By Fitz Sargent
My parents migrated from Boston to Albuquerque in a ’47 Studebaker Champion but the first car I remember at 434 Rio Grande Boulevard was a ’48 Plymouth convertible, which, by the time I was 6 or so, I would fetch from the garage when asked. But then a ’50 Jaguar Mk VII, with walnut trim, red leather seats and ashtrays everywhere, appeared and was parked next to the ’55 Pontiac Star Chief Custom Safari Wagon with its chrome center stripes that went from license plate to license plate . . . Remember in those days the plates were red-on-yellow in the even years and yellow-on-red in the odd, but most of the cars in our neighborhood didn’t even have plates and Joe Sanchez drove a ’49 Ford with NO tires and 2 bullet holes in the trunk lid. Joe was just back from Korea . . . the holes came with the car!
Soon, the Jag was totaled and two Volkswagens, a ’51 and a ’53, were parked under the cottonwood . . . an attempt to open an Albuquerque VW dealership had failed. My sisters Be and Su were learning to drive and the “split window” would be perfect. But the rear visibility was poor and Dad backed it into the cottonwood – pushed the motor into the backseat!
In 1956 Dad brought home a two-tone, light and medium blue, ’56 Ford Parklane Wagon, our first new car. On day one I was sent to the garage. I started it up, put my arm over the seat, stretched out my foot and depressed the gas pedal . . . The car launched itself forward into the table saw and I learned what PRND was all about. My grandmother (she lived in Scottsdale) had just bought herself a ’56 Ford Ranch Wagon. It was a standard “3 on the column” with 2 doors and with plastic cowboy seat covers (we didn’t need those in NM!). Anyway the clutch was too much for her, so she got the Parklane and we got the Ranch Wagon, which eventually moved us back to New York City. And in 1962 my dad drove it to Panama!
Twice in the 50s we drove east in a ’48 Lincoln Continental, previously owned by Albert Simms (Creamland Dairy, Los Poblanos, New Mexico congressman and uncle of the governor at the time) – push-button doors, electric windows and a V12 that overheated its way across Texas, my 3 sisters and the dog in the back. I sat between my parents in the front; they called me “the little prince.”
Fast forward to 1961 . . . Be returns from California, art school, and gives me the yellow ’45 Ford Pick-up. Within a week I had ruined the transmission and had to learn to navigate a dreary ’61 Chevy Bel Air or my stepfather’s annual parade of Pontiac Catalinas. 1964, after working the summer in Jemez I drove back to NY on a ’62 Ducati Diana, 2500 miles on back roads!
My first car, a ’61 Buick Skylark Convertible (known for its all aluminum block and short life), followed by a ’60 Sunbeam Alpine Series II – English, noisy, electric overdrive. Would have been a chick magnet for a kid with even a bit of magnetism. Blew the engine on the Mass Pike. Switched to a ’64 Ford Falcon Wagon, which Dave Hall and I drove from Montreal to Miami to Mexico to LA and Vancouver and back to Montreal. And then I failed out of college and bought a ’62 VW and a ’63 Honda Super Hawk (later stolen), followed by my only new motorcycle, a ’66 Triumph Bonneville T120, eventually joined by a ’54 Ariel FH (a piece of English medieval junk!) and the sweetest ’63 Suzuki 90, which turned 78 mph at the strip in Trois Rivieres (Quebec). Then I got married and picked up a ’68 VW at the factory in Wolfsburg and spent the summer picking up hitchhikers in Yugoslavia and Greece.
Montreal snow and salt ruined the VW . . . My daughter Rose was born . . . “Stagflation” was the country’s mood and a ’75 Toyota Corolla (my automotive low point) sat in front of my Boston home, but it was soon replaced by an ’81 VW Dasher Diesel, which was impossible to start on cold mornings, but redeemed itself with 47 mpg of underpowered performance and then we became a two car family . . . My favorite driver, an ’86 Saab 900 – GM owned Saab but had yet to ruin it – was joined by an ’84 Chevy Suburban in which my kids practiced running into ambulances and school buses, followed by a gorgeous red ’92 Saab 9000 CS and a lowly ’93 Subaru Legacy Wagon – also red but super uncomfortable! So late one evening I went to the Ford dealer and bought a ’95 Ford Bronco. I was surprised the next morning to see that it was an unpleasant green but perfect for hauling a trailer full of motorcycles from track to track (I had taken up road racing in the late 80s and built a racing sidecar, ’60 BMW R60, in ’91).
Then I moved to Maine and needed a good commuter, like a ’95 Audi 100 CS Quattro (not the 1000 which had an accelerator with a mind of its own). A friend gave me an ’81Toyota Land Cruiser, which I restored and regretfully sold. And then my favorite mechanic loaned me an ’81 Mercedes 300D, which led to a collection that included an ’82 300CD (the best looking coupe I ever owned), and two more 300Ds and two 300TDs (the station wagon model) and 4 or 5 parts cars. These 5-cylinder diesels commonly go over 500,000 miles – the ’82 TD had 795,000 – get over 30 mpg and cruise all day at 80. Mercedes made 6.7 million of them between 1975 and 1986 . . . perhaps the best engineered car ever.
Before I left Maine I drove a ’99 A6 Audi Quattro and a ’98 Saab 900 (the car that proved that GM drove the quirky Swedish aircraft/auto maker into the ground). And then I headed back to New Mexico, my little white ’05 Ford Ranger (which I bought in Farmington, Maine, but which came from ALAMAGORDO!) pulling my ’69 Saab Sonett on a trailer . . . oh, and my ’72 Saab Sonett not far behind. The ’69 won “Best in Show” honors at the Amigo Car show in June 2010; Sammy C presented the trophy!
There are a few left out: the ’58 Hillman Husky with a HI NEIGHBOR, HAVE A GANSETT! sticker on the rear window, that Nick Burrage sold me for 30 bucks; a ’69 Peugeot 304 (like most French cars of the time, only 3 lugs on each wheel!); a hideous ’82 Ford Econoline conversion van that I went racing in; an ’81 Dodge Ram 50; a ’67 and a ’68 BSA Starfire; a ’76 BMW R100S; a ’64 Triumph T100 and probably a few best forgotten others.
My favorites: Sunbeam Alpine, Saab 900 (the early one), my ’69 Saab Sonett, Toyota Land Cruiser.
And cars I wish I had: Jaguar 3.8 Mk II, ’76 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, Sunbeam Tiger (like my Alpine, but with a Ford 289 engine), and most especially a Citroën Maserati SM . . . if you Google one you will see why!