There is nothing like your first car. (You are free to draw any parallel metaphors that you want from that.)

My first car was a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro -- in dark "Firethorn red" paint with white leather seats and red carpeting. It had a V-8 engine that cranked 305 horsepower, and it was, for a car, beautiful.

Now I don't LOVE cars, but I like them a lot. I'm not car-crazy in the way that many southern Californians are, but I grew up on suburban Long Island, and cars have always been for me a Fact of Life. A necessity. To some extent, your wheels are your legs.

And in spite of the fact that I'm a fairly bookish, fairly quiet, and fairly shy person -- or maybe BECAUSE of that -- I've always liked having a flashy car.

For frankly financial reasons, I never had a car until after college. My family didn't have enough money for that. I suppose I could have financed one myself, but where I lived and studied – in and around New York City -- there was good enough public transportation for me to get by.

After college, and for several years, the Tiny Goddess and I lived without a car. This was possible because we lived near good-enough public transportation in Westchester. Good-enough to get to work in Manhattan, near shopping, etc. But after a few years, we had a little more money, and it was time to buy a car.

In 1976, I was fairly young (25), and we didn't need anything resembling a family car. It was just the Tiny Goddess and me. In 1976, a gallon of gas was only fifty-nine cents. (This was after the OPEC oil crisis of 1973.) So a Camaro made sense for a young couple.


OK, it didn't have much of a backseat and hardly any trunk. The visibility out of the back window was terrible, and white leather interior seats can get dirty easily. (I can just hear my mother saying something like that.)

But it was a great car to drive. The 1976 model was a "second generation" Camaro, larger and wider than its predecessors. The car, built as General Motors' answer to the Mustang, was evolving into a more muscular, lower profile. It held the road beautifully and was very comfortable to drive. It had "rocket-sled acceleration," a great sound system, and handled beautifully.

And it looked great!! Every time we drove it, we loved it. We gave it a pet name: "FIRETHORN." After its paint color.

(I used this for a riff in my novel WHAT IT WAS LIKE when Rachel calls her new Mustang "Candy" after her 1969 Mustang's true "Candyapple red" color. Ahh, the things you can find out on the Internet....)

I remember many wonderful road trips we took in Firethorn:

-- many times up the Taconic Parkway or the Thruway to upstate New York

-- drives on Route 7 in the Berkshires, seeing the leaves in autumn

-- cruises out to Long Island, to Jones Beach and the Hamptons

-- to cottages we rented in Hinsdale (in the Berkshires), Arkville (in the Catskills), Paradox Lake (in the Adirondacks), and most memorably in Millbrook (in Dutchess County) -- cottages we found in the "Summer Rentals" section of the Village Voice.

And a million drives, in and out the Manhattan.

The only bad breakdown I had with Firethorn was on Second Avenue in Manhattan, when the transmission quit on me, and traffic behind me went crazy. And the only long-term problem with the car was rust. Bad rust, especially in the rear left quarter panel. Eastern winters and all the salt used on the roads are tough on cars.

Thinking about Firethorn also makes me think about how old I was – twenty-five until my mid-thirties – when I owned it. They were eventful years for me, to say the least. Those were the years when the Tiny Goddess and I bought our first house and had our first child. One of the "features" of that Camaro was its almost non-existent back seat. And when we had to try to put a baby seat in the back and attempt to cart major baby gear around, I knew that Firethorn's useful days were largely over. It wasn't meant to be a family car; it was a singles' car, a couple's car.

I don't remember exactly when we finally junked Firethorn. We kept it for a while in the driveway in the backyard of my mother's house on Long Island. It was too nice a car to junk immediately, but eventually it had to go. "Rust never sleeps." And anyway, it was time for sedans, station wagons, and eventually ... minivans.

But I still miss Firethorn and my days driving it. I had a lot of fun searching for photos of it online. (None of the photos I found was an exact match for Firethorn. The photos I've put up are just a little off: Firethorn had bright white leather seats; it was not an LT model; and it didn't have a spoiler. It was just really neat. But these shots are close enough.)

You might say that it was a young car for a young man, and you'd be right. Except that now, in my 60s, I have a car that's probably just as racy. Maybe even more so: it's a convertible. Another "flash ride." Convertibles aren't practical back east, but they are one of the best reasons for living in southern California.

So maybe it's me; maybe I need to have a flashy car – regardless of my age, first car or last -- for some personal, psychological reason. It's not simply 'I just like a fast, nice, comfortable car.' Maybe our possessions do say something about who we are – who we are and what we want to project about ourselves to the world.

"You are what you DRIVE?" There might be a grain of truth in that.

In any case, I'm fairly certain that my next car is going to have to be ... (drumroll) ... a hybrid.


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Christian Correa