The aging process during the formative years seems to take forever, but in reality, it's just a blip on the radar screen. In 1953, my view of travel was limited to what I could see from the the back seat of my father's Hudson, mostly the back of his head. Just a decade later, my view changed dramatically as I peered through the windshield of my own car! In the first example, I was 7 and in the second example, 17. Baseball, hot dogs and apple pie came easily in those years. The Chevrolet? Well, Elvis so eloquently sang, "I smell T-r-o-u-b-l-e." And like any other red-blooded American male, I guess I created my share.
In those days, the cost of auto insurance was beyond the means of most young drivers, and so it was with me. The answer was in the loop hole-- insure it in Dad's name! But that meant I would have to behave. Nah...
My first car was a '56 Chevy It was nosed and decked and had a V-8! That was about all I knew when I bought it from my old friend that I had gone to Kindergarten with 12 years earlier. Dad had warned me about buying an oil burner and I assured him that I was way too smart for that. This car was way cool, but oh man, did it burn oil; so bad, I had to change the spark plugs every day, not to mention how much oil I had to carry with me! Blue smoke? I think the EPA was created in the wake of this smokin' chokin' automobile.
This scenario became the catalyst for a home-style ring job that eventually led to an engine swap, a larger motor that I bought from another life-long friend. I was tenacious to the learning curve because I had no choice once I had made the commitment. The result of all this hard work made this car a powerhouse to be respected among street rodders.
No early age car tale would be complete without a war story. There we were at the Bayview Avenue light, heading east on main Street at 1 a.m. We had been at Gunther's tipping a few (too many), the street was clear and the motor running just right. What could be more fun than ripping up Main St. at that hour, with no diagonally parked vehicles to slow me down? I let the clutch fly and all those horses came alive as I shifted through the gears.
Sure enough, Northport's finest witnessed this whole caper and lit me up as I shifted into mach 2. I pulled over by Mars Cup Company and he proceeded to give me the sermon, including the license and registration requirement. This car was nosed, decked, had a big chrome Sun Tach on the dashboard, and a painted "endless dashboard pin stripe" with my girlfriend's name in the middle. His next obligatory question was "is this your car?" to which I replied, "no sir, it belongs to my father" (gee did it look like Dad's car?).
He wanted to hear the mufflers and made me stand on it real hard. He wrote me up that night for loud mufflers, the lesser of at least umpteen infractions which could have kept me in jail until my 20th high school reunion and on a bicycle until I was 50. Why he was so lenient, I still don't know but I can't imagine that would happen today. Maybe that officer remembered what it was like to be 17. In any case, it was one of those early "driving lessons" that are all part of growing up.
Having a car at 17 for a guy has little to do with transportation and is mostly about macho. For me, the car served as a "big gun" in the hands of a "little cowpoke". Like everyone else at that age, I was searching for place to fit in, a reason to be recognized. I was lucky to have never shot myself in the foot (or worse), but not all alums were so fortunate. To their memory, I pause in silence momentarily and dedicate this piece.