The 1937 Chrysler
A car like the one pictured to the left was the family car we had at 320 Tobin Place before we bought a ’41 Plymouth limo. While the car in the picture is identical to the car the family owned, the image is so small that I am adding the picture below to show a similar but different (quite delapidated) 1937 Chrysler. Please note the missing grille as that feature comes into play later. One day, probably circa 1946, Julia Mazpulez Gonzalez de Munoz, our mother, was driving the ’37 and as she turned on to Alameda Avenue from Tobin Place, she collided with a car driven by some GIs stationed at Ft. Bliss. The crash has to have been rather minor as there was no damage to the sheet metal but it did take out the Chrysler’s grille (see picture above.) The incident was traumatic enough that Mother never, ever drove again. And the Chrysler’s grille was never replaced.
The 1935 Dodge
This is a 1935 Dodge. At the time we had a Chrysler (above) we also had (for a while) a ’35 Dodge 4-door sedan . My sister Grace and I were playing on the running board one day when she slipped and hit her forehead on the edge of the well for the fender mounted spare tire (right side.) After that she always had a pretty little crescent moon scar on her forehead. While the Dodge belonged to the family, it was never considered the ‘family car.’ Why this was so I do not know.
The 1941 Plymouth
This is a ’41 Plymouth limo. These factory stretched sedans were commonly used as taxis in large cities. You can see them often in 1940s movies that take place in New York City, quite often in DeSoto guise. A car like this hauled a family of nine in complete comfort with its primitive version of three row seating. The front seat accommodated the driver, our father, Jesus Munoz Hernandez. Mother Julia rode shotgun and little sister Corina rode between them, holding the lobes of their ears between her thumbs and forefingers. The spacious back seat cuddled the other three sisters, Yvonne, Herminia and Graciela (Grace.) Between the front and back seat were two tumble down jump seats. Oldest brother Enrique (Henry) got one of those. Rick and Mando shared the other jump seat. When originally purchased, this car was black. Over time it suffered damage, mostly to its fenders which, luckily, were separate stampings from the body. In cars constructed in this manner, damaged fenders could be unbolted from the body and replaced with new or used fenders for easy repair. It so happened that at some point, the Plymouth disappeared for a short spell and when it reappeared it was painted, not black, but a pale blue. The once banged up fenders were now pristine. For reasons never explained, over the months and years these new fenders also suffered mysterious damage.
It is a bit curious that these early cars were all Chrysler Corporation cars. I do not believe this was due to some conscious preference for Chrysler cars on the part of our parents, but due instead to coincidence. By the time the family left the big house on Tobin Street to move to the Craftsman style house on North Noble street, the ’35 Dodge, the ’37 Chrysler and the ’41 Plymouth were gone. They had been replaced by a 1946 Nash.
Other Family Cars
(These cars are not The Cars of Tobin Place but rather The Cars of Noble Street)
The family later progressed through a series of cars that included the 1946 Nash mentioned above, much like the one pictured here but tan in color. This car met its demise at the corner of Montana Avenue and Brown Street when Father pulled out into traffic while crossing Montana Avenue near the El Paso Museum. The Nash was T-boned just aft the front door and probably suffered a bent frame, although it was driven home to Noble Street under its own power. But it was never repaired and not seen again. For the record, I was the only passenger in that car when the crash occurred. I was riding shotgun in the front seat and was oblivious to the impending crash and the collision itself until it was all over. I guess I was just not paying attention. This car was replaced by a 1950 Chevrolet, similar the the one seen here. It was in this car that Rick and Corina, two teenagers who had just learned to drive themselves, taught Mando how to drive. The good news was that the car had an automatic transmission so there was no need to teach The Kid the intricacies of changing gears while using the clutch and all that. Also a good element was that we were doing the teaching on a vast empty lot (“El Pedregal”), a site now occupied by Lamar Grammar School, below the Medical Center. On the negative side was Mando’s determination to steer the car straight into a tall mound of dirt in the middle of the lot, rather than use the vast vacant areas available for cruising. Fortunately, we were able to stop the car before the car made contact with the mound. And Mando did become quite an exceptional driver who, to this day, has never had a car accident while driving. As an aside, on the very large empty area was a corral that accommodated at least one horse in the middle of a quite fully populated residential area. The next family vehicle was a 1955 Ford Victoria 2-door hardtop with a sweet buckskin brown and cream paint scheme. The car was much like the one pictured here but looked much classier due to the elegant paint scheme. It was top of the line and fully optioned except for the fact that it was not the “Crown Victoria” model with the band of chrome across the center of the roof. Cruising in this car was riding in style. Shortly after the family bought the ’55 Ford we also acquired a brand new 1955 Chevy pickup truck not unlike this one, with a small block V-8 and a stick shift (three-on-the tree) transmission. That sweet little truck was soon sold and replaced by a fabulous 1956 Chevrolet 210 4-door hardtop (Sport Sedan) with the Power Pack 265ci V-8 (four barrel carb, dual exhausts) and a stick shift transmission (this car came home as a pale yellow car and was later painted dark green).
The car was identical to the one pictured here except it was not “two tone”, that is, it was all one color, the light yellow seen here. It also did not have the continental kit (the outside spare tire with cover) that this fabulous car sports. The car was selected for purchase by Henry Munoz himself, who was well informed about the fabulous Chevy small block V-8 that had been introduced in 1955. He must have been thrilled to have found this “Power Pack” stick shift car in stock at the dealership. It was in this car that first my sister Grace, and then I (Rick), took our driving tests. I remember driving (riding, actually) to the motor vehicle department with Grace so she could take her test. She drove us there, took the test, failed it, and drove us home. That girl had chutzpah. She passed on her next attempt and was one heck of a driver. The fabulous Chevy was traded in on a 1960 Ford Starliner 2-door hardtop when I was stationed in Korea while serving as an artillery surveyor and forward observer with the 21st Artillery of the 1st Cavalry. I became the Starliner’s default owner, more or less, once the older siblings either left home or got their own wheels after I returned home from the service. I think it can be said that this very beautiful car was the last in the line of family cars for the Munoz Mazpulez clan and one for whose demise I was very directly responsible. After that each kid had either his own family car or what-have-you.
Learning to Drive
By the time of the ’55 Ford, the older children had driver’s licenses so the cars were driven mostly by the kids. I am pretty sure that Yvonne and Henry learned to drive and probably had licenses before we bought the brand new ’55 Ford. They had to have driven to the Ford Dealer at the corner of Montana Avenue and Oregon Street in another car. What car was that? Almost certainly the 1950 Chevy. Or maybe they walked to the dealership. It was only a couple of miles away, after all, and we were a hardy bunch. Tootsie told me she never drove that ’55 because “there were always drivers around” so she didn’t feel a need to get behind the wheel until later. But that Ford Fairlane and that Chevy Sports Sedan served that bunch of teenagers well as we got caught up in and thoroughly enjoyed the cruising that was so popular with those wild teenagers in the late fifties and early sixties. The Mesa Avenue and Town Pump Oasis drive-ins, along with the Red Rooster drive-in on Montana Avenue were frequent stops for these to cars and helped serve heaping plates of car culture to out happy crew.