I overheard a piece of a conversation Friday in Rocky Mount as I was pursuing a magazine story. A couple of white bearded old boys in overalls and ball caps were talking at Dairy Queen about their 1960s-era super cars. One had an Oldsmobile 442, which did a ca-ching on my brain.
I had a 1964 Olds 442 and I’ll bet it was faster than yours, I almost said aloud. Here I was 22 again and trying to set up a drag race along Tunnel Road in Asheville, my hometown and the city of my youthful extravagance. That 442 and I spent quite a number of late evenings in the cool summer air cruising Tunnel Road, sitting at Buck’s drive-in restaurant ogling the young women, and roaring between stop lights. As often as not, booze was involved.
I was not a good driver, but that didn’t deter my efforts toward speed demon-ship, something the 442 offered. This was the Oldsmobile version of the GTO, the supercar every kid wanted, but few could afford. I don’t recall how I came to own the 442, but it was a honey: black with a white leather interior, 4-in-the-floor and a big rumbling engine that won a lot of drag races before the light turned green. The other guys just assumed I’d kick their asses–whether or not this bad driver could do that.
The 442 was something of an anomaly for a kid who owned quite a few cars as a teen-ager. I started driving late–at 18–but made up for it by buying cars. I’d own as many as two or three $100 rattle-traps at a time, knowing their time on this green earth was short and I needed backups. I once drove my 1956 Pontiac up to Banner Elk, about 80 miles, to take a friend back to college after a weekend and the car broke down just outside the entry to Lees McRae College. We went on up to the dorm, slept the rest of the night and in the morning called a junk yard. The owner offered me $25 for the Pontiac and I gratefully accepted, then thumbed back to Asheville where my little 1956 Nash Metropolitan awaited me, parked behind the house.
The Metro was “Herman,” an ugly little devil if you ever saw one, but a fun car. It was a faded red and white, smaller than a VW bug and the front seats flopped back into a bed, which would have been handy if I’d ever had a need for a bed in a car. My love life was not what it might have been, however.
Around that same time, I owned a 1955 (or ’56, I forget which) Chevrolet Bel Air hot rod whose engine had been bored to 302 cu. in. and stroked (no, I had no idea what that meant, except that it was made to be a lot faster than normal), featured a Hurst 4-speed shifter, had really great wheels and a flake green paint job that glistened. This baby would do a wheelie in the right hands, which were not my hands. But, I got the looks. Lots of looks, especially when I gunned the engine at stop lights or just sat looking cool at Buck’s. But, not, I couldn’t drive it worth a crap, either, and wound up ruining the car and selling it for a couple hundred bucks.
I finally got married, had a kid, stabilized my sports writing job and turned up in a little compact Oldsmobile, kind of a puky beige. At that point, all that was left of my car fetish was the memory, and it remains.