03 October 2011

They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore.

Do you ever get the "urge to splurge" and go buy some piece of machinery that will SWEEP you back to those "good ol' days" of 50 years ago?
I do.
And then I think about THAT car.
One almost exactly like the one in the photo.
A 1957 Pontiac Chieftain, four-door hardtop. Two-tone, white with red trim.
347 cubic inches with a four-barrel carburetor. Automatic transmission, radio and heater. It was a nice car, for sale by another Uncle so I knew its history. I was already bored to tears with the '53 Ford Flathead V-8 Victoria even though I had been driving it less than a year. I wanted something faster.
The Pontiac filled that bill. So I bought it.

And it WAS fast...
The problem was that carburetor... The engine ran on two of the four venturis most of the time to conserve fuel. The only time the additional two "barrels" would open was if you pushed the gas pedal to the floor... then that big-for-its-time engine would bellow like a castrated bull and the car would LEAP forward, gathering speed (and burning LOTS of premium gas) at a frightening rate. It was a lot of car for a 16 year old.
The two extra barrels on the carburetor were vacuum actuated, and something about the system on my car wasn't working right. Pushing the pedal to the floor would sometimes produce the desired result... Thrilling.
Sometimes the two extra barrels wouldn't open... Disappointing, and sometimes, if I was depending on that extra power, dangerous. I tinkered, wrenched, cursed, spat, and chanted incantations suggested by friends... all to no avail.
The carburetor still worked intermittently.

There was another problem with this car. Fast and HEAVY, the four-wheel drum brakes weren't up to the job of stopping it effectively.
I should qualify this statement...
The brakes worked fine so long as someone like my Uncle was driving the car. With a 16 year old maniac behind the wheel, this car needed the stopping power of a Ferrari. It would stop just fine if it wasn't traveling at Warp 9. But during a panic stop from anything above the speed limit the brakes would heat up and fade, and it didn't make any difference how hard you mashed on that pedal... the car would slow, but at about half the rate you needed. And it would let you know it was not happy being treated that way by inundating you with the smell of overheated brake linings.

So here's the scenario-
I'm headed for school one morning and I am BARELY on time when the phone rings. A sister of one of my closest friends says, "I overslept and missed the bus. Can you come pick me up?"
She lives a couple blocks in the opposite direction I need to go to get to school, and I'm already nearly late. But I'm a nice guy and don't want to disappoint...
"I'm on my way."

I collect her and figure Warp 9 may still get us to school on time. Gas pedal down, tryin' to get those two additional venturis to open, we're probably goin' 70 in a 35 zone. There's a school bus stopped out ahead of us. I take my foot off the "loud" pedal and wonder what the bus is gonna do... It's just stopped there. No flashing lights. No "Stop" sign extended.
Then the little girl comes out of the adjacent house and the school bus driver goes all "lights and stop sign" on me.
I push that brake pedal hard as I can and pray.

And the damn thing lets me down. By the time I get stopped, smoke from the brakes swirling all around the car, we're about 10 feet past the bus' extended stop sign. I look up at the driver, shrug my shoulders, and continue to school.

We're not late! I'm actually sitting in my seat, ready for class when the announcement comes over the P.A. system:
"Will (Greybeard) please come to the office?"
In the office sits Officer Sheek from the Indiana State Patrol. Sitting in his drive warming the engine on his cruiser when I pulled my bonehead stunt pretty much right in front of his house, all he had to do was follow me at a leisurely pace, watch me turn into the school grounds, and do a 10-28 on the license plate.

Reckless driving.
Loss of license for 6 months. (Which would impact my life in some interesting and positive ways in a few years.)
... At a time when driving/riding meant the world to me.
All because I was an idiot, driving much too fast in a car equipped with brakes I KNEW were not up to the task demanded of them.

No, they don't make 'em like that anymore...
Disc brakes.
Fuel injection.
Better lighting.
Better tires.
Better electronics.
And to top it all, less expensive too.

When I start getting the urge to buy a "classic" car, I think of that old Pontiac...
And then I lose that urge pretty quickly.


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Great story!

I can remember my Dad bought a new 1966 Old Toronado. With the 500-cubic-inch engine. That's right. 5-HUNDRED cubes with another four barrel carb.

