By Charlie Sacchetti
In the fall of 1969, it was time for me to make the big move. As a senior in college who was in no way financially well off, I had managed to save a few bucks and decided to buy my own car. Transportation wasn’t really a problem for me. I had my red Vespa scooter to zip around town and drive to school, and I never had an issue borrowing Dad’s four-door 1963 Ford Fairlane 500. But when I saw that ad in the paper, I just had to take the plunge:
1960 Alfa Romeo maroon convertible. Cream Puff … $500.
Below it was the address of the dealer, which I will call “Bill’s Auto Sales,” on Kensington Avenue in Philly. After reading the ad, my good sense left me. In its
place was the vision of a scene from “The Graduate,” when Dustin Hoffman races down that California highway in his red Alfa convertible, pursuing Katherine Ross to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” If Dustin could get a girl like that, why not Charlie? Perhaps the Alfa convertible was the key!
Poof, I was back to reality. My father told me I was nuts because there was no way a car like that could sell for only $500 unless something was wrong with it. In addition, back in those days, dealers on Kensington weren’t exactly poster boys for the Better Business Bureau.
Ironically, Dad planned to buy a new car, and he offered to GIVE me his Fairlane, which only had 30,000 miles on the odometer, with no strings attached. I told him I was very grateful for the offer, but, let’s face it, that type of family car wasn’t exactly what this 22-year-old was coveting.
Dad just smiled and walked away.
So, I went to Bill’s to check out the Alfa. It looked so great, all cleaned up, with the top down on that crisp October day, I couldn’t help myself. I bought it.
The next day was a little chilly, so, when I started the car, I switched on the heater. No heat, no airflow. I called Bill, who said to bring it back in, and he’d take care of it. Four days later, I called to see what was up. Bill assured me that he had sent it over to his “heater guy,” who was the best in the city, and Bill was just waiting for him to send the car back. After waiting three more days, I decided to ride my Vespa over to talk to Bill about why my car wasn’t ready yet. Upon arrival, I saw the car parked in the same spot where I had left it when I originally returned it for repairs. Bill wasn’t there. The gate to his building was locked. Finally, after another week, he called me, and I was able to pick up my car. The heater worked enough that I could feel some warm air. I could live with that.
I drove home and parked the car in front of the house. The next day, I went outside to start it and got nothing – no noise, no grinding … deadsville. A neighbor checked the battery, which was OK. I had no money to take the car to a real mechanic, and Bill, the dealer, wouldn’t return my calls. I scooted over to Kensington again, and he was nowhere to be found. Again, the gate was locked. The Alfa sat in front of the house for four weeks. Weeds began sprouting from the dirt that had accumulated under the body. The little kids on my block kept asking me when I was going to take them for a ride in my “new” car. I detected a snicker or two from the neighbors. Dad, however, never said a word.
Mercifully, a girl on my block had a boyfriend who worked on cars, and he offered to give me $200 for it. I was more than happy to make that deal. After that sale, at least I didn’t have to see the faulty Alfa every time I walked out of the house.
Let’s just say I made a mistake and learned a valuable lesson as a young man. This realization was made more apparent when my buddy’s mother, upon hearing that my father was going to trade in his Ford Fairlane, drove directly behind him to the dealer and bought his car immediately. She drove it for five more years without a hitch.
My wounded ego was best tended to by my favorite uncle, the beloved Mario, who told me, “Don’t worry about it. This lesson only cost you $300. It took me a couple thousand before I wised up.”
There was, however, a saving grace to this disappointing episode. Several years later, I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer that a murder had been committed by a car dealer in Kensington. In fact, Bill was the perp. He was promptly arrested and convicted.
There is nothing like Philadelphia karma.