In which the author learns to never buy a car that is older than he is… and that has blue flames.
by Mike Smith
Cars are like catnip to high school boys. Perhaps to girls too, but I’ve never been one of those. So I don’t know.
One of my first experiences with catnip came in the form of a 1952 Chevy… with blue flames.
There was a time when the qualifications for driving a car were much more lax than they are now. I don’t refer to the acquisition of a driver’s license or reaching the legal age of 16—but the car, more or less, simply had to resemble a car. Nowadays a car has to be safe. Back then, it didn’t have to be a complete machine. It could simply be a work of art.
So employing the high art of the emotional buy, I acquired a souped-up ’52 Chev when I was a junior in high school. Think California Kid in white and blue. And a Chevy. 300 cubic inch V-8 with straight exhaust pipes.
It was the quintessential high schoolers’ pal-around car in all its puerile and exotic attraction. It was huge. It was painted white with big blue flames, airbrush paintings on the dash, leather interior, and room for eleven.
Some had to ride in the trunk, but it was leather-lined too.
In case you’re in the right age group… Yes, we used it to get lots of us into the drive-in movies. Getting into the movies with three in the trunk seemed to us the ultimate practical joke. It was the joke that counted, not the movie. I wonder if we contributed to the demise of the once ubiquitous drive-in movie? I’ll leave that to experts.
In any event, this car had several simultaneously practical and impractical modifications; only one was really obvious. But to my untrained ear it was the bomb.
It was the exhaust.
It was super loud.
It was a bomb.
I believe it had something to do with the lack of a muffler. This was a practical modification in that the customized version I drove had no room for a muffler. So of course the implicit course of action was to leave it off. So it had straight pipes. What made it impractical was the illegality of the thing… I mean, it was really loud.
But, me being an opportunistic and ignorant high school kid, I bought it anyway. It was sort of like, “looks-great-must-be-great”! Or so I assumed. So just like a cat, I got all glassy-eyed and rolled around in a car that I was intoxicated by.
I planned to use my new-found attention-getter to try an experiment on just how much catnip girls can resist. In my mind’s eye, I would pull into the parking lot of the local Jack in the Box (which happened to be host to a group of my female classmates) and rev the engine to impress my future girlfriends. Imagine the new California Kid aka The Marine View Driver in his hot new leather-lined sofa of a car with a girl in every seat. Oh, it was a beautiful thought.
I was still rolling around in that beautiful thought, revving the engine, when several cops trooped out enthusiastically to see my new hot rod. The used car lot, you see, happened to be adjacent to police headquarters.
I think it was the blue flames that attracted them. Cops love hot rods in the hands of 16-year-olds. They had me lift the hood and we all discovered something I had not realized. The engine was so big the emergency brake had also had to be removed. Oops.
This additional and more urgent revelation seemed to make them forget about my decibel issues. I promised to make all designated repairs. We parted on a happy note. I also had an additional note in my pocket from the police.
Cars, teens, and tickets… a frequent and inevitable trifecta.
My experiment? Well, the girls were a little stand-offish and a bit giggly. They must have been nervous. I concluded that cars had a slightly less catnip effect on girls. I’m pretty sure the stronger effect was their fear of men in uniform.