EIGHTH GRADE, CARS OF THE ‘50s
It was a year of beautiful cars
and beautiful girls, and when I remember it I always think of the Frank Sinatra song, “It Was a Very Good Year.”
It was October when I walked
home from football practice one day with a guy named Duane Moreland. He was my
best friend at the time, and it was his birthday. He lived on Windsor Drive,
a few blocks from our home, and it was on the way home to my house.
When we came to his house, his
mom met us at the door. She wished him a happy birthday as we came in, then with
a mysterious and cagey look, she reached out and gave Duane a small, unwrapped box. It was obviously a plastic model of a
then-new ‘57 Ford convertible, all black with a red and white interior.
Duane was briefly perplexed,
because his mother had one of those mischievous “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet” looks that a mother can
get on her face. As he took the box from her hand, his eyes caught view of something
quite unbelievable and shocking and thrilling through the back window. In their
carport was the real life model of what was in the small box in Duane’s hand.
He and I and his Mom rushed
through the family room to the back yard, to the four bay carport, and then we all stood breathlessly beside the most beautiful
chariot in the world. My God, it was a brand new 1957 Ford Fairlane convertible! It was all his, and he was fourteen years old.
It was sinfully black and shiny with a red and white interior, and the top was down; it just sat there, gleaming and
inviting. It was a black beauty.
|It was a Black Beauty
It was then, and it is now, in my memory, one of the world’s most
beautiful cars. It was the first one in town like it. The next morning, a school day, Duane came by my house and picked me up in it. He had no driver’s license, but such were the days. It
was a crisp October morning, too cold to put the top down, but when we drove up to the parking lot of our junior high and
parked, we became the center of a vortex of wide-eyed envious students and teachers.
It made a heck of an impact. I will never forget that experience.
Not too long after the initial euphoria of getting that
car, one of Duane’s closest family friends, Sammy Keown, got a new black 1957 Chevrolet convertible. Again, it was one
of the first ones in town. With the two longtime friends, the inevitable was
bound to happen sooner rather than later--they had to find out which car was the faster of the two.
We were young and did not fully understand all that the
carmakers in Detroit were doing in this, their first real competition in building and marketing rather exotic cars. Furthermore, up to that time, Ford had always outsold Chevrolet; and Ford really was the car of choice
for most everyone, because it had the reputation of being the first with higher horsepower and large V-8 engines that endeared
them to the "motorheads" who would usher in the coming hot rod craze. It was
a die-hard crowd that bought Fords, and it was just a given that any Ford could outrun a Chevy. There was little argument
because tradition had it that way.
One school night I happened to be sipping on a coke at
a local drive-in with these two, the new owners of two beautiful cars. The three us were discussing the performance of the
two vehicles. Both guys were conservative, and young, and they had never raced
before and were quite terrified at the thought of doing anything to harm their cars by racing them against each other, and
God forbid, they sure did not want their parents to find out they had been DRAG RACING!
Maybe I was a bit of an instigator, because I had nothing
to risk; neither car was mine, and I would not get into trouble, so I suggested that they go west, far west out 27th
Street beyond the surveillance of any police and past the houses, where there was no danger of oncoming traffic. I then suggested they could just get side by side at thirty miles an hour and then just kick it up to say
seventy miles an hour and see whose car would pull ahead, or something to that effect.
Such a plan would not be too dangerous at all and surely would not harm either car.
Reluctantly, and cautiously, the two new owners agreed to some kind of an experiment.
Oh, boy. I
was excited. So, out we went, far into the oilfield countryside, way west on what then was west 27th street, where traffic
was almost non-existent at that hour of the night, and then came the first real drag race of my life, as either a participant
Was I a real teenager or not, now? I can’t remember
the exact details of how it was done, but it was done, and to the surprise of all of us, the little black Chevy pulled ahead
of the Ford. At first we might have given credit to the lack of driving skills
of both drivers, but the truth was that the 1957 Chevrolet would go down in history as the best car of all times because of
the innovation of some very creative people in Detroit. Nearly fifty years later it is still considered a treasure, and it
will still draw a crowd like it did when it was brand new. It was a moment I
never forgot for more reasons than one; it was portentous, because, seemingly out of nowhere, a car pulled up. This caught us a bit by surprise.
It was an ugly car.
