Jan 21, 2016

The Maryland Prats’ First Cars

In October, 1965, when Benito H. Prats, his wife Mariana and their youngest two children arrived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, they needed a car. $50 later they were the proud owners of a 1956 Plymouth Savoy. But when the four went to the airport to pick up their four other children, they asked Mariana’s brother to bring his car too.The Savoy was not big enough for all the kids and their luggage.

This Savoy had recently been equipped with “manual” brake lights. It required a co-pilot who held a piece of lamp wire with two bare ends and stared at the driver’s feet. When the driver stepped on the brake, the co-pilot touched the two bare wires together to light the brake lights. Mariana worried outloud about the bare wires. “There is nothing to worry about,” Benito replied. “Twelve volts won’t kill you. Just a little buzz.” Sparking was kept to a minimum by touching the wires forcefully. What did you expect for $50 in 1965?

The $50 1957 Plymouth Savoy Sedan
at the Arlington Road house in Bethesda

But that was not the only problem with the Savoy. It was traded in and for an additional $75, we got a powder blue 1958 Plymouth Fury with fins, a Powerflite push button automatic transmission and, as was later discovered, a rusted out floor. The two bench seats in either car provided a cozy ride for a family of 8. Seatbelts?  What seatbelts? Seatbelts were an option nobody paid extra for back then. Being wedged in, four in front and four in back provided additional safety, I'm sure.

Plymouth Powerflite Pushbuttons
The Fury was not without its problems. Benito was driving down Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda with Mariana when he started to slowly sink down behind the steering wheel!  At the same time Mariana gave a cry of alarm: “Ay Benito! Ay Benito!”. She was rising up towards the ceiling! The floor and seat supports on the driver’s side had rusted out and the bench seat, balanced on the drive train tunnel (it was a rear wheel drive car) was pivoting, like a see-saw. On the rest of the drive home Mariana pushed up against the ceiling while Benito pulled himself up by the steering wheel. Once home an old two-by-four was found and wedged under the driver’s side of the bench seat. Problem solved!

You can see the rusted out floor in the following photograph. It was a well-ventilated car after that and Benito wore galoshes to drive on rainy or snowy days because water splashed in through the holes. This car served us well for a number of years.

The $75 1958 Plymouth Fury and the 1965 Ford Country Squire
at the new house at Ewing Drive in Bethesda.
The Plymouth died just weeks after the Ford was purchased.

In the photograph you can also see the Prats’ third used car, a navy blue 1965 Ford Country Squire station wagon that seated ten, three on the front bench seat, three on the rear bench seat, and four small people in the two facing bench seats that popped out of the cargo compartment in the back. It really had 10 lap belts!

The tailgate was a marvel of ingenuity. First you pulled out the Ford logo and it turned into a handle with which you cranked down the rear window. Then if you pulled the other handle to the left, it swung open like a door, allowing you to step into the shared footwell of the facing bench seats. But if you pulled the handle to the right it opened down like a pickup truck gate for cargo loading. If you tucked away the facing bench seats and dropped the back doors bench seat, you could transport 4x8 plywood sheets flat, and with the tailgate closed. Handy when we were hauling supplies to build the doctor’s office in the basement of the Ewing Drive house.

A 1972 Open Cadet
(not ours, but the color is right!)
That station wagon was a great car. We went on our summer vacations to Florida in it. Most of Generation 2 learned how to drive in it. Imagine parallel-parking it in a 25 foot space for the driver’s license test!

What was car number four?  An import! A brand new canary-yellow two-door Opel Cadet. There were too many drivers and the family needed a second car.

This ad shows the two-way tailgate.
Sorry, our car did not have the Stereo-Sonic 4-track tape drive,
just the A.M. radio with six pushbuttons.
No Comfort Convenience Control Panel either.