The Golden Era of Car Tinkering
Sorry, another post on cars. I recently wrote about my current ride, a 2020 model year Acura RDX crossover SUV. And it dawned on me that it is neither an electric car, nor a hybrid, and I got more than a little chiding that I didn’t choose a more ecological acceptable vehicle.
Let me get this off my chest up front. First, while I am awed by the technologies that have infused the transportation market, and intellectually know that should be where I head towards. I am a tech head after all. But I have to admit that the rumble of an American V8, or the high-pitched whine of a highly tuned 4 cylinder motorcycle motor just brings chills. Sure, a monster battery connected to an instant on, all the torque you could ever want electric motor may be better in all measurable ways, but a throaty 300+ cubic inch displacement V8 is irreplaceable.
I blame the era that I came of age.
I turned 16 in 1981. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, gasoline was about $1.30 a gallon, up significantly after the oil shocks of the 1970’s, and my peer group all came of age when there was a significant migration from the gas guzzlers of the 60’s and 70’s to more economical and smaller cars, mail from Europe and Japan.
We had minimum wage jobs ($3.35 an hour baby), freshly minted drivers licenses (soon to be doctored into fake ID’s) and a desire for that classic symbol of American freedom, your own car.
And what was on the market?
A lot of classic heavy metal. Mustangs, Chevelles, Malibus ‘cudas, Darts, and more (interestingly, I don’t remember seeing many classic Corvettes in our price range).
$500 could buy you any one of these bitchen’ symbols of Americana. And buy them we did.
Plenty of my peers were in the “Shop” path, so we had access to the Auto Shop.
Hell, my junior year, the Auto Shop class project was to take a dubious condition 68 Camaro and hop it up, with a goal to measure its quarter mile time on the traps at Baylands raceway in Fremont California.
Yes, we built a car to attempt to break the 10 second quarter mile, and everyone was cool with it. How dope was that?
On El Camino Real, were performance shops, where you could by camshafts to alter the performance, and Edelbrock manifolds to improve the intake, to Holley carburetors and Hooker headers.
Engines were disassembled, rebuilt, and hopped up. Heavy duty clutches installed, and limited slip differentials were dropped in.
It was a magical time. And while I was not on the shop track, I felt kindred with them, and hung out with that crowd.
My particular passion was more two wheeled, but the sound of a big block Chevy, or a good breathing Ford Cobra-jet still sends chills down my spine.
This is what I grew up with. The oil shocks put a ton of what are now classics on the market, and they were literally the most affordable cars for us to buy and start with.
While I stayed in the 2 wheeled world (mostly), I also did a lot of maintenance on cars for my family and friends. The serious work started when I bought a 1975 Honda Civic CVCC, that needed an engine rebuild. My stepfather and I tore that thing completely down and completely rebuilt it, replacing bearings, seals, and piston rings. It was not fast, but it was spry.
That experience led to keeping various vehicles alive, from a 1960’s vintage Datsun 1600 pickup truck (driven by an ex girlfriend), a late 70’s vintage RX-7 (man, that car was fun to drive, but also kinda scary), and a variety of other vehicles.
While I never caught the classic muscle car bug, I did toy with buying a late 60’s vintage Porsche 911 for a steal. Man, I am kicking myself on that.
While I no longer twist many wrenches, I still like having the option to. And to be honest, working on a car, arm deep in grease and grime, can be very therapeutic. I do not have the time to do much of it. But I still appreciate all the attributes of a good car.
And to me, that means an internal combustion engine, matched up to a solid drivetrain, in a package that balances drivability and durability.
Frankly, the Tesla I drove (model 3) was 100% soul-less. And the Toyota Prius’ I have rented are just so milque toast - as to be mere transportation.
Do I feel guilty?
No. I do not drive that much. Lately it has been less than 5,000 miles a year, and most of it has been longer trips. When I commute, it is mostly by train, although Covid might break that habit, but I will more often work from home.
No, I came of age when oil prices were rising (thanks OPEC) leading to people dumping their golden age gas guzzlers, just when we were able to drive.
It was a magical time. Now, my old high school has so few students who drive, they turned most of their parking lot into a new Science building.
Weird, ain’t it?