In which the author learns to never buy a car that is older than he is… and that has blue flames.
by Mike Smith
In addition to the missing hand brake (and muffler), the trunk on the ’52 Chev did not lock. Oh, and there were no shocks. Could it be that I was a little ignorant of the components of a complete automobile at the time?
But it looked cool. What could be wrong with it? It had blue flames—remember? I did say this car had a venal appeal. Driving was not the main thing. Impressing the ladies the big draw. How had I done so far?
One night some friends and I decided to see how fast it would go. The aforementioned modifications seemed to tell me that this car could really go. Huge engine in an area meant for a smaller one. No superfluous weight from an emergency brake and muffler, no spare tire (that area was reserved for contraband movie goers—not always present)… and blue flames. Really blue. Added to this was the glorious sound of a sustained mortar explosion that would undoubtedly enable some contention for land speed records.
We drove careened down Military Road until we came upon a straightaway. Of course, something not readily observable at normal speeds: It may be straight, but it is not really very level. There are, let’s say, “dips.” At about 70 mph the need for shock absorbers made itself evident. We went from drive mode to panic-white-knuckled-hold-on-for-dear-life-Oh-God-we’re-going-to-die mode… rapidly. Lots of surprises with this car!
We were bouncing off of the roof with our heads, and bottoming out on the seats. It took all the strength I had to hold on to the steering wheel. Oh yes, the trunk—as it did not have a lock, it was playing a counter beat to the axles, hitting the frame as it would fly open one second and then instantly slam shut as we began our newest ascent from the pavement. We were like a giant dodo bird, the trunk acting as a massive yet ineffective wing as we reached an apex and the trunk lid became for a moment weightless and then crashed into place as we started back up!
Oh… and one more thing while we tumble down the road: NO SEAT BELTS, EITHER. Like the dodo-winged trunk, we too became weightless for mini-moments. It was like being in a fast motorboat (they don’t have seatbelts either) on choppy seas, but less safe. My friends flotsam involuntarily exchanged seats somewhere during the oscillations. One landed upside down on the floor.
I learned a little about brakes that night: They only work when your tires are touching the road. We finally got the car stopped with the help of a classic lesson on inertia. Whoa! Fun!