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My First Set of Wheels

Posted September 19, 2012 in Ankeny

Getting behind the wheel of a car by yourself for the first time is a huge rite of passage in a teenager’s life.

Cam DeMaris and his dad fixed up his 1991 Dodge Stealth, which they bought from a college student.

But before that can happen, parents and teens need to prepare themselves for the responsibility that driving requires, especially if that teen is going to be driving his or her own car. Ankeny professionals share tips for making sure driving is a fun and safe experience, and residents share stories about their first vehicles — from sports cars to old classics. Nothing is quite as sweet as owning that first set of wheels all your own.

Iowa teenagers can receive an instruction permit at age 14 and can take driver’s education classes and drive with a parent. After education classes are completed, if a student isn’t yet 16, he or she can get a school permit.

Ankeny Community School District offers a driver’s education program with Drive Tek Driver’s Ed Technologies as the program provider for the district. All classes are state certified and include 32 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of actual on-street driving.

Instruction during the six hours of behind-the-wheel training includes residential driving, two-lane traffic, highway driving, parking, interstate driving and downtown drives. Parents can use this as a template for teaching their own child the basics of driving, as experts say the best way to become a better driver is through experience.

Once a child has a license, it might be time to think about buying another car. With households as busy as they are today, it’s becoming more common for teenagers to have their own vehicle. Lew Doubleday, owner of Doubleday Insurance Agency, Inc., says parents should contact their insurance agent when their child starts driving.

“Look for auto insurance where their parents are insured because you can get the best rate because you get a multi-car household and possibly a car-home discount,” he says. “Number one when they’re looking for a car, don’t get a flashy car. The color doesn’t matter. A Camaro would have a higher symbol, and that’s how we rate them. A four-door is the best buy. That shows you’re a little more stable. A smaller engine is better in terms of cost for insurance.”

Doubleday says parents should crunch some numbers as they consider what kind of insurance to put on a new car. He recommends the minimum be $100,000/$300,000 in bodily injury coverage. He says people should carry the highest limits they can afford.

“I hear people tell young people to get the minimum, but the problem is if you ever expect that child to own anything in their own name, get them something in their own name,” he says. “They need the higher limits because they have more claims. You never know what can happen.”

Have car, will drive
Ankeny students Dante Mautino and Cam DeMaris are both pretty happy with what they ended up with as their first cars. Mautino drives an Audi A6, and DeMaris has a ‘91 Dodge Stealth.

“About four years ago, my dad picked it up from a college student for $600,” says DeMaris, 18. “At that time, we had no idea it would be my car to drive. It really needed a lot of work, but we’ve made it look nice.”

For DeMaris, the car required a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but the student was happy to get in there and get working. He hopes to be a mechanic one day, and he’s already taking classes at Des Moines Area Community College.

When it got to him, the car was red. It’s now painted black. The clutch was in bad shape, and the rear brakes were locked. The engine timing was messed up, and the power steering was non-existent.

“It seems like the more we worked on it, the more stuff went wrong, so it became more and more of a problem,” he says. “Through years and some money, it’s in good shape right now. I’ve just put on some of my own stuff like stickers and whatnot. We have a fake hood scoop on it. I’ve done some engine cleaning, and it’s like brand new, and the interior is in great shape.”

DeMaris laughs about how they got the car, as he never envisioned he’d be the one driving it. He was 14 when they purchased it. His mom wasn’t wild about the idea, but he and his dad made a good case for it — why go get another car when they already had a great one waiting?

For DeMaris, the best thing about the car is that it’s unique. Lots of people drive Mustangs or Camaros, but no one has a ‘91 Dodge Stealth.

“For the people who own them, they love them,” he says. “It’s worth a lot to me. My friends like it, and it’s a cool kind of sports car. They can’t really drive it because it’s a manual, too.”

When it’s time to buy, DeMaris says to go with your gut. If you see the car’s potential, and you’ll own it for a while, treat it well. Make sure you buy from a reliable person and have it checked out.

Mautino, 15, and his dad found an ’01 Audi A6 on CraigsList and purchased it from a seller in West Des Moines. Though his parents paid for the car, Mautino says he’s on the hook to pay them back.

Ultimately, Mautino says one of the biggest factors in deciding to go with an Audi was the name. His dad drives one, so he’s happy with the performance and safety. As for his friends, he admits they’re a little jealous.

