The (Lemon) Yellow Rabbit by (3 Stories)

Prompted By My First Car

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The first car I ever drove (at the age of 15—legal in Louisiana at the time) was my parents’ Pontiac GTO. Why a middle class Jewish family had such a car, I do not know, but I do remember that my boyfriend at the time liked to put it in neutral at stoplights so that the other drivers would think it was a standard shift.

But the first car I owned (with my new husband Paul) was a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit. After seven years of living in Cambridge, MA, where I took public transportation everywhere, Paul and I moved to Rhode Island, where I needed a car to drive from our home in Providence to my graduate program about forty-five minutes away. Though it was the first year the Rabbit was manufactured, we thought buying a reliable Volkswagen was a good bet. We were wrong.

It died. A lot. And not just on cold mornings when many cars in those days needed time to warm up. It died at stoplights in rush-hour traffic. It died while driving. The worst time was when it died in the middle of summer on the Mid-Cape Highway on the way home from a vacation on Cape Cod. Far from an exit, Paul and I, having managed to get the car to the side of the road, put up the hood and waited. For a long, long time. When a car finally pulled over, its driver said she had seen us on the way to the beach and was now on the way home. With her help a tow truck finally came.

Shortly thereafter we got rid of the Rabbit. Using the Lemon Laws we were actually able to sue and even get a bit of money. Our next car was a Volvo.

Profile photo of Kit Kit


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree that it sounds funny for a middle class Jewish family to have a Pontiac GTO (read John’s story). Though my first card was a 7 year old, hand-me-down Plymouth Valiant from my mother, that I drove out to MA from MI my senior year at Brandeis. the first car I actually bought was also a VW Rabbit, bright orange. We called it the Pumpkin. No AC or power windows, it looked a lot like the car in the featured photo. Mine was quite reliable. I liked the fact that it was front-wheel drive (useful for these snowy New England winters). Lack of AC and only two doors was less convenient. My husband had a BMW, which we upgraded from a 320i to a 533i in the early 1980s. I loved that car and drove it to work (we lived in Boston’s Back Bay, I worked in Waltham, he in Cambridge, but we both traveled a lot). Our VW met its death on Memorial Drive. I was in DC on business. My husband was driving it, waiting to turn left onto Ames, toward Kendall Square, where he worked and was rear-ended. We dropped down to one car for the remainder of our life in the city.

  2. Kit says:

    Hmm. Wonder why yours was so reliable and ours so was so–not. Was yours a 1975? Maybe the lesson here is never to get lemon yellow car!

  3. Suzy says:

    What a bummer that your Rabbit was a lemon! Glad you were able to sue and get some money back. One of Paul’s first cases as a new lawyer? I love the woman at the Cape who couldn’t be bothered to stop on her way TO the beach, and wasn’t even embarrassed to admit it when she stopped on her way FROM the beach. Great story.

  4. John Zussman says:

    Your story underlines how dependent we become on our cars and the assumption that they will just work. And let’s be grateful for those Lemon Laws, which would never get through our current Congress, beholden as it is to big corporations like auto manufacturers. Glad you were able to get some satisfaction.

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