Classic cars are no longer what they used to be.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s what we thought were antiques were jalopes that our fathers rode as teenagers. That meant, for example, 32 mm Fords with the rumble seats.
I remember the grandparents of a schoolmate still rode in their Model T from the 1920s. Unfortunately, they had an accident up on the freeway and their antique was totaled.
My point is, antiques were only 20-40 years old at the time. Folks, I drive a 16 year old car today and I still think it’s a contemporary vehicle.
Antique cars on display in downtown Asheboro this weekend will likely range from the 1920s to the 80s. But what upsets me is that the cars I drooled over as a teenager, as featured by the Big Three manufacturers, are now 50 and 60 years old.
In the late 50’s, large fins were all the rage on the popular 1957 Chevrolet. I had a college friend named Mike who drove his ’57 ragtop, a red Chevy convertible. It was already a classic at the end of the 1960s.
Al, a high school classmate, drove a 47 DeSoto, which he called his “Dose-a-Sody”. His car was born in the same year as us.
When Ford brought out the Mustang in 1965, or ’64 and a half since it was late off the assembly line, another classmate got one of the first to come out in Carolina blue. He had it for about a year and traded it in for a Corvette Stingray.
Other friends drove classics like a ’55 Chevy, a ’59 Ford Galaxy that managed 70 in first gear, and a bright red ’62 Chevrolet hardtop. A neighbor friend named Jerry had a ’55 black Ford as his first car and allowed me to drive along while he cruised Asheboro.
My good friend and neighbor Robert bought a ’56 Mercury hardtop when he turned 16 and got a job at the Franklinville hatchery. On summer nights we drove into town, drove around for a while, and ended up at Dog ‘n’ Suds for Texas burgers and root beer.
My friend and classmate Tony was a school bus driver who lost his job after being charged with speeding at his Pontiac Grand Prix. That was typical for young bus drivers.
During my first job as a curb canteen at Melvin’s drive-in, I admired the shiny new muscle cars arriving in the parking lot. Cars like the Chevelles, Camaros, Oldsmobile 442s, and Ford Thunderbirds made me ask for a raise.
There was an older guy named Roger who drove a ’60s Chevy with the big flippers. I remember driving into the parking lot with bugs on the windshield, the result of a low-level flight out of Siler City. Although he was older and worked full-time, he would sometimes allow us high school students to cruise with him.
I’ve never had a classic to drive unless you put an Opel Rekord from 1959 among the Impalas and Galaxys. After Studebaker went out of business, Daddy experimented with Opel and Rambler for a few years. He also had a Pontiac Tempest two-door station wagon that I sometimes drove on weekends.
Made in West Germany based on a metal plate on the engine, the Opel had an engine similar to the size of a lawnmower, albeit not as powerful. On a steep descent, it would top at 60 mph.
But I couldn’t complain. It got me on the cruise line on Sunset Avenue and carried me on 50 cents worth of gas all night.
When my brother Ron joined the Air Force, I had the opportunity to drive his Corvair. You know his reputation from Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed”.
Anyway, the Corvair was fun, despite the safety issues I didn’t know about. Just give me a car and I’ll be fine.
I doubt I’ll see a lot of Corvairs or Opels at the auto show this weekend. But I’m going to look at those Chevys and Fords and Dodges from the 50s and 60s that shaped my youth.
And if there is Studebaker or Rambler, so much the better.
Larry Penkava is a correspondent for The Courier-Tribune. Contact: 336-302-2189, [email protected]