Probably the best car I have ever owned was a 1953 Buick Roadmaster. By “best” I mean it was the best used car I have ever owned at the date when it was first sold, back in 1953. Howard Hughes owned one so it had to have been expensive. Mine had a straight 8—eight cylinders in a row. It had a radio that didn’t work, and a bunch of buttons across the dash that were supposed to adjust the suspension hydraulically for the kind of surface you were driving on: rough, smooth, bumpy road. Those didn’t work either.
I got the car from Roland. He had been busted for pot and was going to the county work farm for six months. I asked him was there no way he could get out of it, and he laughed and said he was caught red handed and dead to rights having sold directly to an undercover cop. He was parting with his earthly possessions and he had some debts he said to pay off before going in and ask did I want the Buick, owned he said by an old lady. I drove it around, no black smoke came out the pipe, and the oil was pretty clean. So I offered him 100 dollars—which I thought was low—and he said, I’ll take it.
One day I was out front working on something on that car and the next door neighbor, Mr. Hunter, came over and said mighty nice car and started talking about the cars he and his buddies had back in Hattisburg, Mississippi. Yep, he knew that car because it had a special suspension. He and his buddies would get on the ends of that car and get it to bouncing clean off the ground, and one night he had his buddies bounced one of those cars into an alley sideways. You should have seen the owner’s face he said.
And he had a car like that too, not that one exactly, but one like it, and to save on gas he had figured out how to turn the engine off more than a mile away from home. He would get up speed and top this hill, and shut off the engine and it would fly down the hill passed the Miller place, and passed the old abandoned gas station where as a child he bought Nihi Grape Soda, and down a gulley and up the other side, which was always a bit touch and go, and the car would roll right up the drive and stop right in front of the house without him even putting his foot to the brake. Damn amazing, I said.
Mr. Hunter worked down at the zoo taking care of the gorillas maybe because he was about the size of one. He was 6 feet six and maybe 330. He still had the thick southern accent. And I was sitting around maybe two hours later when it came to me like a bolt out of the blue that he had been jerking my chain with that car story. What cued me was that last bit about not even having to touch the brake. Mr. Hunter liked to spin a yarn. I doubt the backbone of the story was original, but he filled it up with so much local color as he went along that you pretty much suspended disbelief without knowing it and maybe his being six six and 330 helped too, because I wasn’t about to call him a liar had I any suspicion he was pulling my chain.
I drove that car for a year during the time I worked as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store. But then towards the end of 1973, the Arab Oil Embargo hit and the price of gas went from 25 cents a gallon or so to a dollar or a dollar and a quarter. I hadn’t paid any attention till then but that Roadmaster got 11 miles to a gallon. And it wasn’t easy to get gas either. Cars stretched around the block to get gas and then they went to the odd number, even number license plate system where people with odd numbered license plates went on odd number days and people with even numbered license plates went on even number days.
So I had to park my luxury vehicle down back with the other wrecks, and I went back to driving the 59 Plymouth Station Wagon. Eventually, one of my brothers sold the Roadmaster to a car collector for 400 dollars.