I’ve been thinking about cars.
It’s spring, and that means the weather is perfect for rolling down the windows or putting the top down on whatever you drive. Automobiles changed society when they became mass produced and affordable to the general public. We have been in love with them ever since.
Rites of passage from childhood into adulthood are prevalent in many societies. Getting your driver’s license is perhaps the closest thing in our society to a “rite of passage.” To some, an automobile is just a form of transportation or a status symbol. To car lovers, they are mechanical marvels, works of art and an extension of their being.
I have joked that I would choose to live in a mobile home if it had a garage with a Ferrari sitting in it. I am not real sure that I’m joking. I grew up in the foothills of Appalachia.
You probably know that our modern day stock car racing evolved from these hills. Moonshiners “souped up” their cars so they could outrun the Revenuers. On Sundays, these good old boys began testing the speed of their cars and their driving skills on dirt tracks.
You may not know that the practice of putting rear end-lowering blocks on the customized cars of the 1950s also came from the hills. Moonshiner’s cars were loaded with whisky and set very low in the rear. With some embarrassment, I confess to have owned a customized red and white 1955 V8 Ford in my youth. It had lowering blocks, an extended continental kit, two rear antennas, fender skirts, shaved hood, headers and duel exhaust with glass pack mufflers. The door handles were removed (shaved). Electric solenoids were added to open the doors. It was cool to push a button located underneath the door panel with the toe of your shoe to open the door.
The later customizing practice of raising the rear of the car and lowering the front came from the West Coast drag racers that needed more space for the large rear drag racing tires called “slicks.”
Muscle car era began in the mid to late 1950s lasting until the early 1970s. The raw power of these cars was intoxicating to young men. A muscle car having the distinctive sound of a full racing cam, headers and a free flowing exhaust was the envy of every teenager at the drive-in. Challenges to drag race were common place at the local drive-in restaurant and street racing was born. Many baby boomers covet the muscle cars of their youth and pay premium prices for a restored one.
Some of today’s hot rodding youth are drawn to the “pocket rockets.” Small high-revving engines and their light weight contribute to the speed and excitement of these cars. They are relatively inexpensive and have a lot of “bang for the buck”.
Headers, performance exhaust, turbo chargers, low profile tires, suspension changes and fancy wheels are added to improve performance and style. This practice is called “slamming” by the young hot rodders.
Growing up near the Redstone Arsenal in North Alabama, I discovered the two seated roadsters of Europe. Military personnel returned to the United States and brought their British, German and Italian roadsters with them. An abandoned World War II air base was used as a track for road racing. I became fascinated with the handling characteristics of these small-engine, high-performing cars. I still love two seated roadsters, and it is exciting to see so many being manufactured today.
Some say that the golden age of automobiles has passed. I beg to differ. Never in our history have we had so many choices in automobiles. Today’s cars are faster, safer, more reliable, more comfortable, longer lasting, more energy efficient, less polluting and much more sophisticated.
I have several aging, high-mileage vehicles: a pick-up truck, a roadster and a motorcycle. Each was carefully selected for its unique characteristics and enjoyment. If an automobile is only transportation or a status symbol to you, you are missing a real joy in living.
Archie King, LPC, is a human resources consultant who lives in Madison. His column appears from time to time in the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at email@example.com.