It was the day my parents dreaded. Their underachieving, black sheep, middle-child-from-Hell turned 16. I was desperate to drive and desperate for a shiny new car. Driving meant that I could get the hell out of my dysfunctional house whenever I wanted. My room full of Duran Duran, Prince, Michael Jackson and Eurythmics posters could only bring me so much happiness.
My dad had the audacity to suggest a red Yugo. Keep in mind that a NEW Yugo retailed for $2995.00 (because that high dollar ticket price would ensure that I was safe while I drove with one hand grasping an Old Olympia while the other rewound my Thompson Twins tape.) Basically the Yugo was someone's sick idea of providing a car to 'the masses' (the poor masses). My dad however, was not poor - just thrifty. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Yugo, TIME Magazine listed it as "One of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time." It goes on to say, "Built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia, the Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint. Interestingly, in a car where "carpet" was listed as a standard feature, the Yugo had a rear-window defroster - reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it." Yikes! Luckily it was not meant to be. After several tantrums that involved tears and stamping my feet while screaming about the humiliation associated with driving a Yugo (I would be the laughing stock of my upper-class, private Catholic High School), my dad concluded that I'd be much safer in my brother Stephen's hand-me-down Chrysler K-Car.
The K-Car could be considered the Mary Kate car of its time, as the metal used to construct it (aluminum....tin foil?) was paper-thin. In a near-genius advertising campaign, Chrysler used the slogan: If You Can Find a Better Car, Buy it. Hmmmm... a "better car?" you mean like a Porsche 911 or a Mercedes 500 series? Even a Buick LeSabre or Chevy Impala would have been better - but who am I to argue with the product experts of Madison Ave.?
I'll never forget the day my dad handed me the keys to this beauty. It was perhaps the squarest car ever made. Every angle was sharp and perpendicular to the other. Curves apparently were a big "no-no" in the mid-eighties. Every 16 year-old girl dreams of a cherry red car; the K-Car had a metallic shit-brown exterior and a subtler crap-brown interior. The inside could really not have been more generic. The steering wheel and dashboard were also a lovely shade of crap-brown (the designers were obviously going for a "shit" theme). Aside from the ignition switch, AM/FM radio and the speedometer, it lacked any dials and buttons that might enhance its performance. It truly was the 'Easy Bake Oven' of cars. Arizona in the summer can be upwards of 113 degrees and the steering wheel would become the temperature of molten lava. I'd often use a bandanna or the bottom of my shirt (exposing my rock-hard teenage abs) to cover the steering wheel and avoid blistering my hands.
I abused the hell out of that poor car - treating it like a red-headed, deformed stepsister who has been locked in the basement since birth. Looking back, I should have been grateful. Some kids got nothing on their 16th birthday. But at least it wasn't a tin box from Yugoslavia and it got me to point A to point B in style.