“They love it,” he says. “There’s just pride in having a nice car. It’s classy.  I would be grateful with anything, but I’m so glad we found a really good car.”

A German classic
Volkswagens were first exhibited and sold in the United States in 1949. Sales increased dramatically upon their introduction, reaching one million sold in 1955.

Although the car was becoming outdated during the 1960s and early 1970s, American exports, innovative advertising and a growing reputation for reliability helped production figures surpass the levels of the previous record holder, the Ford Model T. On Feb. 17, 1972, the 15,007,034th Beetle was sold. Volkswagen could now claim the world production record for the most-produced, single make of car in history.

Derek Peck got his 1971 Volkswagen Beetle in 1997 from seller in Pensacola, Fl.

Derek Peck owns one of the classic Beetles, a 1971 model. He bought the car in 1997 when he was in college. Though the car was more than 25 years old when Peck purchased it, he says it was like new. A friend of his dad’s who lived in Florida saw that someone was selling it, and he told his dad about it. Peck had always been a fan of the old Beetles, and he flew down to buy it sight unseen.

“An older guy had it and barely drove it,” he says. “It looked like a brand new 1971 car. I bought new tires and stuff because everything was original. It was pretty cool. I liked it because it was a Florida car, and it wasn’t rusted out.”

Though it’s not his daily-use car anymore, Peck still has fun tooling around in the Bug. His kids, Anja, 6, and Anders, 2, are especially big fans. They love to take it out to the family farm and drive it around, pretending they’re in a parade. The kids even throw candy out the windows.

Peck still loves the car, but he admits he’s had thoughts of getting rid of it. The 1971 technology shows, and the ride isn’t the smoothest. It’s impossible to put car seats in it, and it’s probably not the safest family car out there.

“At this point, I’d rather have someone who was really into it buy it and take care of it and drive it,” he says. “Anja keeps telling me not to sell it, but maybe I’ll get a nice little new Bug convertible. It would be more realistic for a family and still cute and fun to drive. I always thought it would be fun to have a convertible. I guess we’ll see what happens.”

First Ford
Ollie Weigel, former Ankeny mayor, celebrates his 90th birthday in a few days. His first car wasn’t the sleek machines we see today but the successor to the car that would make owning an automobile a reality for many American families for the first time, the Ford Model T. The Model T was produced from 1908-1927. The Ford Model A, which came after it, and which Ollie owned, was produced from 1928-1931.

Weigel got his car from a used car dealer in Des Moines. It was a 1931 Model A, and he paid $75 for it. It was black with red wheels, but he didn’t like the color, so he painted them green. It was a two-door coupe, and as time went by he acquired a grill off a 1932 Ford that fit it perfectly.

“One of the features of that car was that the windshield opened up,” he says. “It had little things on the side, and you could push it out and tighten it up and let the air come in the front. It went about 55, but I think that might be stretching it just a bit. I think I probably tried to get as much out of it as I could a time or two.”

Though he was happy with the car, one of the clearest memories he has of it wasn’t entirely positive. The cars in that day had a tire rod that went across the two wheels and made them turn together. One side of Weigel’s came loose, and he ended up going off the side of a small bridge.

Ollie Weigel fondly remember his first car, a 1931 Ford Model A that he purchased for $75.

Ollie Weigel

“Luckily no one was hurt,” he says. “But it laid over on its side, and we got some help and pulled her out. I was only about a half-mile from home, so it was OK.”

Weigel was only 18 when he bought that car, and he only kept it about a year and a half before he traded it in for a 1934 Chevy coupe. It was a dark blue, six-cylinder. One of the big features of the Chevys that year was knee action, which made the ride nicer, Weigel says.

Weigel says his love of cars stems from his dad. His first car was a 1917 Ford Model R.

“I think he pretty much sat on the gas tank when you drove it,” he says. “It didn’t have much of a body at all. He had that car, and he had different cars, and sometimes we didn’t have a car during the hard times in 1929 and through 1937.”

He drives a Cadillac now, and he likes it very much, though he says he’s own quite a few different makes and models over the years. He’s had Fords, Lincolns, Cadillacs, Plymouths, Dodges and several Chevys.

“But not as many as [Dennis] Albaugh,” he laughs.

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