On my sixteenth birthday, my Granddaddy gave me a legendary and character building set of wheels. A baby blue 1969 Oldsmobile 98 with a 454 rocket engine was my all mine. It was 21 feet long with fins and could do doughnuts on a dime. It had an 8-track tape player that worked and a built-in clock in the back banquette. I christened it The Love Machine. The Love Machine was pure vintage luxury and hardly the car of my peers. However, somehow at 16, I was mature enough to know it was a work of art.
The Love Machine gave me instant cachet in a John Hughes teenage Pretty in Pink kind of way. There was something magic about this car. I didn’t know it at the time, but this car would bring me many life lessons and a few strange gifts my way.
First things first, I wanted to drive my new car to school. My brother and best friend joined me for the inaugural trip to Fayette County High School. I pulled into the Junior’s parking lot blasting Donna Summer on my 8-track player and knowing that driving to school was oh so much more fun than taking the bus. Shortly after we arrived, I received my first lesson.
Just as I was sitting down to my desk in homeroom, there was an announcement over the loudspeakers, “Could Laura Loving please report to the principal’s office.” I got a lump in my throat. I was pretty sure that I hadn’t done anything wrong. The principal only called you to the office if there was something serious… possibly even a death in the family. I left the classroom and walked quickly to the office. I entered the front door and the secretary told me to go right in. There was a girl that I had never seen before sitting in a chair opposite of Mr. Phillips (the principal) crying with her purse in her lap. Oh my God, I thought someone died. The suspense was killing me. Mr. Phillips wasted no time, “Laura, Beth here hit your car in the parking lot this morning. We don’t believe any damage was done to your car. Let’s go take a look and make sure.” I told Beth that she really didn’t need to cry and that I wasn’t worried about my car. She quickly let me know that she wasn’t either. I could tell Beth wasn’t the type of person that could appreciate a car like The Love Machine. We walked in silence to the junior parking lot. As we approached my car, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There wasn’t even a scratch on The Love Machine. Poor Beth, the front bumper of her Camaro IROC Z had come off and there was a huge dent on one side. She was devastated. I apologized, but it seemed silly since she was the one that hit my car. Beth was unresponsive and I don’t believe she ever looked me in the eye or spoke to me again. Mr. Phillips explained to me that I would be getting a special parking place for The Love Machine. From now on, I could park in the Senior’s lot (right next to front doors of the school with much bigger spaces). Score! Thank you Love Machine. Sorry Beth.
My guru on wheels was perhaps trying to teach me about materialism and the simple joys of having a hooptie. Driving an old car made of steel gave me freedom from the stress of things like someone hitting my car, scratching my car, kicking my car, spilling stuff in my car or doing anything else to my car for that matter.
My senior year of high school was full of fun and success. I was president of the student body, a member of the homecoming court and got accepted to the University of Georgia. However, one of my favorite awards that year wasn’t an honor at all and possibly even an insult. I won “Ugliest Car” in the student voted Senior Superlatives. I am pretty sure they created this sub-category just for me. The infamy of The Love Machine would have been embarrassing for some. For me, it was the punchline to my artistic teenage lifestyle.
The Love Machine achieved similar fame and attention during my college years. The first day I drove onto the University of Georgia campus, a car full of fraternity boys pulled up next to me at a red light and offered me $1,000 for it. “This car is not for sale,” I answered and I floored it catching a wheel onto Milledge Avenue.
The Love Machine was often the chosen mode of transportation by my friends for nights on the town in Athens. We could fit our entire squad (six girls) comfortably and relatively safely.
One Saturday night, as we pulled out of Brumby Hall (the girls’ dorm), we heard a crowd of boys scream from Russell Hall (the boys’ dorm), “You’ll never get laid with that many girls in the car.” We laughed at this annoying but funny jeer for two reasons: 1.We didn’t care what boys from Russell thought. and 2.They were wrong. Plus, that wasn’t our mission. As our night progressed, we went to fraternity party after party. I drank several drinks and so had pretty much everyone else in our group except our friend Rosie. Rosie had only had 1 drink earlier in the evening and she agreed to drive home. Rosie was as short as I am tall. All of 5 feet and change, Rosie sat in the Love Machine and discovered that she couldn’t see over the wheel. Five inebriated girls came up with the brilliant idea of sitting Rosie up on a stack of schoolbooks so she could see the road. It worked and we slowly rolled out of the driveway of Theta Chi and onto Milledge Avenue. It was an incredibly foggy night and I could tell our driver was nervous.
