Friday, January 16, 2009

Dept. of corrections and some reminiscing

Sometimes you know it as you're saying it, that it doesn't seem quite right.  But you get caught into that trap of it feeling like it should be true, and you like the idea of it being true, and next thing you know...  it leaves your mouth or fingertips as the truth. Well, in an ongoing effort to self-police that kind of thing around here I'm going to go ahead and say that a recent entry in the Steelworks blog is probably not completely accurate, as far as I can figure. And it's not really a big deal, but at the same time it is to me. So... 

Yesterday I passed along the photo of Jaguar on Jaguar that I spotted at a local shop here in Nashville. Right from the start I wasn't so sure of the vintage of this paint scheme and that feeling carried itself all the way to my keyboard. In fact, I think in some kind of subconscious way, my true feelings came out when I mentioned the fact that, not only would that treatment look better on my Chevelle, but it triggered an exclamation of "1975 baby!!" from me. That should have given it all away. 

The more I looked at that picture today, the more I couldn't get on board with the story I was told of it having been sprayed like that in 1961. Simply put, that is not early '60s custom work of any kind. It just can't be. Just the idea of spraying those kinds of wandering murals wouldn't come on until the early 1970s, and considering how fast build and paint techniques, hot rod style, and fads, were moving and progressing back then, 10 years is an eternity. So, upon further research, no one seems to really know when the car was painted like that. It's sounding more and more like a crazy used car guy did that a few owners down the line, not the original dealer-which of course ads up much faster. So, for all of you who were a few steps ahead of me on this, I apologize for the slacker-like attention to reality. I promise I won't start referring to black and white photos of flat-head powered front engined rails as "classic examples of 1970s top-fuel technology." 

All that being said, this thought of the crazy '70s and all of the gaudy styles that went with it, as far as hot rodding and street machining go, started to enter my mind... and it rarely does. But I can't ignore the fact that I'm 39 and the era that is most responsible for shaping me into a hopeless gear-head would be the 1970s. I was young and impressionable and still very much under development. Obviously my Dad was the number one influence here with all of the cars I grew up around that he restored and owned. And of course there are all of the car shows and races that he took me to as well. But there were some early gear-head solo outings that also had a big impact on me and, believe it or not, the crazy Jaguar mural is what reminded me of this. 

By the time I was 8 or 9 years old I started to take advantage of my newfound freedom of being allowed to ride my bike, by myself, up and down our block in Kenmore, New York. Of course by the time I was 8 or 9 I was already head over heels crazy about cars, had my own Kodak 110 one shot, and had the better part of a 3 inch thick photo album filled with photos from Hershey, stock car and SCCA races, AACA shows, and various other random shots of old and/or interesting cars. Now that I had the entire block to survey on my Ross Apollo Racer, I was finally going to be the one-man motorsports photojournalist that I always knew I could be. 

The first order of business was to get a picture of all of the cool cars on my street. I knew them all by heart and knew when they were and weren't parked out front or in their driveways. This would be a lay-up, and something that I should be able to knock out in a day or two. I can tell you without hesitation what they were too, and this is without going to the old photo album; About 6-7 houses up on our side of the street was a red '70 Chevelle SS454 that would end up parked at the curb usually about an hour after I got home from school. It had white stripes, the classic runners up front/50s in the back 70s look, and I distinctly remember... small chrome mud-flaps. Across the street, almost to end of the block, was an orange '57 Bel Air two door hardtop. It had 70s all around on ET slot mags and was usually in the driveway. The last house on the block on our side of the street had a Rockford files style '77 Firebird that I don't believe ever made it out in the rain. It was a blue car with white interior and chrome T-tops and I loved it. Absolutely stock from the dealer and I believe the guy that owned it was some kind of doctor. He would have it in his driveway every weekend with a boom box and a tub of Turtle Wax whether it needed it or not. 

Lastly, we come to my neighbor from three doors up. This was a house whose driveway I could see if I looked out our dining room window, so I really kept track of the goings-on over there. You see, there was a guy in his early 20s who lived there and was the ring leader of a small, three-man, car club. They would meet at his house every weekend when the weather was good to polish and primp their cars, and occasionally crawl under one of them if something serious needed attention. This ring leader and neighbor had a 1975 Camaro that he bought new and never did anything with except show it. I clearly remember him constantly announcing how many miles were on it. 170 miles...    200 miles...   215 miles. The car was simply a new car that he had modified by way of the local speed shop dress up isle- and never drove but to shows. Any chrome ad-ons that he could bolt to the car in an afternoon were there. I remember that he had two complete sets of wheels and tires for it that he would change back and forth depending on his mood. In case you haven't already guessed what they were, I'll clue you in; Both were 70 series front 60s series back white letter radials, one set ET slots, the other set Cragar SSs. But I'm sure you knew that already. 

Next up were his friends and car club cohorts... and this is where the memory of the mural comes in. Number two in the club was a 1969 Z-28 in forest green. This car had the 1970s stance with 60s and runners, big yellow Lakewood traction bars, a 70s pro-stock hood scoop that probably was housing the original DZ 302 back in 1977-78, was pinstriped to within an inch of its life, and... are you ready?.... A giant dragon mural painted on the hood that made its way down and over both front fenders! This guy put the 'b' in subtle. 

