By Jeffrey M. Bowen
Among classic songs about cars is one by Chuck Berry about a seat belt that refused to unfasten at a romantic moment. “All the way home,” the rock and roll legend croons, “I held a grudge for the safety belt that wouldn’t budge.” I predated seat belts, so this never happened to me, but I must confess to enjoying an electrifying moment when the girl beside me whispered in my ear, “You’re the driver.” Without question, cars invoke strong emotions while delivering unbelievable adventures.
In the mid-1960s I got a car of my own for the first time. My 1957 Chevy was a hefty gift from my dad so I could get back and forth to college. He felt its tonnage would protect me in case of mishap if a careless squirrel crossed my path. The front grill was a piece of muscular sculpture as big and heavy as many of today’s compacts. The imposing diameter of the steering wheel nearly forced me to peer under it when driving. Today I sigh when televised auctions bring outrageous prices for 1957 icons.
Skip ahead to my 1965 Ford Galaxy sedan, our first car as newlyweds. This beautiful vehicle had a nearly fatal flaw. It loved to drift, with suspension and power steering that felt like jelly. We crashed on the New Jersey turnpike without injury, but shaken up. I will never forget the horrified expression of the state trooper who opened our rear door and found 10 escaped pet gerbils peering at him from under our piles of clothing. He slammed that door quickly!
In the early 1970s, upon returning from service in Vietnam, I ordered a Volvo sedan on an overseas delivery plan. We were convinced it would be reliable. Wrong. Its dual manual British-built carburetors were persnickety beyond belief and virtually unrepairable. Especially in the hot California climate, our Swedish beauty balked at every stop sign, apparently demanding a frigid climate.
Much more recently I purchased a year 2000 Corvette that drove like an unruly truck. We called this one the beast because it acted that way and reminded us of Batman’s black cruiser. True to the traditions of the Corvette nation, I brought the beast out only if the sun was shining and conscientiously flashed my lights to greet every oncoming Vette. I discovered people just have to tailgate these eye-candy babies to see what is going on. In a land of pickup trucks where drivers often have to show me they can go faster, I have always felt just a little strange.
Most memorable was a state policeman who stopped me, and, after inspecting the beast’s rakish front hood, said, “Where is your front license plate?” I stammered, “Well, there isn’t any place to attach it, so it’s under my front seat.” He warned me that state law requires plates on both front and back. After some hasty research, I discovered that the preferred solution is just to pay the fine and forget it. An interesting alternative is to install an expensive gimmick that strategically makes the front plate flip down and disappear under the bumper at the push of a button.
Some folks thrive on refurbishing and showing off so-called “resto-mods.” I remember too many of these gas-guzzling muscle cars from the 1960s as pure junk. Even so, I say more power to them. I settle for keeping mine washed. I think we should protest the accelerating disappearance of standard shifts and cozy bench seats. Remember when your girl actually sat close to you? Today’s wonderful gadgetry is convenient and satisfying, but nothing beats my cargo of memories.
Jeffrey M. Bowen remembers when a girl could sit close in the front seat.