Almost two months ago I entered a contest where I was supposed to write about my first car. I don't know if winners have been selected or not, but I wanted to share the story I wrote here for posterity's sake. It is, after all, a fun story. ;)
My dad was giddy when he picked out my car. Ever the vintage Volkswagen enthusiast, the prospect of his daughter driving a cherry 1976 Super Beetle made him glow with pride. As a beginner stick-shift driver I appreciated the cars forgiveness as I stuttered and stalled through my first few manual-driving lessons. Eventually I was a pro, and I would confidently zip around town in my eye-catching, brick red Beetle. After learning to surf I affixed a "toes-on-the-nose" surf girl decal on the back window, and placed my bobble-hipped hula girl on the dash.
The summer I was seventeen I approached my dad about a couple of things. The oil light was flickering, and there was a funny gasoline smell in the car every morning. My dad, a busy airline pilot, said he'd check it out, but I don't remember if that actually happened. After a few weeks the oil light stopped flickering. Fluke problem, I assumed. But the gas smell.... It didn't go away, and I knew I wasn't imagining things because my sisters and friends smelled it, and complained, too.
One day, on the way home from my history class at the local community college, the fuel gauge did something weird: it went from half tank to quarter tank in the two minutes it took me to make the drive home. Now I was worried, and I went to Dad and told him, again, that the smell was weird and I lost a quarter tank between class and home. That got his attention. I drove the family car the next few days, and Dad took the car to the airport for his next trip. First he had to make a stop at the gas station. The closest gas station was barely a mile away, but that quarter tank barely lasted him. He rolled into the station dead out of gas. He filled up, and then hopped onto the freeway. Not even a mile on the freeway and he watched the needle on the gas gauge go from full to empty. The Beetle ran out of gas before he got off the freeway. Fortunately, the exit ramp allowed him to roll downhill into another gas station. Before refilling, he popped the back open to check on the engine and watched as gasoline splashed all over the engine from the fuel line. It had come disconnected and needed a new ring to keep it attached to the intake valve. I'd been driving around all summer with a loose gas line.
Dad got back from that trip, told me how he'd fixed it, then handed me a small fire extinguisher. "Just in case" he said and he showed me how to use it. I looked it over and hoped I wouldn't need it.
The next night, on my way home from a friend's house late at night, a pokey driver was making me crazy and I went to pass him. But all of the sudden my Beetle wouldn't accelerate. At all. Slightly confused I glanced in my rearview mirror - and there were flames.
I still have no idea how I got out of the car, but somehow I pulled onto the side of the road, got out of the car, grabbed the fire extinguisher from my back seat, popped the ring, and was shooting CO2 through the vents over the engine within seconds.
I didn't have a phone on me (this was the age before all kids had cell phones by 12), so I flagged down a passing car and hitched a ride to home with a nice woman and her two boys. Dad went and picked up the car with our trailer, and we took it to a VW doctor. A loose wire in the engine caused the flickering oil light and that, coupled with the fuel leak, had triggered the flames. My Super Beetle was lucky. I'd acted so quickly that the engine was saved. A week or so later and I was back in my little red car, this time without any fuel line leaks and the oil light wire securely in place.
To this day weird car smells scare the tar out of me. I look for flames first.