It was painted an ugly gray color, and it was probably a two door ‘52 or ‘53 Dodge coupe or something. It was the kind of car your granddad would have driven because it was cheap and dependable,
and as the driver of the car pulled alongside the three of us, he said, “Howdy, ” and was very engaging.
He was well into his 20’s and could have been one
of those young men with a wife and children at home; and we were wondering to ourselves if we were in any kind of trouble. Was this an off duty policeman about to reprimand us?
What was going on? But he was genuinely interested in the two shiny new
convertibles and quickly found out who belonged to what and asked the owners specific questions about what was under the hood,
and he seemed to know a great deal about cars.
I suppose he saw us leave town in trail and followed us,
suspecting a race was in the forming, and I imagine he kept his headlights off and kept his distance, watching. That was like him, as I would find out later. Finally, he said he had just tuned up the ol’
goat of a Dodge of his, and he wondered if either of the young guys would want to test the ol’ goat. Neither of the young guys wanted to accommodate the feller, but he persisted.
”Tell you what, boys.
I’ll take off in second gear, and let’s just see what happens.”
It was a challenge put forth with a twinkle in the eye
of the challenger that had two things going for it. First, to not take the challenge
of an old ugly Dodge seemed to be an act of cowardice to a young guy with a brand new '57 Ford or Chevrolet. Second, what in the world was under the hood of that ol’ Dodge goat that made this guy so confident
that he could take off in second gear and wipe the plate of a new, fast '57 Chevy?
The bait was taken, but first there had to be a look under
the hood of the goat. And so it was, and to the three pair of young teen-age
eyes the ol’ goat was examined with no noticeable telltale features available.
It was just as ugly on the underside as it was on the topside. Hmmm.
If my memory serves me correctly, the goat and the Chevy
lined up and went after it, and it was no contest. The goat took off in second
gear and ate the Chevy's lunch. I know, I was standing beside the driver’s
door when the go sign went up, and both cars shot off into the dark, squealing tires and screaming engines, drowning out the
thumping and beating of young hearts.
We were astonished at the performance of the ugly little
car, and we knew quickly we were in the presence of someone uncommon. (His name
was James Bradshaw.) For me, it was the first step into a world that would be part of my life for the next few years, though
from a distance, and more from association rather than doing because opportunities were there.
But the era itself went far beyond what was there in the ‘50s and into a huge industry that expanded its audience
to all kinds of automotive racing and high tech cars.
Obviously, my eighth grade
year was the year of the cars of 1957. Dad bought Butch a 1957 Chevy, four- door
hardtop. It was hot, and he was a good driver, and he loved drag racing. I loved the cars of that year and the experiences they brought. Those years with those
cars allowed the knowledge of how a car works in total to start to seep into my brain.
Later, that knowledge of engines transferred to airplane engines and another love.
DUANE MORELAND SENT THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE ALONG WITH SOME GREAT PICTURES FROM THOSE YEARS.
It was a cool car. Here's something you probably never knew about it. During 10th grade the engine was
beginning to fade badly. My uncle Shine Kuck (Pam Kuck's dad) and the head mechanic for Rumbaugh Inc. Trucking,
said he would overhaul it if I would tear it down. I did so with help of Don Bassett. I think Roger might have
helped some also. Shine loved fast cars, so he said "why don't we make it run a little better while we're at it."
He bored it out as far as possible (I think to 4"), ordered some high compression pistons, solid lifters, a racing cam,
new jets for the holley carb, and something to give it a hotter ignition. The 4 barrell holley carb was butterflied
so that all four barrells opened simultaneously all the time. Gas was cheap!!!! It was a totally different car
when I got it back. I took it to Hobbs and raced it a couple of times. Never got beat by a 57 Chevy automatic
again. He also showed me a new way to shift to get a ford's rpm's up faster. At about 20 mph you rapidly pushed
the shifter from low to neutral and back to low. Was probably not too good for the drive shaft, but it did give
that long stroke engine a chance to build some rpms, and it really took off. Had a lot of good times back then.
Hard to believe it was over 50 years ago isn't it?
I attached two pics of my car. One when it was 56 Buick Claret red, and one when it was 57 Olds Mist blue. .
Duane tries to add a new hood ornament
SCROLL UP FOR MENU