Everybody has a first fender bender. It represents a young driver’s loss of innocence, or an abrupt—bump!—collision with the real world. One minute you’re soaring along, on top of the world, and the next a red-faced citizen is wagging a finger in your face and fluids are leaking out of the wounded animal that is mom and dad’s car.
The first accident I remember was circa 1976, when some idiot crunched into the back of my 1967 BMW 1600—a recent gift from my aunt—and pushed me into the car ahead. I was stopped at the time. A sad event, but most of that BMW lived on in other cars. My twin brother was more precocious, by the way—when we were 16, he wrapped our first car, a 1962 Chevy Nova convertible, around a tree when he took a corner too fast. “I remember the feel of the car sliding, and then—crunch,” he said. The Nova lived. We got a new door, painted it red with spray cans, and finished it off with a handmade peace sign.
I went into the Car Talk Community and solicited more of these early meet-by-accident encounters. I was blown away by the response! A surprising number of the stories involve mom’s car, and virtually all involve '50s and '60s rides. Here are a few, edited, commentaries:
Harvey Brooks (bassist with Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and hundreds more). The one I remember was in the winter of 1963 on Hillside Avenue in Queens, New York. I was driving a 1952 Chevrolet, three-speed on the column. Approaching a red light with a car stopped in front of me, I hit the brake and my car kept going on the icy street. There was a car on the right so I couldn’t move over, and traffic on the driver’s side coming at me. Moving at about five miles an hour, my car slid into the vehicle in front of me. As I hit the bumper of the Olds 88, the radio—which had never worked—came to life, playing the tune “Volare” by Domenico Modugno. All's well that ends well.
Barkydog: So there I was, fairly new driver in my ‘61 Olds Dynamic 88, probably around 1970 or so. I’m at a busy intersection, with stop signs and traffic backed up due to a traffic light a few blocks ahead. A guy waved me to come through, so I did. Missed a car in the opposite lane, but danged if I did not hit the front fender of the guy who waved me through, tearing up the side of his car—I even got a scratch in my chrome bumper. My parents made me pay for damages as they did not want to involve the insurance agency. No police, no ticket—$736 I think it cost me. When someone waves you on, proceed with caution.
Alyssa: Not long after I got my license, I backed my mom’s neglected but still running ’69 T-Bird into her Volvo in our driveway. The T-Bird was so big that I didn’t know I was hitting anything and the rear window was so small that I couldn’t see what was happening.
The car just didn’t seem to want to go in reverse, so I had to get out to figure out why I wasn’t moving. I was shocked to see that the Volvo’s door was completely crunched. Of course, the solid-as-a-tank T-Bird sustained no damage.
GeorgeSanJose: I was 16, and had just gotten my driver’s license a few days earlier. I was backing out of my parent's one-car, very narrow garage. I had finally obtained permission to take their ‘62 Ford Galaxy (featuring a wrap-around chrome front bumper) for a drive by myself. I can still see it in my mind, like it happened yesterday. They were both looking out the kitchen window. I wanted to be especially careful not to back into anything, so was looking in the rear-view mirror with eagle eyes. Bang! I got the steering wheel a little crooked I guess, and the wrap-around front bumper's edge hooked the garage door opener track and bent it into a pretzel. My dad, bless his heart, came out, said nothing, and got his hammer to bang on the track and bend it back into more or less the original shape. And away I went on my first solo drive.
TheSameMountainBike: I had just gotten my license days earlier and took a tight corner a bit too shallow, putting a crease in my mom’s car hitting a car parked on the corner. This was in the ‘60s, when metal bumpers ruled, and there was absolutely zero damage to the parked car... and just a small crease in my mom’s. My mom and dad were great about it. Everyone lived.
Marnet: Young driver impatient with being on a short leash. I decided to sneak out in mom’s ‘65 Olds 98 land yacht one afternoon while Dad was napping. I put the car in neutral, and with the driver's door open and a hand on the steering wheel, pushed on the pillar to roll out of the garage. The physics of mass weight took over—I managed to impale the sharp top corner of the open driver’s door on the garage wall. I had to start the engine, pull forward, then back out. Dad never said a word for 20 years—just let me sweat every time he glared and frowned at the slash in the garage wall.
JoeMario: The morning after I proposed to my fiancé, I was still so starry-eyed and mesmerized about it that I drove right through a red light and crashed into another car. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
MustangMan: Seventeen years old, and driving my 1964 Pontiac Tempest—215-cubic-inch six-cylinder with a two-speed automatic. It didn’t have enough power to spin the tires on wet pavement, but it could haul five passengers and the driver and another four or five in its huge trunk. It was pretty much a perfect first car for a kid. My grandfather bought it new and gave it to me right before my 16th birthday. It had rust holes in the usual places and not all the turn signals would work. That was important, I couldn't take my driving test in the car if the turn signals didn't work. That started my DIY odyssey with cars, right there.
I fixed the lights, took my drivers’ test and passed 18 days after turning 16. I didn’t like the rust holes, so set to work repairing the body with fiberglass and bondo. LOTS of fiberglass and bondo. I got a Maaco paint job, in a Thunderbird color. During the winter ice storms, I was driving in an iced-over alley behind my favorite underground comic store. Remember the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? It was an underground comics store. I was moving slowly because of the ice and was hit by another car—right on my newly painted, fiberglass-repaired left-front fender. The driver, not much older than me, was apologetic and accepted fault. I fixed the fender again myself and saved the money I’d gotten for new paint. I never did get the car re-sprayed, as shown in the picture. I sold the car with primer on the fender.
VDCDriver: My first accident was as a result of my inattention/being distracted by one of my rear-seat passengers. Something fell off the rear seat onto the floor, she made a big fuss over it, and I turned my head to see what was going on. At that exact moment, a tractor-trailer ahead of me hit its brakes, and I crunched the hood and grille of my father's '63 Plymouth against the truck’s rear under-rider bar. Luckily, my car hit the 18-wheeler at very low speed. My father didn’t get mad—but no insurance claim. He said, “Tomorrow, we get three estimates, and then we’ll take enough money out of your bank account to pay the cost of the lowest one.” The $400 hurt, but my father’s approach taught me a lot about responsibility.
Some states—including mine—now ban new teenaged drivers from carrying more than one passenger because of the distraction factor. My first accident is a perfect example of why this is a good idea.
Keith: I was 16 and mowing lawns with my brother at a trailer park for people 55 and up. We were going about 2 mph, moving the lawn mower to its trailer, with our buddy sitting on the hood. An elderly resident was visiting her friend, and for some reason left her ’57 Plymouth parked in the middle of the street. My brother yells, “Stop!” I hit the brakes and watched our buddy slide off the Chevy’s hood—and get pinned between the two cars. He landed on the Mopar’s trunk lid, and was amazingly enough not crushed—he just sort of popped up into the air. Nobody was hurt, but the Plymouth’s fin was bent over a little. It cost me $60 to get it straightened at a body shop. A year later, almost to the day, I was working in the same trailer park and the same old lady in the same Plymouth ran into the back of my Chevy. She only hit it hard enough to put a little ding in the gas cap door.
First fender benders are a rite of passage. They typically do more damage to our egos than the actual bodywork while delivering an unforgettable driving lesson. And, as MustangMan said, that first humbling trip to the auto parts store to find replacement parts may be the gateway to a happy lifetime hobby of tinkering with cars.