Tin Lizzy by
(354 Stories)

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My dad lost his Chrysler dealership, due to bad business deals and the UAW going on strike, leaving him with no inventory, in 1967. My mother’s 1967 Plymouth Valiant was the last car to come from that dealership. I student taught my senior year at Brandeis and needed a car, so I bought it from her in 1973 for $1. Dan, my boyfriend…soon to be fiance, came to Huntington Woods, MI and helped me drive the car back to Waltham, MA for the beginning of the Brandeis school year.

I dubbed it “Tin Lizzy”. It didn’t have much mileage on it, as my mother NEVER drove on a highway. In fact, she barely drove. It was in good condition; bench seats, lap belts only in those days, but I knew nothing about maintaining cars. I was happy to have my own set of wheels and freedom. I student taught in Arlington, many miles from campus, during the gas crisis of 1973 when gas was rationed, and on one foggy morning, couldn’t figure out why traffic was so slow. I finally realized I was in a gas line! I learned to navigate the streets of Boston and Cambridge, which are challenging.

After graduating in 1974, we married and found an apartment in Waltham. After two years we moved to Acton, some 20 miles away. At this point the car was showing wear and tear. Besides automatic steering and shifting, nothing else was automatic and by this point, things were falling apart. The knob controlling the heater had fallen off and been lost, so I went a winter without heat (it never occurred to me that it could be replaced). I didn’t have the car serviced regularly, so the gasket began to go and I leaked oil like crazy. My gas station attendant knew to “check the gas and fill up the oil”. Lizzy met her maker when, in an absent-minded fog, I rear-ended someone on my way home from work in 1977. She wasn’t worth much and was declared a total wreck. I had stitches in my lip, as I flew forward and hit my face on the steering wheel. Dan’s grandfather died two days later, so we bade farewell to two members of the family in the same week.


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.

Tags: '67 Valiant, gasket, leaking oil
Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Betsy, I love that we are Valiant sisters! Our stories have many similarities. And we both bade farewell to our Valiants in 1977. Your mention of the gas crisis of 1973 reminds me that I dealt with those gas lines by parking my Valiant for two weeks and taking the bus, after which I had to dig it out from under the mountain of snow that had accumulated.

  2. Susan says:

    Seriously Betsy, you didn’t replace the heater knob? In a Massachusetts winter no less? We need to have a talk..signed, girl raised in the boondocks.?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I commented, I knew nothing about maintaining a car, and at that point, didn’t know a knob could be replaced, or where there was a Chrysler dealership. That was later remedied, but it took a while.

  3. Constance says:

    Love it. For future reference, Bets, no need to know where the dealership is. Things like knobs come from the wrecking yard. lol

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I can understand your Tin Lizzy situation, since I also kind of drove my first car to death–although it started out in worse condition. I’m glad you didn’t have a worse accident–we all only had lap belts back then and no airbags–but it must have been traumatic to total the car and lose a family member at almost the same time. You are a survivor. Thanks for reposting this.

  5. Thanx for your car memories, Detroit Girl! We knew about your family’s history in car dealerships, but fun to learn about your Tin Lizzy, and now you have me remembering the 1973 gas lines we all waited on back then!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, 1973 was quite the year for gas lines, wasn’t it, Dana? Dan was working for a small software company in Waltham. In order to keep the employees more productive, they hired kids to take the cars and stand in those lines for the employees.

  6. Losing a knob that controls the heat and not realizing it could be fixed–that sounds distressingly like me, back in the day!
    This story was chock full of engaging details like that one. I guess whenever you recall the demise of your grandfather, you’ll also think of the demise of your car. I have the same kind of thing, pairing the death of my grandmother with my return from an earthquake zone in Central America. Things like that just become part of one’s historical memory.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We knew very little about car maintenance when were young, right Dale? Who knew that knobs could be replaced? It was my husband’s grandfather who died two two days after that car. My grandfather died while I was away at camp in 1964. I wrote several stories about him, but long ago. But your linking these two events, just as you link the loss of your grandmother with your return from Central America after the earthquake, are forever linked.

  7. Jim Willis says:

    Ah yes, the old Plymouth Valiant. It was the real workhorse the Chrysler fleet at the time and a car I was slow to warm up to. I did, however, own a banana yellow Plymouth Satellite, which was one of my favorite cars of my 20s. I saw one recently, though, and it seemed huge to me, even though we called it a sports car back in 1970!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It is true that those so-called “compact” cars of yesterday do seem huge by today’s standards. And remember the K car that Lee Iacocca introduced when he was the head of Chrysler? That was their fuel-efficient model. It was an ugly box!

  8. Jim Willis says:

    I had a K car in 1980 St. Louis, Betsy. Seemed like everyone was driving one, even though they ranked at the bottom of the auto food chain for styling. They did save gas, for sure. Just two years before that, though, I was living in Dallas and driving a gas-guzzling, bronze Pontiac Firebird with this screaming bird flamed all over the hood in black. I saw myself as Burt Reynolds from Smokey and the Bandit, right down to my cowboy hat and CB radio, calling out to anyone on the road, “This is the bronze bird, Good Buddy! 10-4, come on, come on!”” I was a very subtle person then. How many lifetimes have we lived?

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