(Editor’s note: In the 1950s my father insisted that he always had to buy a used car for the family because if he bought a new one people would think our newspaper was beginning to make too much money. That would make it harder to sell ads, he told us. He doesn’t disclose that reasoning in the column that follows, but I believe he had jalopies on the mind because this was the summer I turned 16 and he acquired my first jalopy. He didn’t have to pay for my car. I recall that he took the car – a 1938 Plymouth with torn seat covers – to cover a bad debt owed by a Studebaker dealer who was going out of business.)
From The Argus-Observer issue of June 14, 1954
These are jalopy days.
People used to think that a car was good for only seventy or eighty thousand miles. During the War (WWII) they found out how far a car would run with a little care. Now some old cars just run on and on and never die.
Everywhere you go on the streets and highways, and especially along the byways in fishing country, you see the pre-war models that are from 12 to 20 years old.
Using the old cars hasn’t kept people from buying the new ones. An American has to have a good car.
The old cars have just been kept around for secondary use like old clothes.
When an old pair of slacks wears through you darn the hole and save them for gardening, or golf or painting. When the old car becomes a rattletrap just park it outside the garage and save it for junior to drive to school or father to take fishing or for driving to work so that mother can have the new car at home.
Of course, if you indulge in fully modern living, you have a two-car garage. All of the new housing projects for middle income groups now feature two car garages along with two bathroom interiors.
This is part of America’s move to Suburbia which so interest today’s student of our society and economy.
It simply makes sense. The family has to live while father’s away slaving. If you park mother and the kids someplace in the country without transportation you’re apt to get called up before the society for the prevention of cruelty to families. A two-car garage is a good defense because it is an indication of good intent.
We had jalopies too, in lesser numbers, a generation ago when I was in high school. The chief difference is that they cost $10 or $20 instead of $100 or $200. But the $10 or $20 was nearly as hard to get then as the larger amount is today.
I owned two such jalopies. One was a Star. It had been the family auto of several years before, but had been abandoned and left idle in the garage. I revived it and it lasted for just one summer.
The next year I bought a dandy Model T for only $15. It had good tires and an excellent battery with a self starter --- quite a luxury for a Model T not to have to crank it.
That car covered a lot of ground that summer. It kept all my buddies broke buying gas for our travel. When I went away on a vacation my friends drove it and it had a new wheel upon my return.
Rumor had it that the old wheel had broken under some strenuous driving and that the replacement was copped out of a wrecking yard. I never did find out but always feared someone would stop me and reclaim his wheel.
The old Model T had one safety advantage. It wouldn’t go more than 40 or 45.
A lot of adolescents drove old cars then and we thought they were jalopy days. But they didn’t amount to much compared to today.
There are many times more old cars in circulation now so that in some localities the registration of motor vehicles exceeds the census of families making an average of more than one vehicle per family for a whole region.
These really are jalopy times. --- By Don Lynch