My Old Valiant by
(361 Stories)

Prompted By Car Trouble

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I needed a car my senior year at Brandeis, as I would be student teaching at a local public high school first semester. My parents arranged to “sell” me (for one dollar) my mother’s seven year old Valiant (similar to the car in the above photo). Dan, my steady beau, flew out to Detroit to help me drive it back to Waltham.

1973, in my Huntington Woods house before driving back to school

The car was already old, but I was thrilled to have it; my first car. It didn’t have power anything besides steering. No A/C, but at least it was road-worthy at the time. When Dan graduated a few months earlier, he had taken out a loan and purchased a Toyota Corolla 5-speed that I couldn’t drive. I did not yet know how to drive a stick-shift. I also knew nothing about caring for a car. We didn’t think about oil changes or snow tires or anything else to help keep my car on the road. We lived in an apartment complex (then a condominium complex) with outdoor parking only.

Dan and I married right after I graduated and we settled in an apartment in Waltham, then, two years later, bought a condo in Acton, quite a long drive for both of us, as I worked in Waltham (a half hour drive) and he worked in Cambridge (at least 45 minutes, maybe longer, depending on traffic).

At some point, the knob that controlled the heat fell off and was lost. I could no longer turn the heat on and the winters in New England are cold. The car also leaked oil like crazy. I passed a Shell Station on my way to work each day. My joke – always – was, “fill up the oil and check the gas”. But it wasn’t funny. No one had thought to tell us that we should be doing more to keep the car running smoothly and now it needed a gasket job.

The guy at the gas station (those were the days when stations also had repair shops) also informed me that I could replace the knob easily and get heat again. Miraculous! So that go fixed. But before I could give up the car for that gasket repair, I rear-ended someone at a stop light on Rt 2 in Acton in October, 1977. I wasn’t paying attention; lost in thought. We had seat belts in those days, but no shoulder belts and my teeth went through my lips when my face hit the steering wheel. An ambulance took me to the hospital for stitches, the car was totaled. It was 10 years old and not worth much.

I hastily bought a VW Rabbit with front-wheel drive, much better-suited to the winters.

We keep our cars a long time. With all the bells and whistles on them, when something goes wrong, it can be very costly and then it can be time to trade it in. We always do the routine maintenance (we learned our lesson after that Valiant) and do very little driving these days. Mostly back and forth to the Vineyard, 90 miles each way. Other than that, it is local errands, just a few miles running around town. Though Dan has a fancy car, he likes to put the mileage on my less expensive car, so drives it all the time when we are together.

So far, so good, though just a few weeks ago, the lock button on the front passenger door of my car started to rattle. The only thing I can do to make it stop is push it down manually. Dan thinks my car is still under warranty for a few more months. I hope so. They may have to take the whole door apart. This could be the start of a big repair…




Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: right on!


  1. John Shutkin says:

    My brother also had a Valiant in college, and I got to drive it as I drove back with him and his girlfriend from college (Chicago) one summer. It had a stick-shift, so I had to learn on the fly, so to speak. I hated it, but I also knew the dirty looks I would get from him if I ground the gears. So I was a fast learner.

    Good luck with the lock button issue. I understand the problem but I also remember when automatic locks first came into being and thinking what a luxury they were compared to manual locks. Now, of course, we just take them for granted. Until, of course, they don’t work. Just hope your car doesn’t need “door surgery.”

  2. Yep Betsy, indeed many troubles come with car ownership but my husband gets attached to his and has a hard time agreeing to part with them, even when they get old and sick – we are finally donating a 1994 model!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Had to laugh at the missing knob for the heat. My first car was an old Opel that I thought didn’t have a working heater since the knob seemed to do nothing, until one day I drove it further than just to work, and discovered it DID work—just so poorly that it was imperceptible on a short hop. You’re not the only one to mention the days when gas stations were also service stations (or it was sometimes even possible to fix a car yourself). Sigh.

  4. Suzy says:

    As you know, I started out with a Plymouth Valiant too, but I never had any problems with it, except the ones caused by my running into things! Funny about how you drove for a long time without heat, until you found out you could replace the knob!

    In the longevity department, we have a beloved 1998 Honda Odyssey, and while we no longer need a minivan with the kids all gone, it is going to be very hard to give it up! We don’t drive it much though, now that we have our new Tesla!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Let’s face it, Suzy – I knew NOTHING about cars! Wow, that Honda takes the cake for old cars. You must take really good care of it, but now you won’t need it much with that sweet new ride.

  5. Marian says:

    My dad had a Valiant very similar to yours, Betsy, with the idea being that it was stable on snowy roads. Someone hit it and totaled it within a year. Ah, well … We keep our cars a long time, too, even if it means having older technology. Our only car now is a 2009 Hyundai Sonata, which we got used. It still has some life to go. Our next car will be either a hybrid or electric. We are lucky that it California the bodies of cars don’t deteriorate because because of salted roads and really bad weather.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Sorry about your accident — that was a tough way to get rid of that car! Hope you are still under warranty and can get that lock fixed.

  7. I like all the social and cultural context that was revealed as you discussed the vicissitudes of auto maintenance and repair.

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