Is The Love Affair with the Car Dying?
When I was growing up, there seemed to be a special club that guys joined and being part of this club was a rite of passage. The members all had scarred hands, scabbed knuckles and black dirt under their nails. This was the Gearhead Club; also known as the Fraternity of Knuckle Busters.
Some members made a living out of fixing cars, others were known as shade tree mechanics. This breed of mechanic could resurrect a junk car and turn it into a street racer. There was nothing these guys would not try to get the best performance out of their machines. Their lingo consisted of rear ratios, compression ratios, carburetors, shifters, headers, intakes, and other pieces of the car.
When they would drag a derelict car in, that is when the stripping would start. If the frame was bad and the body good, they would put another frame under it. Good frame and a bad body, reverse the procedure. Sometimes, later on, they would exchange the drum brakes for disc…even if it meant modifying the frame. A lot of work would go into an engine as well. Tear it completely down, send the block off to be pressure tested, dipped in acid, redo the cylinder walls (bore them out if necessary), remanufacture the heads, put in new valves, springs, rocker arms, seals, and remanufacture the entire engine.
Sometimes this remanufacturing would take place in a guy’s garage. There would be several guys there, helping remove or replace the engine. Much cussing and beer drinking, but that was part of the code.
When the day came after much hard work to start the car, everybody held their breath. Would it start? At first, no. Someone would pour a small amount of fuel into the carburetor and they would try again. The engine would cough then suddenly roar into life. People would start moving…one guy grabbing the timing light as another feathered the throttle. The distributor would be adjusted until the timing had been set. The engine, if it had a modified cam in it, would shake and rumble. It was alive and looking for action.
Once running, it was off to someone who had a paint shed in their backyard. The car may be going down the street on tires which could barely hold air.
Once in the shed, the car is taped, covered in paper and spray painted. Once it dries, new tires are put on and the car is ready for the road.
This was how it was for years, but something happened.
Ralph Nader claimed cars from Detroit were unsafe and he used the United States answer to the Volkswagen as an example; the Corvair. Many car buffs cried all it would take was a simple modification to correct the problem. GM decided it would be easier just to kill the car. Ralph pushed for and got padded dashboards, collapsible steering columns, and seat belts.
Then came the Arab Oil Embargo. Suddenly gas was scarce and cries for fuel efficient cars were heard. The Dinosaurs from Detroit were suddenly under attack. Another whammy came in the form of lead free gasoline and anti-pollution equipment.
Then Japan began to import small, fuel efficient cars.