Once upon a time I had a love affair with a car. I’m not sure why God wired the male species to go all Goo-Goo Gah-Gah over a hunk of metal with wheels, but it seems to be one of the common bonds between man and machine. If the right car comes along, the heartbeat accelerates 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. The palms go sweaty. And the eyeballs almost fall out of their sockets.
Men who cannot put two coherent sentences together with their wives to discuss family issues can talk nearly non-stop with total strangers about cars.
A couple years ago my truck was in the shop. And as guys do, I ignored the sign that read “No Customers Allowed in the Shop Area”. It’s not that guys cannot read. It’s just that we all think that signs like that are meant for people who don’t know their way around a shop. The service manager and the mechanics seem to recognize this unspoken rule and they understand that a guy wants to see what’s being done to his baby. You might as well try and keep a mother out of the doctor’s exam room with her child as keep a car guy out of the garage.
When I saw the car on the rack next to my truck, my knees went weak. It was like sitting down in the high school cafeteria and having the most gorgeous girl in the school come up next to you and ask, “Is this seat taken?”
Hoisted up in the air next to my nasty work truck was a 1969 Chevelle SS that was so clean and so beautiful that my eyes began to moisten. There was this whitehaired guy standing off to the side with his hands in his pocket.
“Nice car you got, there.”
“Thanks. I love a good Chevelle.”
“No kidding. You had it since ’69?”
“Naw, not this one. I’ve got a ’68 that I’ve had since it was new.”
My head went all fuzzy. “You’ve got two SS’s?”
“Well, I’ve got three. ’68, ’69, and ’70. I just love a good Chevelle.”
I never admired another man so much. I hope the shade of green on my face didn’t show through.
My own love affair was with my ’71 Chevelle. It was a two door Malibu 350 with the landau roof. Royal blue. I busted the Mag wheels and replaced them with the slotted rally sport wheels. Chrome beauty rings and center hubs.
What I wanted was a SS 396 with the Holly 4-barrel carburetor and 4-speed manual transmission and a Hurst shifter. I took that very SS on a test drive one time with my Dad in the back seat. When we pulled back in and stopped, he just said, “No.” His voice was a little shaky and I think that was all he could get out at the moment. And that was the end of it.
I dated my wife in my ’71 Malibu. God invented the bench seat for girlfriends. She sat right next to me everywhere we went. And if she wasn’t next to me, all it took was one good righthand curve to get her to slide over. We called them SOB curves. Slide Over Baby.
There was nothing like a warm night with the windows down and her up against my shoulder. I had a Motorola 8-Track deck in the dash with two 6×9 Jenson speakers in the back window shelf. The Allman Brothers singing Sweet Melissa. She was in love with Greg Allman’s hair but settled for loving a dark-haired kid with dimples.
Cars like this have a reputation with the law. If you drive one, you become an easy target.
After we were married and living in Cartersville, we still dated a lot. And by dating, I mean we went out to McDonalds because we were tired of tuna at home. My Chevelle was clean and waxed. The chrome shined even in the dark. 70 series white letter tires all the way around. The 8-track cranked up.
We pulled into McDonalds and were met at the parking lot entrance by a cop who was not partial or sympathetic or enthused with my car. He motioned for me to stop.
“You kids can’t be riding through here. No cruising through McDonalds. Get that thing outta here, now.”
“But we’re here to get a burger and fries.”
“Well, you better park it and turn that music off. If I catch you circling back through, I’m gonna write you a ticket.”
He was obviously not a car guy and was in a foul mood. The audacity! He thought we were just kids cruising town, when we were a married couple all of 24 years old.
My college buddy, Hank, had a ’72 Monte Carlo. Neither one of us had dual exhaust, so we would turn the breather cap over. It gave it a little more of a “woof” sound when you romped down on it. I’ll never forget the time Henry dropped the exhaust manifold and drove around campus for a week sounding more like a pulpwood truck than a car. I’m thinking the Dean of Students probably told him to fix it or leave school.
I kind of feel sorry for the kids driving these days. They get to drive plastic cars. I was lucky to get in on the tail end of an era when GTO’s and Chevelle’s and Camero’s and Road Runners ruled the streets.
My sister’s boyfriend, Bob, had a white ’66 Chevelle SS which is probably why I fell in love with the car. When he’d drop her off at the house, Dad would goad him. “Bet that thing won’t even spin the tires over.” Bob would leave in a cloud of smoke as he pulled out of the driveway. I can still see his hand waving out the window. Dad would say, “That car’s a wolf-cat.” I understood exactly what he meant.
I got 200K miles out of my ’71 love affair. This kills me to confess. I sold her for $1500 and bought a Nissan truck. We had a child and were learning to be responsible adults. It was the most stupid thing I’ve ever done. Selling that car, I mean, not having a child.
I don’t have anything left from my Chevelle but a few pics, a lot of great memories and the license plate sitting on a shelf in my shop. Georgia plate HAZ 301 from Henry County. One of these days I’m gonna frame it beside a picture of that car.
Every now and then I wonder if she’s still out there. My first love. There was nothing like driving her. I loved working on it. I loved shinning it up. I felt like a million bucks every time I got behind the wheel. A car like that takes a piece of a man’s soul.
We drove away from our wedding in that Chevelle. My bride sitting next to me with a wedding gown blowing in the wind. Hank on our heels in his Monte Carlo. Blazing through the streets of Athens, GA. And if I could find my car after all these years, I wonder if my wife would want to go for a ride, sitting right next to me like we used to do. I’d even play some Allman Brothers on my blue tooth.
I bet she would. I bet she’d go for a ride in a heartbeat.