Finally, the real gem of the group ( although I certainly didn't know the whole story at the time ). Far and away the nicest car was the number three club member who drove a blindingly immaculate medium blue '69 Chevelle. I swear I can still hear how that car sounded. I didn't have to be in the house or looking out the window or anything...  if this guy was coming down the street you heard him, and there was no question as to who it was. I even remember my Dad being impressed with the car and walking over and looking at it with me one day. The car had, once again, the 70s wheel and tire combo, this time with Cragars, was a 4 speed, and had a big block 427 engine. Are you paying attention Chevy guys? I just figured this out a few years ago when I started thinking of this car and realized that it wasn't a super sport but had a super sport hood. It also wasn't a Malibu but was a hardtop, not a sedan. Yes indeed, this was a real live COPO 427 Chevelle that was coming over to the neighbors house every weekend. Oh, if only we knew then what we know now. I even took the photos of the car to the last Chevelle nationals show that I attended and had a couple guys back up my hunch that it was in fact what I thought it was. One dead give away, other than the ones that I mentioned, was the fact that it had a big block heater core and box in plain view on the firewall. Yes, I suppose it's possible that someone stripped a Malibu of its emblems, put in a 427 and 4spd complete with a big block heater core to really make the COPO thing ad up, but really?... in 1977? I can't imagine anyone even used the term COPO then, let alone knew what one was. My favorite memory of this car, other than the sound of it, was going across the street to my beloved St. Andrews grade school parking lot and having this guy show me how the line-lock worked by boiling the tires in one spot until the car had completely disappeared in a cloud of smoke. I can't help wondering where it is now. It was so immaculate and well cared for that I'm tempted to bet that it has survived, but, as my Dad used to say, all it takes is one bad owner...

While thinking about this I realized that, in a small and peripheral way, this was my first exposure to a car club. I don't know why but for some reason these mutton-chopped, bushy mustached, 20 something 70s street machiners, thought it was cool that I couldn't help but cruise over on my bike every Saturday and gawk at their three bitchin' rides sitting bumper to bumper in the driveway while they tried to rub the paint off of them. They would even let me barrow a rag with some Turtle Wax so I could flip my bike onto its seat and handlebars and get my rims as shiny as their Cragars. I suppose I was more of a mascot than anything, but I got to see and take part in some good old hot rod comradery all on my own. 

When the club meet was through, I would always hop on my bike and chase along on the sidewalk as the green Z and the loud blue Chevelle made their way to the corner. Eventually they would get the light, turn, and be gone...  

 ...  and there I would sit, left to wonder what it would be like to, not only go out and beyond our city block of Lowell Road in Kenmore, New York, but to someday do it in a machine like that of my own. 


biggearhead said...

This is a perfect follow-up to the last blog. That Jag's paint had me thinking similar thoughts. I remember seeing paint jobs like that on vans in the parking lot of the local swimming pool.

When did the first high-concept graphics start appearing on vehicles, anyway?

That Chevelle has STANCE! Perfect selection of wheel and tire sizing. That's the way a good street machine should look. The '69 is a riot, and except for the dragon, I'd probably take the rest as is for my own garage. I even dig the scoop, sad as that may be. The later Z...those never did much for me, not that there's anything wrong with them. In high school those things were a dime a dozen, and most of the time were no more than a set of pipes and rims, maybe just a six under the hood at that. Although, to show how times have changed, I was in a coffee shop a couple weeks ago, and one rumbled by outside - nice, good paint, well cared for. I stopped talking to look at it. They used to be everywhere, and I wouldn't ever have spent hard-earned cash on one when the same money could by a '68 Satellite or a LeMans or anything slightly less common.

Now you have me thinking of my own collection of photos. One day back in high school I read a magazine article that basically was basically just the editors wandering around their neighborhood for a couple of days chasing down readily available stuff to see just what was at hand to the average person any day of the week. I went out that week and took pictures of every hot rod I could find within a 20 minute drive of my house. The result is a one-day peek at hot rods in the late 80s. I might have to do my own post on some of those.

Steelworks said...

Tom, I love these comments man! And I'd really love to see you post those photos from back in the day one way or another. I did a similar thing, that I may do a blog someday soon, when I went around a neighborhood I was staying in in So-Cal with a disposable camera. This was in like 2000-2001. A friend of mine back in Indiana didn't believe all of my stories about old cars laying around out there so he bought me the camera and challenged me to take as many pictures of cool old cars in an hour. I did, it only took like 20 minutes BTW, and it made him a believer. Again, I may have to make that a post someday too.

biggearhead said...

Glad you like the comments. I was afraid I was writing too much, but your posts have reminded me of some good stuff. By the way, I've been thinking about 396 Novas for a couple of days now after reading your post. Those are awesome machines: plain brown wrapper with a killer mill.

I will get those photos up on the biggearhead blog at some point in the near-ish future. I dug them up out of the basement, and there's one of a '70 GTO with almost no rust on it that was mere blocks from my house. I remember it finally went up for sale around 1988, and in running, driving condition the price was a grand. You couldn't touch it for less than probably 8K these days. I weep.

RowBear14 said...

I also lived on Lowell Road around the same time. I remember a very cool 1964 AMC Rambler Classic 660 at a house just up from Frank's Field. Do you have any photos of the Rambler?

Steelworks said...

RowBear, I certainly do remember the Rambler you speak of. What a great car. I have tons of photos of it throughout its life and will do my best to post a few soon. One in particular that was taken the same week the car arrived parked in the front driveway looking absolutely brand new... because it nearly was. Thanks for signing on as a follower. You officially get the prize for best profile photos. My apologies to the others but who could argue?