“The 59 Chevy”
I guess we all had our favorite car in our youth, mine was a 1959 Black Chevy convertible. I bought it in December of 1963; the salesman warned me, “Never put the top down when the temperature is below freezing. The first day the temperature reached 33 degrees I asked LuAnn and Marilyn if they wanted to ride in my convertible and off we went. We returned 20 minutes later with the reddest cheeks and noses you ever saw. That summer I customized it with a 1963 Corvette front end and a spaceship backend. I didn’t really have to do much to the back, the 59 Chevy already had the big wings. I reworked the cat’s eye tail lights, by adding 59 Cadillac tail lights with a piece of chrome tailpipe, and Lake pipes down the side. I added red angora to the dash and boot along with black angora with white diamonds to the floor. At anything above 30 miles per hour the flying rabbit fur up your nose would put everyone in the car into a sneezing fit.
The next thing we did was replace the 348 engine and 3 speed automatic transmission and granny gear, with a 409 engine and a 4 speed straight stick tranny. It took three of us two days to complete the job. Everything went well, with the exception of an extra bushing. We thought and thought about where it should have gone, but couldn’t figure it out. It could’ve after all been an extra, right?
Finally, we decided to give it a test run. Maybe it was a spare part. It started right up and sounded good. I put it in reverse and backed out of the garage. I put it in first gear and nosed out of the driveway and onto the street. Still working perfect. I gave it a little gas and shifted into second, still perfect. Bill suggested we see just what all the excitement was about the 409. The song goes “She’s real fine my 409, take her to the track, and she really shines.”
So I floored it. The lake pipes roared, the tires screamed and the whole car vibrated like crazy. We felt like we were riding in a cement mixer. After further diagnosis we determined that spare bushing went into the flywheel and coupled the engine to the pilot shaft of the transmission.
Next I bought a pair of 13-inch cheater slicks to replace my rear tires. That year Cunningham road was out in the boonies and several of us had marked off a quarter mile of straight highway. We decided to see just how fast we could turn the quarter mile and took the Chevy out to Cunningham strip. Gayle got in the passenger’s seat and set his stopwatch. When he said “GO” I floored it. The sound was deafening and in less than 3 seconds the car was filled with smoke. I yelled at Gayle, “Open the window and look out to make sure I’m still on the road.” He hollered back, “I still see the white line through the smoke.” After 30 seconds my speedometer read 120 and we were sure we had passed the line across Cunningham signifying the end of the quarter mile. I took my foot off the accelerator and slowed to a stop; which strangely only took a few seconds.
We got out mostly to catch our breath and when the smoke had cleared the guys at the start line were less than 50 foot behind us. I had probably laid down 10,000 miles of rubber in 30 seconds. The black rubber on the street was still smoking.
When the car was cleared of smoke we all piled in and headed home. On our way home a fella in a 57 ford with a 406 engine pulled alongside us, revved his engine, stuck his hand out the window and waved it three times. Back in the day that was the signal challenging me to a race. The light turned green and I floored it, but this time I feathered the clutch. We took off beating him off the line but he soon passed us and slowed to a stop at the next light. As we pulled alongside he rolled down his window again and yelled, “I waved at you to tell you that you had a flat tire.”
Naturally we didn’t have a jack so the three bigger guys lifted the front right corner of that 59 Chevy so Gayle could get the tire changed. By the time he got the spare on our fingers were giving out. We drove to the nearest gas station with the tire wobbling to fix it correctly.
I am convinced the prayers of a praying Mother were the only reason I made it out of the 60s.