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?
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.
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...
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.