Note: Please welcome Joel Miller to Riverside Green. Another emigre’ from the old site, Joel’s passion is 1970s Detroit rolling stock, particularly the 1977-81 Firebird and full-size 1973 Pontiacs. -TK
The car that first really hooked me was the Mercury Cougar. I was probably four or five when I first spotted a ’69 or ’70 Cougar though the window of my mother’s Mark III Lincoln. Whoa, what’s that? The sequential turn signals were mesmerizing!
At around age six, I finally figured out what I was looking at. From that point on, everything was about the Cougar. My half-brother drove a white ’69 XR7 for a few years, although I don’t ever remember riding in it. I probably stared rust holes in it though!
In school, I’d always write “Cougar” somewhere on my assignments and all over my notebooks and some desks had “XR7″ carved into their tops (I don’t know how they got there, honest!). It was definitely an obsession. I daydreamed about pulling up to school in my 1969 or 1970 Cougar XR-7 convertible and outrunning all the upperclassmen in their cars.
When I was in junior high, the lady that occasionally took care of me after my mother had passed thought she’d be nice and took a “Jordache” sweatshirt and wrote “#1 Cougar” across the back of it for me. It was a sweet gesture but I was mortified…no way in hell would I wear a “Jordache” anything to school! However, my stepmother forced me to wear the thing despite me telling her I’d get beaten to a pulp. So, I snuck a jacket into my book bag and immediately put it on when I boarded the bus. I sweated my balls off but never got my face kicked in that day, fortunately.
My father bought a rusted out ’67 Cougar when I was in 10th grade, dangling it out in front of me: “Keep your grades up and this will be your car.” Well of course that never happened and the car disappeared. I did have a keychain that said “Cougar” on it though & I brought the keys to class with me as if I had a car. Yep!
At the end of the school day, I grabbed “my” car keys and book bag & rode home on the “cheese-wagon” with the 9th and 10th graders while my peers drove themselves home. We lived in Illinois at the time. I eventually decided a ’71-’72 Thunderbird or ’67 Mustang would be a good “second car” if my “dream Cougar” never came to be, but the Cougar was way out front. My father then bailed & moved himself to his hometown in AL toward the end of my 11th grade year, buying some property & deciding he’d open a used car lot. He’d occasionally fly up, throw my stepmother a bone, buy some beater at a dealer auction and drive it back to AL.
During this period, I got a learner’s permit and was “allowed” two very short trips in my stepmother’s awful beige Concord-with her of course in the passenger’s seat, scared senseless. I literally only operated a vehicle twice and both trips were supervised, covering probably less than a couple miles.
However, on one of his return trips, my father must have miscounted because he bought three cars instead of one. The solution was that the future-ex would drive car #2 and…uh-oh. I was handed the keys to a rusty light blue 1978 Pontiac Firebird Esprit and told to “Stay RIGHT behind me.”
That morning, I had woken up in Illinois after no doubt dreaming of Mercury Cougars. Late that night, I went to bed in Alabama still not believing I had just driven a car for the first time in my life by myself, covering over 700 miles, most of which was I-65.
It took about two hours of driving before my legs stopped shaking from excitement and the shakes returned in heavy traffic due to multiple lane closures in Louisville, Kentucky. But I did it.
And from that day forward, I was in love with a certain ’78 Firebird, a rusty car that nobody would buy from Miller Auto Sales and one that would become my first car the following year. The ’69 and ’70 Cougar will always be amazing cars to me but the longing to own one vanished the day I met that Firebird back in 1988. Holy crap, was that really thirty years ago?
The closest I’ve come to owning my original fantasy car is a rather rough 1967 Ford Mustang coupe, currently sitting in the shop. My “first love” did not survive but I am about to head home in a different light blue ’78 Firebird in a minute. Good times!