Growing up in the late 50’s was sort of like winning life’s lottery. It was the dawn of a new age. Aquarius? Maybe. But it was also the time when cars changed from just transportation, to an emotional extension of the owner. They were massive metal boats, the kings of the highways, tailfins, fender skirts, Glasspack mufflers and engine hoods you could walk on and never leave a dent. Try that on some of today’s wimpy hybrids.

Buy the Sizzle; Not the Steak

The worst thing a parent of a teenager could do, in those days, was to buy a practical car. Station wagon’s were the worst, and my dad never saw one he didn’t like. I guess taking your best girl out in a hearse, or even worse, having your parents drive you someplace, might have been the only thing worse.  Any high school senior whose parents bought a 57’ Chevy Bel-Air, 2-door hardtop, with the 283 engine was a God in the eyes of their classmates. They could almost charge kids for rides. Brand new it was a classic.

Can’t Have Great Cars Without Great Car Songs

The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, kept us company cruising the boulevards of Main Street USA. Whenever, Little Duce Coup, Deadman’s Curve, The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, 409, Leader of the Pack, Fun, Fun, Fun, or Hey Little Cobra popped on the radio it was impossible not to sing along. And when the 8-track came along and you could chose your own music, it was like dying and going straight to heaven. For a list of the 100 Best Car Songs Ever Click Here.

My First Car

I bought my first car before I was old enough to drive. A point my father tried to make to the person who sold it to me in a vain attempt to get my money back. I bought a 1932 Ford, five-window coupe. Hot Rod magazines of the day were filled with photos of these cars with big engines and hand rubbed Candy Apple Red paint jobs. Needless to say I got about as far as pulling the old engine out and it ended up out behind the barn.

I bought my first real car in the mid 1960’s. It was a solid black 55 Chevy Bel-Air. A local mechanic had replaced the original 265 engine with a salvaged, newer more powerful, 327 engine that came out in 1962. I had my first hot car and I did a lot of street drag racing with that car. Sadly, no 8 track.

The Power of the Automotive Dollar

For a crisp $5.00 bill you could buy half a tank of gas, tickets to the drive-in for you, and your girlfriend, get a burger, fries and a drink, and drive home with change in your pocket. You watched Frankie and Annette, Troy Donahue or Fabian without sex, drugs but plenty of rock n roll.

With a handful of tools and a Chilton Manual there was nothing mechanical you could not fix on any car. Tools were cheap, parts were cheap and the local gas station might even let you use their lift. Because they knew that in the unlikely event you hurt yourself or someone else no one ever thought about suing anyone in those days.

Some Final Thoughts on Cars

Our cars became as much a part of our lives as our families. We even named our cars — does “Christine ring a bell? What about “Herbie, the Love Bug” or “The General Lee” from Dukes of Hazard, or “K.I.T.T.” from Knight Rider? Despite their mechanical nature, cars have just as much personality, for some of us, as any human. How we plead with them to start when we’re late for work on a freezing morning. The Ford Mustang, Chevy Corvette and Camero, Dodge Charger, Cobra and Thunderbird all great classics in design, function and most importantly — performance.

The music, the style, the flash, the power, the car was, and probably always will be, every kid’s status symbol. Dad too. But I do miss the 8-Track.

What’s Your Favorite Car Memory, Name or Song?

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