Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Garret Leiva: Never forget your first kiss or keys

Local columnist

---- — They say you never forget your first kiss or your first car.

I don’t recall whose lips touched mine under the playground monkey bars — although I’m sure I nearly died from cooties. However, I still have the keys to my first car: a 1978 Chevrolet Chevette.

It was the automobile equivalent of kissing your sister, but the ‘She-vette’ was mine.My Chevette is long gone. I last sat in its carmine plaid driver’s seat in 1990. My parents sold the car that summer for $300. I watched as it sputtered down the road.

The car must be crushed to a paperweight or less by now. Then again, like disco, this ‘70s creation wouldn’t die.

It was 1978 when I first met the burgundy four-door. My sister and I stepped off the school bus to find a new car in our driveway.

I stood squinting at the chrome bumpers. Mom took us for a spin. We giggled with each shift of the four-speed manual transmission.

Mere children, we had no idea of the immortal powers fueling this four-cylinder albatross. Sporting pallid hubcaps and a push-button AM/FM radio, the She-vette was base model transportation. It also was eternal damnation on wheels. The car would not die.

Mom rolled the car negotiating a curve coated in black ice. A battered fender was the only flesh wound. This was just the beginning of forays into roadside ditches. Five years up the road, the car was subjected to my sister and her learner’s permit. The compact endured it all, from riding the clutch to leaving the parking brake on. It seemed to thrive on abuse and low-octane unleaded.

In 1987, with a decade on the odometer, I inherited the She-vette keys. Thus began the epic struggle between teen and machine.

Like any self-indulgent 17-year-old boy, I hated the car. It was a slow, four-door hatchback that lacked eardrum-pounding speakers.

Within a month, I doubled the car’s decibel level with Dolby cassette and 6 x 9 speakers. The rear seat was folded down for a quasi coupe. I even hung a plastic skull from the rearview mirror. The car was so lame it was cool.

Then things got ugly, body panel-wise. I put the car into a ditch. It was hit twice one night in the local skate/dance palace parking lot. The dents and creases quickly added up.

By the time I left for college, the She-vette was on its last set of tires. Oxidation crept across the hood. The muffler had more pinholes than metal. Underbody rust coating proved no match for car mortality.

Toward the end, you could pull out the ignition key while driving down the road.

While visiting my hometown last month, I spotted a 68-horsepower ghost from the past. I only caught a glimpse of battered fender and pallid hubcap, but it sure looked like eternal damnation on wheels.

After all, like kissing-induced cooties, you never forget your automotive first.

Reach Garret Leiva care of the Record-Eagle or via email at