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Reminiscing – My first Mopar

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Photo by Michael Gorgia.

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader Michael Gorgia of Staten Island, New York.]

One evening in June 1977, my next-door neighbor Conrad introduced me to a friend of his who worked for Bally Shoes. He asked me if I was interested in coming with him on Friday to work at the warehouse in Manhattan to help them do inventory. He told me if the manager liked me he would offer me a job for the summer. I landed the job and got paid twice as much as I expected. This was perfect because I was determined to start my senior year in High School owning my own car. I knew I wanted a Mopar.

I found a 1966 Dodge Coronet 440 with a V-8, bucket seats and a console. It was faded red with a red interior and had a tap in the engine. The guy was asking $300 but would take $250. I wanted that car but my dad suggested I keep looking because he felt I could find something better. I checked the paper every night and finally found a 1967 Dodge Coronet 500 with shiny red paint, a black interior and vinyl top, A/C, and bucket seats. Instead of a console it had a buddy seat. It also had a quiet engine; the guy wanted $200.

I decided I couldn’t live without the console so I told my dad I was going for the ’66 Coronet. The thing was, I needed to borrow a few bucks from my parents so the decision was made that the ’67 Coronet would be financed, the ’66 Dodge would not. I wasn’t too happy but when my dad explained his reasoning he was right. The tradeoff for the console was getting a car that didn’t need engine work and a re-paint, plus it had A/C. It was also $50 less which was a considerable sum in 1977 for a teenager, so we went to go get the car.

Ten years earlier, Mr. Okulewicz had bought the Coronet new from Memoly Motors. We arrived to see the car sitting in his yard with no plates and all the DMV paperwork neatly typed. We drove the old Dodge home and I had my first of many Mopars. I spent the summer working on the car doing brakes and front-end work, and installed a new set of Goodyear Power Cushion tires; I tuned it to run like new. I also detailed the car and really had it shining.

I had the money I borrowed all paid back by the end of the summer, and ended up driving to my first day of  senior year in my really cool Dodge. The job at Bally Shoes was finished but I found a job as a stock boy at Schonfeld Decorators. It was half the money but it would keep me on the road.

On the day after Thanksgiving I spent the day using the bosses 1976 Dodge Coronet Crestwood station wagon moving items between the Staten Island and Brooklyn stores. There was a lot of stuff and I had to make about four trips. I thought about what would happen if I wrecked the bosses’ car. Fortunately, all went well but on the way home from work I got rear ended and pushed into the car in front of me. My shiny Dodge was totaled.

I drove it with the trunk tied shut until I settled with the insurance company. I had almost $600 in the car and came out with $234. I sold the car as it was for $100. My mom said no more V-8 cars! So, I replaced that Dodge with a 1968 Pontiac Tempest. It was a bare bones car with the OHC6 engine. It had an automatic transmission and a limited slip rear. I paid $200 for it, and it ran really well. I didn’t do much to it, and after graduating high school my parents gave me my mom’s 1971 Pontiac Le Mans, so I sold the Tempest.

I have since owned mostly Chrysler and General Motors cars and a few Fords. I look back and realize back in those days that all you needed was $200 to get a really nice car. How times have changed.