I was in Ohio at the time on a long back road when I wanted to see what that baby would "do." I mashed the pedal right to the floor and

IT STUCK -- !!

Holy @#&!!

Brakes didn't much help!

The engine screamed!

Both feet on brakes!



I reached my right hand down and turned the key off. The power steering died and the car became a river barge. The brakes were even less effective but the car was slowing!

Stopped, put the car in park, physically peeled the pedal off the floor, re-started. All was well. I drove meekly home and changed my underwear. Had to clean the black vinyl seat also.


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

You know who'll make MILLIONS if they would only realize one thing?

MILLIONS will be made by the first American car company that makes a PRECISE body copy of one of their older HOT cars -- but completely updated with current technology underneath.

Can you imagine a 1968 Bullitt Mustang fastback with a stiff frame, updated chassis, interior, engine, electronics, safety features, insulation, suspension, wheels, tires -- ??

People would slit their wrists for that updated car, or a 1968 Camaro, or a Barracuda, or a Challenger, or . . .


Greybeard said...

I saw a program some time ago on the problems Chrysler had trying to make the new Challenger look as much as possible like the old one while meeting today's safety standards, BZ. It was quite a difficult task... bumpers, crush zones, etc..
Like you, I've often wondered why Chevy didn't start producing a new '57 Bel Air, or likewise Ford... the '56 or '57 'Bird. We've seen the new Camaros and Challengers, and Ford DID produce a retro T-Bird for a couple years. I think those cars look about as much like their ancestors as possible while still meeting present regs.

But take a look here and see what $170,000 or so will buy ya (on a new 'Vette chassis).

Then look here too.
If you have the bucks, buy either and I promise to visit you, (and I'll even bring my own hanky to control the drool!)

Timothy Frazier said...

For me it was my Dad's 1964 Cadillac two-door. Solid white with a red leather interior and power-everything, including the magic radio remote search button on the floor.

It had a 454 (or was that a 455?) cubic inch v8 and would cruise smooth as a freight train all day long at 160 mph.

It would pass anything but a gas station.

And the brakes were pretty darn good for the day. They might have even been discs on the front...I didn't know enough about them at the time.

Thinking back, I was 14 years old and driving on a hardship license. Hard to believe he let me drive that car at that age.

I remember how he caught me laying 200 feet of skid marks white smoking the back tires of his 1966 Mustang (302 Boss, remember those?) in front of the high school two years later. I wish it had been a state trooper instead.

After the initial hide tanning I lost all privileges with his vehicles and spent the next six weeks restoring a 1963 Ford pickup we pulled out of a farmer's pasture for myself. Learned the hard way what it takes to keep a vehicle road worthy.

Ever seen a '63 Ford F100 with Girling caliper disc brakes from a Corvette all the way round? We did stuff back then that Orange County Choppers and Jesse James wouldn't attempt today.

Dad would come home every afternoon with "upgrade" parts he'd pulled from the junkyard and hand them to me with the command "Get on the welder and grinder and make these work".

Scotty said...

MILLIONS will be made by the first American car company that makes a PRECISE body copy of one of their older HOT cars -- but completely updated with current technology underneath.

They already are BZ. the 69 camaro is now being re-popped. 55 Chev in either steel or fiberglass. Not to mention some of the more exotic cars like, the Shelby Cobra in all it'a variation.

One can get a 32 Ford coupe in fiberglass or steel too....and the prices aren't that bad either.

GB, I had a 55 Pontiac, it was one of my many winter beaters I had. It only had a 2 barrel carb and that 5 ton tank was a REAL slug!! Probably a good think as it had all the characteristics you mention your's had!

jinksto said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Germany 1965. Bought a 1958 Plymouth Hemi. Lovely paint. Red/Black/Pink. Bless the Autobahn. I was probably the eighth owner. Most fun car I ever owned except I had to get riders buying fuel to go anywhere. Bitch to park in Amsterdam.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Oh WOW! I LIKE the 789 look!

The new 57 Chevy also looks cool. But I DIG the 789 the best!

True; forgot about the Cobra clones. Wonder if there are any Sunbeam Tiger clones?