American Muscle

I have a thing for fast cars, especially muscle cars. If Jay and I ever got rich, forget buying a mansion, we’d build a 30-car garage. My first boyfriend in high school drove a spiffy little 4-wheel-drive Nissan pickup. It was new, and somewhat sporty, but I soon dumped him for the guy who sat next to me in math. He drove a 1977 Corvette Stingray, which was arguably not Chevrolet’s best Corvette, but if you’re going to give a 17-year-old boy a Corvette, that’s the way to go. It’s relatively inexpensive, there are parts in abundance, and with a stock 350 and an automatic transmission, it was fast, but not crazy fast. I loved that car. The problem was that I wasn’t the only girl who loved that car, and I wasn’t the only girl that boy loved. My family soon moved away anyway, but I sure did miss that car.

After the move, I was walking through Walmart one day in my new hometown and met a really cute guy in the gardening section.  We chatted for a bit, and I soon learned he drove a 1965 Mustang. I sealed the deal by leaning in attentively and asking with the utmost interest, “So, do you have the 289?” To which he stammered in reply, “Do you want to go out Friday night?” Why, yes, I did!

See, I grew up the only child of a man who loves Chevrolets and taught me all about the American muscle car wars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I learned about Chevelles, Novas, GTOs, Camaroes, and Mustangs: engine sizes, transmission types, the advantages of manuals versus automatics, and the difference between a carburetor versus fuel injection. I could throw around names like Holly, Edelbrock and Shelby and sound like I knew what I was talking about. I had posters of Steve McQueen and James Dean on my wall in high school when all my friends were swooning over New Kids on the Block.

Jay recently acquired a 1964 Chevy 10 pickup. It’s red and gorgeous and rumbles when it runs, and every time I drive it, I feel 16 again. It’s a short bed step side with wood paneling in the bed. It has a 383 Stroker, and people turn and stare when it goes by. It reminds me of those summer nights, cruising with my boyfriends in their hot cars, taking off a little too fast at the lights, just out driving to see and be seen. I love the simplicity of those old cars. I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons sitting in a driveway, watching a boyfriend work on his car. Now, I sit in a camp chair by Jay while he works on Big Red, as we affectionately call the truck, and hand him socket wrenches and screwdrivers while he fine tunes Big Red’s mechanics. It’s amazing to me that he can adjust the carburetor with a screw driver, just listening to the sound of the engine, while my modern truck has to be taken to the service department of the dealership to be fine-tuned by a computer.

My personal dream car is a ’69 Chevelle Super Sport with a 396 and four on the floor. I would paint it black with candied apple red racing stripes, and it would have black leather bucket seats. I found it once. It was sitting on the parking lot of a storage facility on the side of a state highway in North Carolina with a “for sale” sign on the windshield. I stopped and drooled for a while, walking around and around it, staring in the windows, trying to figure out any possible way we could buy it. They wanted $13,000 for it, which was so far outside my price range at the time, it might as well have been $13,000,000. Jay and I were still in college, and money wasn’t just tight, it was practically non-existent. Dejected at the impossibility of buying the car, I cried when I walked away. I looked Chevelles up on Autotrader the other day. Most of the restored ones go for $30,000 or more for the ones with matching numbers, which the one in North Carolina had. I wanted to cry all over again because between orthodontia and private school tuition, there is no way we can shell out $30,000 for a hobby car. I’m beginning to understand why most sports cars are driven by old men.

I don’t know exactly what it is about the old muscle cars that’s so appealing, but there isn’t a single guy who has ever owned one who hasn’t bemoaned the day he got rid of it. My dad drove a 1969 Camaro SS in high school, silver with black leather bucket seats. He traded it for a 1972, which was traded for 1978 Ford Thunderbird after I came along. When I was almost 16, we started looking for me a Chevelle or a Mustang that was in relatively good condition, and he said to me one day, as we were leaving the garage of yet another disappointing rust bucket, “I wish I’d known that I’d have you one day, and that you’d be into old cars. I would’ve kept that old Camaro for you.” Newman!!

I’ve given Jay and our girls fair warning, if they both get scholarships to college, that college fund is becoming mom’s sports car fund. I hear Chevy released a new Chevelle SS concept car recently. It should be out in a few years, and it looks pretty sweet!