We were never people with fancy cars. Our first family car was a 1955 Chrysler with lots of chrome. It was a big thing.
As the guy who promotes car safety for Georgia, I remember the Chrysler didn’t have seat belts. When we went on vacation, one of us slept in the back window and the other on the seat. If we had been in a crash, I don’t know if I would have made it through the front window.
Dad drove station wagons, but they were work cars. He built houses and had lots of stuff in them.
We later had a 1965 Dodge Dart. It also wasn’t air-conditioned. It was a plain car, but it served us well.
When my brother started driving, he was saddled with an old pickup. Then, we went through a bunch of Buicks. Dad liked the Buick Special, a boxy car that was not pretty. It was under the hood of Buicks that I learned about taking apart engines, taking out radiators and doing all sorts of things that kept those old cars running.
I had cousins who had sporty cars. One drove a Corvette Stingray. It was a beautiful thing in gleaming white. I never rode in it; I just admired it from afar.
My cousin, Mike, who has never lost his cool swagger, had a Plymouth Road Runner. It was a fast car with the distinctive rumble of a powerful V-8 engine. I don’t know what Mike drives today, but it couldn’t touch the Road Runner in the cool car department.
My cousin, Wayne, still has a Corvette he bought about 40 years ago. He let me drive it when I was about 15. I can remember how powerful it felt and the way it handled. It’s a memory that won’t go away.
There was something about boys and cars. We were always trying to make them louder or faster or both. We wanted girls to notice us. It was something we liked to talk about. It was a bonding device that brought fathers and sons together. Dad may have hated rock ’n’ roll, but he would always talk about cars and engines.
I heard a report on the radio the other day stating computerized cars might have brought all that to an end.
I spent many a hour holding a flashlight while my dad worked on a car. I was a terrible flashlight holder, because I always found other things under the hood I wanted to look at.
We worked on cars under the pecan tree. We turned wrenches on hot summer nights and in the dead of winter.
I learned how to set the gap on spark plugs and points. I remember taking engine parts to the machine shop. Now, cars don’t have the same kind of spark plugs, and they haven’t had a car with points and condenser in 40 years.
The cars of that era often had four-barrel carburetors that would make a loud noise when the air filter cover was turned over. My friend, Del Taylor, got a whipping for doing that on his mama’s Buick.
Carburetors? This generation will only know them as antiques. I miss those old days under the pecan tree.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.