“Old Ninety-Nine” and Other Notorious Vehicles
By: Garland Davis
A long time ago when I wore a Seaman’s clothes, before the Military Sealift Command took the Supply Auxiliary’s, you know, when they still had Navy crews who wore red lead and haze gray splattered dungarees. You remember, when non-rated sailors were paid less than the guy who sweeps the stadium after the ball game. In those days, non-rates invented creative modes of transportation. Usually co-op ownership “on its last legs” automotive transportation.
The First Division non-rates on Vesuvius laid claim to a nineteen-fifty or fifty-one Chevrolet. It was called “The Haze Gray Bomb,” later shortened to “The Bomb.” Someone had brush painted it haze gray. No key was needed to operate it. The gear shift handle on the steering column was missing and had been replaced by a set of vice grips. “The Bomb” was used for weekend trips to San Francisco or Oakland. Most days, if it wasn’t on the pier, it could be found parked near the Bank Club in downtown Port Chicago.
Being the ship’s baker and clandestine purveyor of pastries to those deck apes standing the middle watches, I was an honorary member of those invited to cram myself into “The Bomb” with a dozen or so others for one of these excursions. A ride usually cost fifty cents or a dollar for gasoline. Yeah, gasoline was cheap in those days.
No one knew who actually owned the car, who handled the title, registration, and insurance. I don’t know if the hood was ever raised, whether the oil or other fluids were ever checked or topped off. It just ran. The day I departed the ship for “B” School in San Diego, I was carried to the bus station in Walnut Springs by the Haze Gray Bomb.
I remember once at a Reunion hearing one of the wives ask some others, “Did your husband ever have the duty when the ship returned from a deployment and you ended up having sex in that old gray car after dark?” There were smiles on their faces as one said, “I think our son, Benjamin, was conceived in that old car.”
In the mid-sixties, there was a Radioman off the “Dicky B.” (USS Richard B. Anderson DD-786) who owned one of the small three-wheeled trucks that were popular in Japan at that time. He couldn’t bring it on base and paid the Mama-san of a bar near Shiori Station to let him park it in her alley. Often you would see the three wheeler headed for Yokohama with three sailors crammed into the cab and another half dozen in the bed with a war club of Akadama. Sometimes early in the morning, you would see it making the return trip to Yokosuka with a bed load of passed out sailors. Looked as if he was hauling corpses.
Then there was the story of the convertible. USS Mars was homeported in Yokosuka at the time. Mars was deploying and one of the Boatswain’s Mates asked a shore duty Boatswains Mate to take care of his car and his girlfriend. Many of you know him but I will maintain his anonymity in this story to prevent any embarrassment on his part. As if you could embarrass the asshole! To make a long story shorter, he moved in with the girlfriend. One afternoon, we were imbibing a few cool ones and talking about going to the beach when someone mentioned that it would be nice to have a convertible. Out came the fire axes and off came the top of the car.
There was an awkward moment when the Mars returned. We were sitting in the PO Club when the BM from the Mars came in and asked the shore duty BM. “How are my girlfriend and my car?”
“Well, I kinda fucked your girlfriend. But the good news is, you now have a convertible.”
“Damn you, you asshole. I expected you to fuck my girl. But you fucked up my car. I paid a hundred bucks for it. Oh well, fuck it, buy me a beer and then we’ll go for a ride in my convertible.”
He drove it until the next ‘Beauty Inspection” to renew his on base sticker.
There was a storekeeper who drove one of those VW “Things.” Of course, he didn’t have a top for it. But, he had a supply of umbrellas for his passengers if it rained. It wasn’t uncommon to see him driving around in the rain with three or four umbrellas sticking up like mushrooms.
One of the more famous modes of transportation could be seen in Subic Bay. Charlie Fulfer had an old POS painted haze gray with a black waterline painted along the bottom. It was seen frequently and provided transportation for many of us to and from the Barrio.
I have a bubblehead buddy who was telling me about an old sixty-two Falcon that belonged to a shipmate in USS Omaha. It was owned by an “A Ganger.” When the owner transferred, the car was sold to another member of A Gang. No one would pay more than ninety-nine dollars for the vehicle and it became known as “Old Ninety-Nine.” He told me he borrowed the car and was going across the island when it started raining. The car had the old vacuum advance wiper system. He said that when he turned the wipers on both of them went flying off onto the side of the road. He was out in the rain locating the wiper blades and reattaching them. He told me another story about losing the brakes while on a date and driving back to Pearl harbor with only the parking brake to stop the car with.
Mac told me the tale of a 1968 Olds Delta 88 car in Guam. Another homemade convertible, with no top. The owners decided it would look formidable with a racing stripe. So they used duct tape and created one one right down the center of the vehicle. It started at the front bumper and went down the center of the hood, up the windshield, down the inside of the windshield and dash, across the seats and up over the trunk of the car to the rear bumper. The trunk of the car was compartmented and equipped with awesome speakers. The other compartment served as a beer cooler.
In the mid-seventies, I transferred to Pearl Harbor and wasn’t expected to get my car for about six weeks. I was in the CPO Club and asked if anyone knew where I could buy a “beater” cheap that would last six weeks. Willie Hartford said let’s go see Lippy. Lippy Espenda had a used car lot. He was something of a celebrity and had his own TV show. We drove down and Willie told him what kind of car I was looking for. He asked, “How much money you got?”
“About two hundred bucks,” I answered.
“I happen to have just da cah for you.” He took us behind the building and pointed out an early model Ford Falcon. “Dis wan exactly two hundred.”
The deal was consummated and I was given the keys. I asked Lippy if there was any warranty on the car. He said, “Dis cah guaranteed just so long you can see me waving goodbye in da rearview.” I drove that car for six years.
I always took it to Lippy for the annual safety inspection. He always said, “You bought da cah heah. Still like new.” He just filled out the paperwork. Hasn’t looked at the car yet.
I never once changed the oil or did any other maintenance. I gave it to a shipmate in seventy-nine when I transferred back to Japan. Ran into him later on. He told me he drove it for four years and passed it on to another sailor. For all I know, some sailor is still driving it.