1941 OLDS HYDROMATIC
Sam Smith, 2007
Your editor welcomes readers to join him in forming the Dead Hubcap Society, open to anyone whose lifetime fleet of personal vehicles has included at least half made by brands no longer in existence. With the passing of Oldsmobile, I barely fall into the category – having owned two Olds, two Plymouths, two Chryslers, one Volvo, and a Honda. My wife came to our marriage with a VW Bug, which disappeared from production and then returned, so we’ll consider that a wash. The first Olds – a 1941 model – was bought in 1961 while in the Coast Guard literally from a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays. It had 26,000 miles on it, still smelled new, and featured a Hydromatic Drive. Unfortunately the final attribute lasted only about six months and I sold the car to a engineman first class who managed to convert it into a semi-automatic. The second Olds, a station wagon, was in an accident that necessitated a complete paint job. Unfortunately, I did not make my intentions adequately clear and the whole vehicle was repainted red, including the grillwork. It was thereafter known as the “Outboard Apple.” The Volvo didn’t run when it was cold, hot, or wet and was quickly replaced. The Chrysler was called Gloria because it was sick transit. The Honda was stolen twice. The first time it disappeared from a parking lot right next to the Brookings Institution. The DC constabulary thought we would not see it again but at 11:30 that night I was awoken by the Prince Georges County police with word that it had been located at a public housing project recently in the news for the frequency of its murders. We were invited to retrieve it promptly or it would be taken as evidence in a drug bust. Which is why, at 1 AM, my wife and I found ourselves in a parking lot in the most dangerous locale in the Washington region. The second time, no one found the Honda . . . One month later our Plymouth mini-van was totally demolished by a cow.
My parents could easily have joined the Dead Hubcap Society having had at one point in the mid-fifties a 1952 DeSoto station wagon (the first new car my father had purchased since 1936), a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker, a 1946 wooden Plymouth station wagon, its 1941 forerunner, a 1946 six-wheeled Dodge Army personnel carrier, a 1939 Plymouth laundry van, a 1938 Cadillac four-door convertible, and my mother’s 1936 Plymouth. In 1955 I drove to college in the then 14-year-old Plymouth wagon and little concern or surprise was expressed when the front hood flew up at 60 mph on the New Hampshire Turnpike. The mangled hood was secured with a jury rig and the car continued in service.
Once, when I was in France with my parents, the accelerator rod on our rented Simca disconnected and my father had me open the hood, stand on the front bumper and adjust the speed as he drove with his head out the window to the next town.
There were, however, limits. When the 1952 DeSoto, with more than 100,000 miles on it, lost its front wheel on the Maine Turnpike, it was reluctantly retired.