“Sit back and dream of a soft June night when spring and summer join together, and the stars twinkle in the velvet cushion of sky overhead. And you two are one with the night and the mood, moving in the breeze in the open splendor of your Buick Convertible.” —1954 Buick magazine ad
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It would be a decade after that ad appeared before I bought my first car as a high school sophomore, but what I wanted that car to be came into focus early. I connected with that vision of the breeze blowing through my hair and those stars twinkling overhead. I wanted a convertible.
Even before DPS Trooper Gene Campbell approved my ticket to drive by stamping “Restrictions Removed” on my learner’s license, I had my eye on a Model A Ford roadster rusting in a Titus County field. I remember it like yesterday waning in the weeds with its deteriorated cloth top waiting for someone to rescue it for some summer fun: someone like me.
Summer 2020 looms in the rear-view mirror now, although in East Texas, that just means it’s bearable to get outside the house in “the heat of the day” as my grandmother used to say. My love for automobiles in any season has always led me to believe a journey is not about the route you take or where you are going as much as it’s about the vehicle in which you are traveling. And that’s especially true when the scenic route is in a car with a top that goes down.
As the ad suggested, convertibles put you at one with nature, unlike anything else except a motorcycle, which is probably why I’ve owned several of those, too. They let you become a part of the countryside instead of just passing through it. You get an unobstructed view with all the sights, sounds, and aromas to go with it.
Although my first car was not a convertible, I came close to buying one while still in high school. One summer night while at the Dairy Queen in Mount Pleasant, I heard that Ray Baker was selling his ’59 Chevrolet drop-top, and I was knocking on his door before I finished my chocolate shake. As I looked up at the stars from the driver’s seat, I fantasized about the old car ad and almost heard the song “One Summer Night” by The Danleers playing on the radio. The car and the moment caught my heart, but the reality of my “after school job” budget let it slip through my fingers. I still think about it.
A couple of years later, a 1929 Ford Model A roadster like the one I had fallen in love with before I had a driver’s license turned my head. While working a summer body shop job for my uncle in California, I bought one with a 50’s vintage DeSoto Hemi motor, no fenders, and no top. The original Ford soft top was long gone and of little concern for a Southern California hot rod. Thus, my first genuine moving in the breeze moments under the stars were experienced in Southern California in the summer of 1967.
My first genuine convertible with a top that went up and down was a few years later in East Texas. The 1970 VW rag top purchased from John Paul Jones used car lot in Naples was the same color as the ’59 Chevy I had drooled over some years earlier and was one of the most fun cars I’ve owned.
Convertibles of any kind are fun, at least in my book. In the decades since those early flings, I’ve enjoyed 23 automobiles equipped to allow breezes to flow through my hair and afford me a view of the stars at night. Recalling that list last week with fond moments of each one, I’m now contemplating selling my ’57 Thunderbird convertible … without plans to replace it. The herd needs thinning as three classic cars are becoming more than I can properly care for. And sentimental value would make it difficult to part with the other two, both hardtops.
But that’s all right. At this age, what gray hair I have left is thin and doesn’t catch much of a breeze. Plus, I’m usually in bed asleep these days by the time the stars come out anyway.
Where is that ad? Let me envision that dream one more time before I put out the ‘for sale’ sign.
(Photo at top of the page: A summer night shot of “Black ‘Bird” as I call her. While I do like the car a lot, that ray of light is not from on high, it’s a streetlight. And yes, my shoes are the same kind immortalized in song by Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.)
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