I have been in love with cars for as long as I can remember. My brother, Harry, used to carve model cars out of wood, starting with a rectangular block of wood, creating sleek fastbacks akin to the Corvettes of the era, and then carving more, tweaking fenders, shaping hoods, turning coupes into convertibles.
When I was in college, we had had a profitable harvest, and my parents bought me a car. My mom and I were walking the showroom floor and passed the Opel GT—a hot little two-seater fastback. She said, almost to herself, but not quite, “That would be a fun little car.” We settled on a boxy two-door Opel sedan. It wasn’t so fun, it wasn’t so sleek, but it was functional.
Years later, I sold the Opel to my brother-in-law and bought a 1979 Chevy Monza. The Monza was a solid, four on the floor, two-door coupe. Mine was buckskin brown, purchased from a family friend who was dealing in cars, buying in Denver and selling them in Montana. I was living in Iowa at the time and had forfeited my company car because I was going from over the road sales to a desk job.
The Monza was positioned as a sports car wannabe, looking more like a Pinto than a Mustang. It had a V8 engine–in those days we didn’t concern ourselves with gas mileage. It was, if nothing else, a fast gas hog with plenty of horsepower. I got a speeding ticket in Kansas City driving that Monza.
I ended up getting transferred to Denver, so the Monza made a full circle in its car-life. It was great to drive in the mountains, with more power than I ever utilized, and tight, quick steering. With an after-market sunroof, I liked to think the car was hot and it made me feel hot, too.
I hung out with a Stanford college buddy, Gary Ritter, who had been a year or two ahead of me in school but in a field that I gravitated to—civil engineering. Gary and I played a lot of tennis and he introduced me to his friends and family who lived in Denver. I joined his circle on a ski trip to the mountains. He was a great friend.
Gary was a pretty un-assuming guy, tall and blond. He had grown up in Omaha and was working for the Department of Transportation in Denver. I only ever saw him driving a little off-white pickup, one of those Ranger type models. One summer day we decided to drive into the Rockies to the west of Denver. I lived in Westminster, so I drove my Monza to his place in Lakewood. It was a classic Colorado summer day, clear skies, sunny and hot. I wore a spaghetti strap tee with a long-sleeved shirt over the top—in the late 70s early 80s women weren’t yet so liberated–tube tops were new on the fashion scene–so the tee I wore was pretty daring.
I pulled up to Gary’s house, figuring I would offer to drive so that we could enjoy a sporty car in the mountains. To me, if given the option of driving the winding roads in a pickup or a V8 fastback, I would choose fast.
Gary was ready and waiting, his pickup in the driveway. I jumped out as he approached, and said, “I can drive, throw your stuff in.” He cocked his head and looked at me sideways. I wondered if he thought it would be weird for me to drive. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy that would be hung up on something like that.
He said in his calm, level voice, “That’s ok, I can drive.”
I rolled my eyes internally, but said, “Sure,” and began gathering my gear. He hit the garage door opener, and as I stood in the driveway watching the garage door rise, I began to see why he wanted to drive.
Inside the cool, dark garage was a Corvette convertible.
I almost squealed in delight—but I didn’t. I stayed cool. I said, as nonchalantly as I could, “Nice car.” And then I laughed and almost shouted, “You bet you can drive! Let’s go!”
We hit I-70 out of town, top down, sun beating down on us. It began to heat up, so in a bold moment, I took off my shirt and tucked it behind the seat. Gary glanced over and I could see his eyebrow raise. It was me in my skinny strapped tee, long hair in a pony tail, Jackie O sunglasses, riding shotgun in a truly hot sports car next to a tall drink of water roaring through the Rockies.
Who could ask for anything more?
4 thoughts on “More Car, More Kicks, Cruising the Rockies circa 1979”
Great sorry Elaine and so typical of Gary
Ah, those were the days! In hindsight had know Elaine was such a car aficionado, I would have given her some time behind the wheel. That said, I do recall her appearing very satisfied sporting her Jackie O look in the passenger’s seat – without the temptation of another speeding ticket. Going downhill from Vail to Lakewood, the Corvette was like a trail horse headed back to the barn – without judicious pedal restraint the 90 miles would be covered in just a bit more than an hour.
I’m mostly a non-fiction fellow. So although a white Ranger pickup may have greater literary value, I had a red 1969 Datsun pickup – albeit so weathered that it may have faded to white in a reminiscing mind’s eye. Nonetheless I am grateful to and honored by Elaine for rekindling a now distant memory from our shared past.
I’m sure in my mind’s eye I looked more Jackie O than I really did, I don’t think Rangers existed back in the olden days, so a Datsun makes more sense and it was the precursor to the Ranger which I think was produced at the Ford plant in Minneapolis. Isn’t it hilarious that Larry Erickson had a Monza??
Say it ain’t so, Jackie O. You’ve definitely sustained a youthful image, and more importantly your zest for life. I’m afraid I have not avoided aging as well as you – I may still be tall but the blond hair, what is left of it, is gray (my passport even attests to this).
The Ranger came out in 1983 and was an Americanized Mazda. My Datsun was pure-bred Japanese and much treasured, as are you. It is hilarious that you and Larry both had a Monza, but then you two both know me and ski patrolled the same mountain. Can it all be coincidence or is there a possibility of divine intent and intervention?