Indulging in nostalgia for the cars of yesterdayWritten by Nick Shultz | | email@example.com
I sure do enjoy the convenience and the reliability of these new breed of cars we drive today. But, oh, how I miss the classic cars of yesterday.
When we were just kids, my dad, brother and I would drive down the road and see who could identify the most cars while driving. I never tired of that game and I got very good at it. I could beat anybody who wanted to challenge me. I found it easy to identify the cars coming at us or those we were following. Most often a studied eye could guess the year and model with ease. Not anymore! Most of the cars today are designed in the wind tunnel and the “air doesn’t care” about style.
Sure there are a few cars that are readily recognizable today, but not too many. I miss those days when the car was the king of style. Most of the top designers sought jobs with the car companies in those days. But those days are behind us now.
I wonder how many of our young readers can understand “cruising?” I bet the whole concept, that whole lifestyle, is lost upon them.
I would spend hours on a Friday and Saturday detailing my car for the weekend nightly cruise. Each end of town had its own definitive cruise route. Cars, laden with teens, would cruise among the many stops along the cruise routes. Often the passenger list would change several times throughout the evening as passengers jumped among the cars. How the cars would sparkle as they lined the parking lots of the local McDonalds and Big Boy’s.
The rumble of the engines would fill the air as we munched on a hamburger, fries and we drank our Cokes. We would make our way between the stops with the sounds of the “Mo Jo Man” blaring out on our AM radios and, always, our girls would be at our sides and our friends would be sitting in the rear.
Occasionally, the boys would forget about the girls long enough to test their rides against another’s. Between the traffic lights, the tires would screech and the engines would roar. The smell of rubber would fill the air. It was harmless fun. It helped me refine, and define, my trade, as it did many others.
For the most part, the police would let us have our fun. When we got too carried away they would reel us in a bit. The excessive noise or speeding tickets were like badges of honor to be shared in the halls of high school.
Fuel cost 35 cents a gallon in those days. Good thing too, we didn’t have much money. You could cruise all night long for a few dollars. An extra $5 meant an evening of cruising and a meal.
You would see a mixed breed of cars on the cruise. Some would bring the family sedan, while others drove their street rods. It didn’t matter what you drove to the cruise, but it had to be clean.
The cars we cruised in defined our loyalties as owners. Most who drove Chevys remained GM drivers their entire lives. The same is true for the Dodge and Ford drivers.
I drove them all!
My first cruiser was a Ford. A two-door hard top ’59 Ford with a 351 cid engine. The Ford had a three-speed manual transmission on the column, “Three on the Tree” and it was a screamer. I replaced the stock in-line six cylinder engine with a 351 motor, which came out of a wrecked car my dad had bought as salvage. That engine really worked well with the nine-inch rear end and 411 gears. It was the first, of many, cars I built and sold.
It was also the first car I wrecked. I spun the “Big Blue” Ford out going around a corner the morning of the first snow fall in ’67. I broke the rear axle on the passenger’s side and that’s all the damage there was. Not a bad accident at all, as accidents go, but it happened right in front of the high school. How embarrassing was that?
My next project was a Plymouth Valiant. It too had an in-line six cylinder engine when I got it. Obviously that slant six 232 cid had to go. I found a 340 cid engine with twin Holly carbs mounted on top of an Edelbrock manifold at the scrapyard. The Valiant screamed for that engine. A solid weekend of work tearing the engine out of the wrecked car, tearing the six out of the Valiant and then putting the twin carb’d 340 into the little Plymouth and I was ready for the road before school Monday. Sweat! The Valiant had a push button automatic transmission. The buttons were mounted, inconveniently, on the left side of the dash. It only took a week of driving back and forth to school for me to burn up the trans. I replaced it with a Muncie four-speed manual. A week later, I replaced the blown rear end with a Ford nine-inch and a week after that, I replaced the fried rear tires. You might say I was a tad bit lead-footed in those days.
I tell you, folks, that car was a real sleeper. The Valiant wasn’t a sports car by any stretch of the imagination. It was, however, the forerunner of the famous “Cuda.” My how that Valiant could fly! I won more than a few dollars off those unsuspecting souls who thought I had brought my Grandma’s car to a dog fight.
I spent those youthful days building car after car. There were the “Stangs” and the SSs along the way. I even built up Vans and Banana Boats for the weekend cruises. I could fill pages with the tales of each of those rides as each one brings back great memories. I still see the faces of my friends and I can hear the sounds of those mighty engines as I write these words.
My generation was, in a great way, formed by the weekend ritual. I could go on and on about those cars and those weekend nights. I wish our children could share in those experiences. Perhaps, they would have a better understanding of that which is America.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan Lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. Shultz, a Toledo native, will take questions from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.