“Why are we still alive?”
I was talking to a high school friend of mine a few weeks ago, and remembering all the fun we used to have in our high school years. Now for me, 40 plus years ago, it was a lot cheaper to have fun.
I was always the driver no matter what we did. I didn’t do alcohol or drugs as many did! Not only that, but so many of my friends were just scary drivers and I wasn’t riding with them. I remember one of my friends had a 67 Chevelle SS396, and he really did not have much control over a car when the rear tires broke lose. I think he just closed his eyes and hit the brakes. He was the last guy I ever rode with at 125 MPH in a convertible with the top flapping up and down at that speed. I wonder why we are still alive sometimes.
Living in OHIO they just laid the road salt down heavy in the winters so we always parked our good cars for 5 or 6 months a year. Now we would always buy what we called winter beaters to drive starting in October and retire them away by April 15th if the salt was washed off the roads by then, it sucked.
We would always buy something we could strip out for parts in the spring. Some of the memorable ones was a $80.00 1957 Chevy 210 2 door sedan black with a white top. It was a 235 six popper and a Powerglide. It was so rusty that I would come up behind a school bus and put my feet down on the ground to make it look like I was driving the Flint Mobile! The kids on the bus would laugh their behinds off. Yes it was that rusty, no floor boards at all. You would virtually get slush off the road splashing in your face at times. I finally found and old highway sign and threw it down on the floor to keep the salt and slush off me! Hard to believe but that car was only 15 years old and the quarter panels were even flapping, but the heater worked very good…………….the vacuum wipers not so much!
Sometimes the winter beaters never made it through the whole winter, so we may have had 3 or 4 of them a year. I had a beautiful 1956 Chevy 4 door Bel Air 4 door sedan that I bought off an old lady one time, and it was really too nice to make a winter beater out of it, but hey, it had four doors and it was only $120.00 and was two tone bronze and ivory with the plastic seat covers on her yet. It had a 265 power pack engine and a posi rear axle and everything worked! I put a set of re-cap snow tires on it, and it went through everything. We would go out at night and do crazy things on the back roads such as plowing through 3 and 4 foot snow drifts. Then we would do donuts everywhere we went.
One evening I had 4 of my friends in the ole 56 and there was a set of rail road tracks on a back county road that went straight up and straight down the other side. It was at least 6 feet high and you really had to slow down to go over it. they dared me to take it at 40 mph. Now I knew my talent so I said “yes” hold on boys! Right before the landing I thought, oh shit, the car was airborne for what felt like an eternity and I could feel in the seat of my pants that the right rear side of the car was going down first and would take the impact. Then I remembered that in the trunk was a turbo 400 transmission that was in there for better traction, plus a 50 pound bag of salt and a shovel. It was sitting in the right rear.
As I made my landing in my Boeing 56 Bel Air it was full compression on the rear suspension and it shoved the shock absorbers through the trunk floor and broke all the right rear leaf springs accept the main one! It was at that point I stopped, and everyone was laughing! I had an instant low rider…….Boy it screwed that thing up. I was able to limp it back to town but it was never right again.
So now what am I going to buy to replace it? I saw this ugly 4 door hard top 1967 Caprice for sale a few days prior to ruining the 56 Chevy, but man that freaking light yellow they offered in 67 (Butter nut) was really bothering me. I went to see if was still there and it was. I jumped out of my friends car to look at it, and low and behold a 396 turbo jet emblem caught my eye immediately. Now this thing had a little rust but not too bad as it was only 7 years old. It had a beautiful black cloth interior, am/fm stereo, a/c power seats, it was loaded. I asked the owner how much, and he said $200.00.,. I got him down to $175.00. It only had 71,000 miles on it and it was a 325 horsepower 396 turbo 400 with a factory 3:31 posi rear end!
Now my winter beater was a good runner! I swapped out the factory exhaust manifolds for headers, and a different cam and intake with a Holley carburetor I had laying around the garage! My dad thought I was an idiot for screwing up a car that was that nice. In the winter we always had what we called the winter nationals at an old pub called Shady Glen Tavern. Now Shady Glen Tavern sat on a county road in the middle of nowhere, and it was as flat and straight as any drag strip.
If the weather was dry there could be as many as 15 to 25 cars sitting in the lot on New Year’s Eve ready to race. These cars were all a bunch of rust buckets. Old guys and us young guys and everyone in between! So the whole bar filled up with contestants and we would line them up one after another. We had people at each end with CB radios to warn us if the cops were coming. There were no cell phones in 1975 ha ha. Before going there I removed the back seat, spare tire, hub caps, and even ripped the A/C compressor off the engine to lighten her up! I bolted a set of 8.25 x 15 inch Mickey Thompson cheater slicks on her that I borrowed from one of the older guys I knew, and nobody even noticed.
I can’t remember everyone that was there that cold 20 degree night but I do remember a bunch of really rusty muscle cars. The very first pair to go was a 340 challenger and a 67 Camaro SS. As they paired off the Camaro dumped the clutch and away he went. With about 5 pounds off rust falling off of it at launch, damn it was funny!
As the night went on the only casualty was an Olds 442 that grenaded his rear end after his second pass. As you win, you race again until there are just 2 left! Well it was my ole Caprice and a 65 GTO driven by one of the areas most respected car guys and we are still friends today. It was the old 396 paired up against the 65 GTO that he had a 1970 455 in it. Rusty or not it was quick, and he was very good with that 4 speed! I was a little nervous because now everyone in the bar was outside to watch this final race and we hadn’t seen the cops ALL NIGHT.
As we lined up I was thinking if I beat this guy it’s going to be big because he was like the Fonz, or like John Milner in American Graffiti ! As we took off we were even, I got a little bit better bite out of the hole than him. I didn’t shift out of low gear because at a certain RPM it would just slam automatically into second gear with them old 400 Turbos and as he hit 3rd gear he pulled me about ¾ of a car link, and he finished us off by about a car and a half at the line. As we slowed down I looked over at him and he was grinning. I waved and he made a motion to look back and as I glanced in the mirror I saw a couple of red gum balls flashing about half mile back. Damn the freaking cops are coming after us. He then motioned at me to turn right, and he went left. I ran that Caprice so hard down this one state route the valves were floating and the speedo was 120 plus I couldn’t even see the needle anymore!
I made it home and parked my car behind the garage ( in a hurry). After I quit shaking I asked my dad if I could borrow his truck to haul something, and he said yes. I went back to Shady Glen and the guy I raced showed up, and I think I gained a lot of respect that night from the older crowd too. We talked for hours after that bringing in the new year! Neither one of us even seen that state trooper with his 440 Plymouth Fury! People said as soon as we got to the finish line he went flying by! So I took second place and the old 396 was still in one piece!
Incidentally that old 67 Caprice was taken to Dragway 42 in the spring and would cover the ¼ mile in 14.2 seconds! Not bad for a rust bucket! Now you know why we wonder why we are still alive! Those were fun days, and I miss them and the people!
Till next month Bear out!