Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
April 2001

Columnist — Allen Wright

If You Drove a Different Car, Would Your Life Be Different? Some Reflections on The Past.

For the past 40-plus years I have been interested in the internal combustion engine.

My first experiences were with single-cylinder engines: our family lawnmower and a three horsepower Johnson outboard. Normal maintenance — like spark plug changes, oil changes and blade sharpening — went well. Major work — like carburetors or internal engine work — sometimes fell short.

My father encouraged my fussing with the equipment — but he kept a spare used mower, just in case.

The 1958 three horsepower Johnson Seahorse that I maintained during the summer always was double-checked by the Marina guy prior to the boating season. This double-check policy began after an incident with my father and uncle which involved a lot of rowing and a long hike home through the woods for them. I will always remember that evening. The fishermen, having been stranded out on the lake, arrived quite late. When my cheerful mother inquired if they had caught any fish, the language that followed was extremely colorful.

My cousin and I found the boat the next day. We diagnosed that the spark plug wire had somehow fallen off. We put it back on and the engine fired right up. We got gas, had the Marina guy check it, and cruised home.

From 1962 to 1964, I was in high school. For me, like most guys, my outside interests were limited to two subjects: girls and cars. One guy’s dad had a new ’62 Impala SS small block that everyone agreed was cool. The 16-year-olds saved all their money for their first car. A good ’53 Plymouth could be had for $50, a ’57 Buick Century for $400, a ’57 Chevrolet for $500. And there were some $25 running cars available.

I purchased a ’28 Model A Ford for $250 with some financial support from Mom and Dad. It needed a lot, including engine work. I bought all the books and started to fix things.

I enlisted the help of a neighbor, Newt, who owned a gas station. After work, Newt would come over to my house and help me with the Model A. In return, after school I would work at Newt’s station pumping gas.

Newt was a great guy, but he had a difficult wife. I think he liked getting out of the house. We rebuilt the engine including the babbit bearings, took the transmission apart, and worked on almost everything. The Model A was my driver to school and was quite reliable.

The high school student parking lot had two Model A Fords and everything else up to 1963 models. Just having a car in high school was a chick magnet. The pick-up line of the day was always, "Hey, do you want a ride home?" Taking the school bus was not cool and there were always more girls who wanted a ride home than there were guys with cars.

Taking the bus home from school was direct and reliable. Riding home with someone from the car bunch could be delayed by cruising, drive-in restaurants, make-out sessions, or mechanical failures. Because of this, some of the parents forbade their daughters from accepting a ride home. To fool the parents, some guys followed the bus and dropped their female companions off at the bus stop at the same time the bus was there. Other students used even more elaborate planning so they could get their ride home. The penalties for getting caught accepting a ride home were stiff: the female students who got busted accepting a ride during the week were usually grounded on Friday and Saturday nights, a real bummer.

The female students were impressed with guys who owned cars they liked. One of the most popular female students, "Marie," had the reputation of being a little loose. She chose a guy with a red ’62 Ford convertible. After graduation, she dumped him for a guy with a ’63 Pontiac convertible. Marie, at last report, has four kids, has gone through two husbands, and is vice president of a major East Coast bank. The guy that she went out with in high school, "Bill," shared some of the experiences that he and Marie had in that ’62 Ford at a recent high school reunion. Marie was there and she did not deny any of them — she just laughed. Bill is now the chief of police in a community on the East Coast, has been married 20 years, and has two children. He drives a Honda now and is quite happy.

This brings me to the 1965 Red Pontiac 2+2 Catalina, four-speed, tri-power machine that is currently in my garage. The car is owned by my friend, Ron, and has been in my care and custody for about six months. After an auto show, I ended up with the 2+2 because Ron needed the tri-power adjusted and the four speed fixed. I took it to Joe Jill’s place in Anaheim and the problems are solved. But now Ron has a broken foot and cannot drive the 2+2 because it’s a clutch car, so I’m storing it until he’s cured. Every time I drive that 2+2, I think about how my life might have changed if I had a different car in high school.

Guys that restore old cars can remember every car they had and most of their friend’s cars. They can also remember the mistakes they have made buying, selling, and restoring cars — and the cast of characters they have met along the way.

In a Rod Stewart tune he sings, "I wouldn’t change a thing if I could live to be a million." In retrospect, I think we all have parts of our lives that we wish could be different. I submit, gentle reader, that we are here, now, and that should be good enough.

My 15-year-old son is starting to talk about his first car. He has little interest in the mechanics of the vehicle. He just wants one. After a trip to my son’s high school, it appears that guys with cars are still chick magnets. I am sure that my son’s desire for wheels is similar to mine in 1963 and some of the rules are the same. Things are rapidly getting interesting with a 15-year-old son.

I guess things are going better for me than my father. My son has not worked on the lawn mower. I don’t work on it either — Orange Lawnmower handles all the service. It works out better this way.

Originally published in the April 2001 issue of Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright April 2001 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.