Like old wives tales, there are old car tales. Some are based in fact, others, pure myth. A persistent old car tale is the one about a particular color car being unlucky. That color is red. Now, Ferrari racing cars are mostly red and they’ve won a whole lot of races and world championships, so you could think the red car thing is bunk. But the old car tale of red cars being bad luck persists. This story could be why.
My mom’s first brand new car was a 1967 Pontiac GTO convertible. It was gorgeous. Regimental red, black top, black interior with black pinstripes highlighting its slinky lines. Under the hood, 400-cubic inches pumping out 350-horsepower to a Hurst Dual-Gate shifted Turbo 400 transmission. This was a serious car for anybody, let alone a 26-year old mother of two. When my mom dropped me off for my first day of school, the other kids lost their minds when they saw it. Scrambling out of their moms earth-toned sedans and station wagons, my moms red GTO must have seemed like a UFO had landed in front of Squiretown Elementary school.
The GTO was quick, fast, loud and fun. My mom was loving it, and us kids were digging it too. Every ride in it was like an event. When we were given the choice between, “ …air conditioning or top down?” we always picked top down. And why not, compared to many of the other cars that passed through the family’s driveway, this top went down with the touch of a button. So did the windows. And the radio always seemed to be playing something great like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles or the Temptations.
Then the party started to wind down. The cruse of the red car came on like the proverbial bat out of hell. While parked, minding it’s own business, the passenger’s side front corner got backed into. I remember riding in it after that and being able to see the chrome headlight trim sticking up over the fender, broken and bent before it went to Livingston Collision Service for repairs.
The red car was straight and shiny for a while…just a little while. This time it was the other corner, and again, not while flying through the Lincoln tunnel at well above the posted speed limit as the car often found itself, but again, just sitting minding its business. And again, it was back to Livingston Collision Service to iron out the wrinkles in its red skin.
Shiny, straight and red again, the GTO rolled on to its date with red car destiny. And before too long, the curse became all too real. While stopped in traffic with my mom riding shotgun and her boyfriend driving, some moron slammed into the back passenger’s side corner at 50 MPH without even trying to stop. My mom had whiplash and a concussion and her boyfriend’s knee met the lower edge of the dashboard with predictable, and painful, results.
The GTO was seriously wounded as you can see in the accompanying photo. The quarter panel was crushed a good foot and accordianed all the way to the rear wheel opening. The rear bumper was twisted, the rear tail panel was mashed and bent, the trunk lid sprung on its hinges and bent in the middle and the frame seriously bent. Remarkably, the taillights still worked even though they were pointing 90-degrees from their original position and the trim surrounding them was ripped and bent. The “GTO” letters on the quarter panel were still hanging onto the wrecked sheet metal. Despite the bent frame, the passenger’s side door still opened and closed.
In those days, frame repair technology was not what it is today, and even though the red car was “repaired“, it was never the same. Yes, it ran and drove, but never quite as it had before. The red car curse had claimed another victim. The GTO was traded in on another amazing, and yet equally cursed car.
We’ve had other red cars since the GTO, with varying degrees of luck, but if you ask me, if red cars aren’t cursed, maybe SOME red cars are. Like old wives tales, some old car tales are true.