An ode to my first muscle car
I’ll never forget my first bicycle. My mother surprised me for my fifth birthday with a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us. We walked to the back of the store and stopped at the long row of new bikes. She looked down the aisle, stretched her hand out, and said, “Pick out any one you would like!” I slowly and carefully began down the row, taking time to examine each one. When I arrived at the most perfect bike in the world, I stopped and said, “This is the one I want.”
My bike had a black shiny frame with black mag wheels and knobby tires. It had hunter green fenders, a “gas tank,” and a blocky banana seat. But the most appealing part for me was the large number one racing plate attached to the front handlebars. It looked just like a motor cross bike. It wasn’t a princess bike, it was built for a boy. And I loved it.
During hot Texas summers, it was common practice to spend the entire day playing outside. We were allowed to go anywhere as long as we stayed in our neighborhood and we were within earshot of moms piercing whistle. My afternoons were spent riding bikes with my two older brothers and a slew of neighborhood kids, all of whom were boys. I wanted to pop wheelies off of curbs and jump shoddily put together ramps made from scrap wood or anything else we could find. I wanted to ride on the dirt-bike trails at the local park. I didn’t want to be a boy but I did want to have fun like a boy.
Ten years later, I was no longer riding boys dirt bikes. I was about to turn sixteen, and I was thinking a lot about what kind of car I would like to drive. The movie Can’t Buy Me Love had cemented the convertible VW Rabbit as the quintessential teen girl car, but it just wasn’t for me. It was while watching another show, 21 Jump Street, that I was struck with cupids arrow. The opening sequence to the show featured a street race with a vintage Mustang V6 Fastback. I was in love.
My father raced cars and motorcycles, so I knew he appreciated my passion for horsepower. For my birthday, in an incredibly generous offer, he wanted to help me get my own set of wheels. But he kept trying to steer me toward a new Ford Escort, a staid, practical model. Until one day after school, when I stopped by his shop and sitting in the parking lot was a glistening red 1966 Mustang Fastback. I raced inside to find the owner. I was anxious to ask them a ton of questions about their car. “Whose Mustang is that out there?”My father’s employee stared at me for a second and replied, “Uh, it’s yours.”
I jumped up and down, screaming with joy. I’m not really sure what made this my dream car. Maybe it was the Nancy Drew books I adored as a kid. I always admired how she was independent, racing around in her sporty car with friends solving crimes. Maybe it was that women were noticeably absent from the race tracks when I would watch my dad compete. To me, this car was a protest. It was a declaration that I could and would act, behave, and drive whatever I felt like. And I did.
The first time I drove it was nerve-wracking. I had never driven a stick shift, and my father was teaching me. Our neighborhood had lots of hills and I struggled to lurch forward from a stopped position. I kept rolling backwards each time, but I had made up my mind that I would not be defeated. I also kept getting clogged points and my car would get flooded and stall out. But I kept going.
I guess you could say that my car became my identity. Years after high school, I realized I had become known as the “red Mustang girl” to classmates I didn’t know very well. I would get introduced at parties as, “This is Lisa. You know…the girl with the red Mustang.” Maybe people noticed my car so much because I kept it immaculate. I even cleaned the engine compartment because I lifted the hood so often for those that would ask. I loved that car. It was like having a cool friend around. I used to boast that I would have to be buried in it one day, sitting at the wheel.
I drove that car for five years and it taught me a lot. It taught me that I could drive a stick, peel out, race boys, and win. It taught me that I was a pretty good stunt driver when I had to crank the wheel at 70 mph to avoid hitting another car. I learned how to change my oil and my tires if needed and I could push start it by popping the clutch.
But, I also learned that this muscle car brought a lot of attention with it. Not because it was a beautiful car, but because a girl was driving it. Most guys were impressed that my knowledge of muscle cars was as good and as theirs and were polite. But I would also get comments like, “What’s a girl doing driving a car like that?” I didn’t act offended. I simply threw it in gear and let them stand in a cloud of my tire smoke, mouths open, wondering what had just happened.
Lisa Eller Jobe is a teacher who plays the ukulele for fun and loves to drive and race cars. She and her husband have two Doberman Pinschers and one cat that doesn’t have a tail, and live in Fort Worth, TX. You can find more of her work here.