Most people see it as an old car, appropriately parked next to the garbage can, as if awaiting the dump truck. But to me, it's our Lost Youth, our last convertible.

We call it the flivver, a term of endearment, not to be confused with a jalopy, a worn-out flivver. In fact it is a Volkswagen. When it was first marketed in the United States something more than a decade ago, some fool importer called it "The Thing," an obscene name for a charming car.

Whatever you call it, the car attracts wild hilarity when occupied by a white-haired type like me. Most people think there's something suspicious about anyone at my time of life who doesn't ride around in a conventional sedan with courtesy lights and air conditioning and power steering.

People expect to see pompon girls riding up on the tops of the seats, waving streamers, and a handsome boy at the wheel with hair in his eyes and an unbuttoned shirt. (No one, even when I was the appropriate age, ever mistook me for a pompon girl.)

I have seen the car in made-for-TV movies. It isn't the sort of car you would find in a chase movie, unless you mean Chevy Chase, because it doesn't go fast enough and there's not that much to bash in. I've never seen "Beach Blanket Bingo," but I suspect our car would have been well cast in it.

Though our car isn't actually shown in the movie "Casablanca," I think of Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart riding off in the flivver from the airport, in search of the Free French.

The flivver has endeared itself to us because it is the ideal putterer. On Sunday afternoons in Washington, we putter along, looking at the tops of buildings -- especially the gargoyles about to throw cannonballs from the top of that Connecticut Avenue building.

No superior car exists for going to garage sales. With the top down it's easier to find unfamiliar addresses. You can fit in anything, including a large armoire, when you fold down the back seats. Of course it is better if the person in the back seat likes riding inside an armoire.

Our life, if not an open book, is certainly an open car. With the top down, every goodbye kiss can be criticized by the sidewalk audience, along with all marital disputes.

The obliging vehicle does have a trunk in front, a place to keep your hat, but not your coat. The trunk fastens with a padlock (an optional extra), where the glove compartment would be if there were a glove compartment. A strange little glowworm illuminates the padlock. The only other light is a sort of ghostly glow from the gas gauge, which is about the only gauge it has.

The flivver's World War II prototype was called an Afrika Corps Wagen. It wasn't made in the Black Forest by elves, it was made in Mexico. When convertibles went out of style back in the mid-'70s, importation stopped in this area.

The flivver is best at being a basic car. The windshield comes off in case you like to eat bugs. The doors can be removed if you want to fall out. Its windows are not isinglass, but plastic in a stiff frame. They sort of plug in.

The car sits up rather high. That's all right because our unpaved parking place is under a tree that affords me a big high root, which serves as a mounting block.

The car, as the ads for the old Austin-Healey used to say, "attracts favorable attention wherever it is shown." Not only do other flivvers beep at us, but we often find strangers admiring it -- or laughing at it.

I don't suppose we'll ever buy a convertible again. When you're as old as I am, freckles aren't cute anymore. Richard's nose, unreliable in youth, has not improved with age and is no longer up to sniff in the hay fever of spring and fall, the prime convertible seasons.

We and the bank have a new car and a new 75-year car loan, our first in 10 years -- we paid cash for the flivver. But we couldn't bear to trade it in. And on Washington's occasional cool, dry days, you can see us puttering by, trying to recapture our lost youth in the flivver.