage on my first house.  At least, that seems to be the parental trend where we live.

No… She will be getting… …  A hand-me-down vehicle with over 100,000 miles.  Its not that she’s a bad kid or that we’re trying to punish her.  And she in fact might turn out to be a really good driver (here’s hoping)…  No, she’s getting a hand-me-down because I remember 16 quite well… I remember how I drove… How my friends drove… And I’ve paid attention through the years and it seems that generationally speaking, it doesn’t really matter… 16 is 16 and the driving in general hasn’t improved much…  Insurance companies have certainly figured this out.  Which also brings up the fact that I couldn’t afford to insure her in a fancy new vehicle anyway…

But more than that…  I too began driving on a hand-me-down vehicle and it taught me MANY valuable lessons.  And the most difficult one was the very last lesson it taught me…


The Chevrolet Monza debuted in 1975… You read that right… Not a MAZ-DA…  A MON-ZA…  Based on the mighty Chevy Vega platform, the Monza proved to be such a big winner for Chevrolet that it was discontinued in 1980.  Yep… that good.

Mine was a Red 1980 model… Similar to the one pictured up there above the title… But minus that huge supercharger sticking out of the hood.  Also, the hatch in the rear had a very sweet vinyl covering, just like on this puke green model below.  But my vinyl was black instead of white.  I’ll pause here to allow you merge the two images in your mind…

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The Monza as designed by Detroit, was a 4 cylinder, 90 Horsepower BEAST!…  However, my model had a few unique…  Let’s call them Upgrades…  When I inherited my Monza, it was 8 years old, with about 125,000 miles on it… Just barely getting broken in…

So for starters… literally… My Monza had some broken teeth on the fly wheel…  Or was it the starter pinion gear?… I forget… Either way, about everything 10th time you attempted to start the thing, it made a horrible grinding noise that would cause small children to run in fear.  But 9 out of 10 was pretty good, all things considered…

It also had a removable key.  This was actually a pretty common feature in well loved GM’s of that era.  With the vehicle running, you could just yank the key right out of the ignition.  This proved to be an INVALUABLE asset given the next Upgrade, which is what I called the Sticky 4th Cylinder Syndrome…

Now that may not be the correct mechanical diagnosis… All I can tell you is that between the months of November & March in North Carolina, this vehicle had a MANDATORY 10 minute warm up period required.  Because when the temperature began dipping below roughly 40 degrees at night, that next morning, you’d start the car and the engine would proceed to convulse violently, as if being beaten & strangled by some unseen attacker.  The whole car would literally sit there & shake like one of those rides at the State Fair that has you puking up snow cone & fried Oreos…  Then after about 10 minutes, the 4th Cylinder would kick in and the engine began to purr like a kitten…  Granted, it was like a kitten that smoked a few packs a day, but still…  So my wintertime routine was this… run outside 10 minutes before I needed to leave, start the car, pull the key out of the ignition, go back inside where it was warm, and then after the 10 minutes was up… then you could depart for your destination.

As if starting the vehicle wasn’t tricky enough, my Monza also required Premium 93 Fuel.  That’s perhaps the only thing it had in common with its fancier European siblings.  With anything below 93 Octane, the vehicle would either 1) turn off almost as violently as it started up in the winter OR 2) not turn off at all… It would just keep running and running and running…

gump-runnign

This brings us to the most iconic Upgrade on my particular Monza…  Due to some failed modification to the Catalytic Converter by my then brother-in-law before it was handed down to me, My Monza backfired…  When I say that it backfired, what I actually mean is that it backfired ALOT!… And by alot, I mean more than every few days…  More than even every time you drove it…  This car backfired EVERY TIME I SHIFTED GEARS!…  Seriously!…  Not even kidding…  Every time you’d let off the gas to make the shift… KA-POW!…

Let me just say, that a car that backfires every time you shift gears is QUITE the head turner… Not to mention a huge chick magnet…  Thankfully, it was the 4-speed model & not the 5-speed…

So humility…  Yes… This vehicle taught me quite a bit about humility.  It maybe wasn’t the WORST beater at my high school, but it was definitely Top 5…  It also gave me a greater appreciation for the vehicles I would own afterwards.  Nothing else ever quite compared.


IN AUGUST OF 1991, I KILLED MY MONZA… It died on Highway 308 near Windsor, NC… May it Rest In Peace…

I was cruising back home after a long day on my summer job at the time.  You see, long before Distracted Driving became an actual thing, I had already perfected the art.  So as I was eating my Moon Pie, drinking my Slushie, and trying to find a better tune on the radio… I ran completely off the road…  All four wheels… Without noticing…

Now this is where Driver’s Education kicked in… I knew that the worst thing to do was try to jerk it back on the road.  So instead, I tried to ease it back on… Only one problem… while the shoulder of the road may have been perfectly smooth when I ran off, there was now a huge lip between the asphalt & the dirt I was riding on. Did I mention I was doing about 60mph at the time?

So as I “eased” back on, the asphalt grabbed the wheels & jerked the Monza over into the LEFT LANE…  As I caught a glimpse of distant on-coming traffic, Driver’s Ed went straight out the window & I was officially in OH-SHIT! territory.  To say I panicked at this point would be too kind…  So naturally, I over-corrected back to the right and ran back off the road on the right shoulder…  AGAIN…  For style points, I decided to flip the car over in the ditch that had thankfully appeared.  I did not realize I was upside down until I undid my seat belt & hit my head.  And I was thankful for that ditch because the driver’s side landed right in the gully of it.  The passenger side?… Not so much… I estimate that if anyone had been riding with me that day, they’d have been permanently reduced to about 3′ 11″ in height.

So I got out of the car easily enough once the seat belt was off.  So fast in fact, that the on-coming car in the distance hadn’t even reached me yet.  When it was all said & done, I got off easy…  Just a few cuts from the glass and a bruise across my chest from the seat belt.


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In 1988, Cinderella released a song called Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)…  And this was the final lesson my Monza taught me.  Although dad did help the process along by not offering to replace the car for about a year.  It taught me not to ever again be an unappreciative little snot-nosed kid that complained about the vehicle he didn’t pay for because it had a few quirks.  And it’s a lesson that still haunts me today…

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