My First Car: 1989 Plymouth Acclaim


“Check out these sporty gold rims,” Dad said, gesturing at what was to be my sister’s new, yet not-so-gently used, car.

With a disbelieving shake of my sister’s head, the 1988 forest green Plymouth Acclaim became mine.

The tan interior, luggage rack, hand-crank windows, and general boxiness of my first car sent sister running, but those features, along with the electric seat belts, sixth seat, and at least semi-functioning radio captured me.

This trusty steed would meld flawlessly with the proud fleet, made up by my friend’s hand-me-down rides, of Chevys, Dodges and Buicks, all dating back to about my birth year. The vehicles strutted such character that they earned nicknames. Mine garnered the title, Dino, short for dinosaur.

While classmates locked up Mustangs and Audis at the far and empty end of the parking lot, we squeezed into spaces right up next to the school, hopping out just before the attendance bell and leaving keys behind right in the ignition.

Still, there was a certain pride in driving a rust bucket that felt more significant than convenience.

It was a period long after hippies, but well before hipsters came along. We were still trying to figure out if it mattered that our dads were doctors and lawyers and businessmen. But, God, we hoped it didn’t.

We would forge our own paths forward, exploring our old mill town after dark. I would ram around in my clunker, listening to Joplin and the Who cut in and out on its crackling stereo system, while my friends scrawled their signatures and doodled with sharpie on the Dino’s dash and along the inside of the doors.

During those joy rides, just about anything – a sundae paired with the proposition of “nuts?” – could set us off on an endless marathon of hooting and snorting until tears glistened and trickled.

Bottle redemption money funded weekend sustenance in the form of slush puppies, Little Debbie snacks, and gas station hot dogs.

The coins also bought the extra cans of oil, gasoline additives and coolant that kept the Dino buzzing along, until they didn’t.

One winter the gears began slipping, and eventually Dino could run no faster than 30 miles per hour. I hung back with the old girl, sometimes waiting it out in the breakdown lane when she would overheat, and always plugging Dino into a heating system on winter nights.

As spring approached two years after the Dino and I first teamed up, it grew obvious that Dino could carry me no longer. The “sporty” rims, various parts, and some of the Dino’s valuable metals earned me $300 in a junkyard trade.

Still, every so often, when I see a Plymouth Acclaim or its sister Dodge Spirit parked on Main Street or pulling into a Wal*Mart, I’ll dig out my cell phone, snap a picture, and send it off to the girls for a laugh and a memory jog of an almost forgotten moment aboard my rumbling companion.

Stock photo used. Marje was not able to find any pictures of the old Acclaim.