Rosie was beginning to get her groove for driving this fine piece of machinery when something happened. Suddenly, we ran over a large object in the middle of the road. We had no idea what it was. At first, we thought it was someone’s push lawn mower that had rolled into the street. The sound of metal scraping the asphalt pierced the inside of the car. Sparks flew from beneath us and were shooting up past everyone’s window like a fourth of July sparkler – fest. Everyone was panicking and the sound of six girls talking at the same time added to the chaos in a crescendo. Before I could say pull over, blue lights started flashing in the rearview window. There was a cop behind us. Rosie was about to lose it. Even though we had a sober driver, we were all only 18 years old. This could get ugly. “When we pull over, everyone get out and make a circle around the car. He won’t be able to tell who was driving and everyone look really concerned” suggested Marie. Rosie pulled over and we all did just that. Everyone exited the car and circled around. We politely greeted the police officer as we examined what we had run over. He barely even took notice of us. “Looks like you girls ran over a lawn chair”, he said with a thick south Georgia accent. He bent over and took out the mangled lawn chair, which now looked like the beginnings of an Alexander Calder sculpture. He looked all under the car checking for any damage and said, “Should be good to go now ladies.” He got back in his car and drove away without even asking for a single piece of identification. With a big sigh of relief, we all got back in the car and returned to Brumby Hall.
The Love Machine stayed with me for most of my college career. As she began to age, weird things started to happen. She broke down quite a few times and the engine became louder and louder. Starting the car sounded similar to a propeller plane preparing for take off. During this period, I learned about brake fluid, power steering fluid, fan belts, changing tires and the importance of keeping jumper cables in your car.
As the years went by, some of the manifestations of driving an aging car were downright embarrassing. One night, the horn just started going off at 3 am. The horn didn’t just do a little staccato beep beep song and then go off. The horn blared a long loud b flat like someone was putting extreme force on it without stopping. It woke me from a dead sleep and I initially thought someone was trying to break into The Love Machine. My roommates woke up too as well as a few neighbors. I did the walk of shame out to the parking lot in my robe to try to turn it off. I could see my neighbors peeking out their windows wondering what was going on. I calmly got in the car and started moving the steering wheel a little back and forth and the horn stopped. I got out of the car and headed back to the apartment and hardly took a few steps before it started again. BLAAAAAAAAAAAAA! BLAAAAAAAAAA! I ran back to the car and fiddled with the steering wheel again. This happened a few times over the next ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time at 3 am with neighbors staring at you out their window. The horn finally went off and stayed dormant for the rest of the night.
I knew there must be a loose wire or something. I didn’t really worry about it and started my day as if everything was normal. I drove it to and from class with no problem. After school, I went to the grocery store with my roommate. I had forgotten about the annoying horn and was enjoying the day. As we were looking for a parking spot, the horn started going off again. Once again, the sound didn’t stop, it was just one continuous loud b flat. Parents in the parking lot gathered their children towards them and little old ladies ran to their cars in fear. They must have thought I was some type of parking lot terrorist. I was now scaring the public at large. Exasperated, I headed toward the gas station to seek some assistance. The attendant told me that there was a short somewhere in the horn and there was no way to locate it. The only thing we could do was disconnect the horn entirely. Getting a new horn was expensive, so I just opted to go hornless.
Hornless and happy, I drove The Love Machine for the rest of the school year. As my plans for the summer were shaping up, my brother was headed to Florida and needed a way to get there. I gave him The Love Machine. I explained to him that the car was all but dead. I thought she could get him there, but that would be about it. At this point, the car sounded like a 747 and would only go about 50 miles an hour. Somehow, my brother drove The Love Machine all the way to Gainesville, Florida. That was her last voyage. The engine caught on fire a few days later while he was driving around town. After confirming that my brother and no one else was harmed, I told my brother he could just get rid of it. He sold it for scrap metal to the tune of $500. I totally let him keep the money. He earned it and frankly, I was just glad he was alive.
I had a bit of an identity crisis when the Love Machine died. Part Goliath of steel and part vessel of wisdom, this car was so much a part of my every day life. The Love Machine prepared me for dealing with the unexpected challenges of life. Her death was like losing a friend. What car could ever follow The Love Machine? All these years later, I am still hooked on hoopties. Check out my latest Love Machine below.
If you enjoyed this blog or have a “Love Machine” memory, please tell me about it in the comments.