“My four-speed dual-quad, positraction 409.” Pure poetry, recorded in 1962 by the Beach Boys. Just don’t ask me what it means. I’m guessing positraction is the opposite of negatraction.
I like cars. I’ve always liked cars. Not fast cars. Not plain cars. And not pimped-out muscle cars. I’m not “… saving my pennies and saving my dimes” for a four-speed, dual-quad, positraction 409. In my old age, I’ve come to like classic, comfortable cars that reflect an understated elegance, a certain je ne sais quoi appropriate for my venerable station in life.
The significance of cars in my life goes back to the fact that I was automotively humiliated as a teenager. When I turned 16, our family car was a 1960 white Chevrolet Biscayne, the bottom of the Chevy line-up in the ’60s. Our car had an automatic transmission, gearshift on the column, 6 cylinders, AM radio, and blackwall tires. If you looked up “loser’s car” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of our car with me behind the wheel. It’s a miracle I had any friends in high school. Or dates.
Hmmm. Epiphany: That car was probably why I was the only kid in my high school class to graduate… you know… inexperienced.
As a teenager, I had only asked for two things in the family car: convertible top, and whitewalls. My father’s response? No (convertibles are too hard to heat in winter), and no (whitewalls are too hard to keep clean). 0 for 2. We never had a car that I wanted to drive through the Steak ‘n Shake lot. Nothing about our car said, “Hey, wanna take a spin?”
Out of guilt, my dad did rent me a beautiful 1963 Ford convertible for my high school graduation weekend. I just drove it through the Steak ‘n Shake lot over and over.
Although I understand nothing about a car’s engine, I still remember the biggest, hottest Chevy engines back then. Top of the line, of course, was the 409, of Beach Boys fame. But there was also the 327 and the 283 engines. I can tell you which of my high school friends actually drove a 409 and a 327. They were the lucky boys whose parents loved them. And had money.
In my 20s, I finally realized my dream of owning a convertible; a 1969 Camaro convertible, with whitewalls, was the first new car I ever bought. Yeah, baby! Loved that car. And I got convertible out of my system.
Buying cars in my early adulthood was a challenging task. Because I knew nothing about cars, I never felt comfortable buying a used car. (My father again: “Why would you buy someone else’s problems?”) Each new car I bought was a little sexier than the one before. I remember my first car with air conditioning. (Father: “Why do you need AC? The windows roll down, don’t they?”) The first with cruise control. And the first with a cassette and then CD player.
I went through a sorta hippy stage with a Volkswagen van. A true hippy van would have cost me $100, had 100,000 miles on it, a transmission going out, and a Grateful Dead bumper sticker. This one was shiny, new, and air conditioned, for hippies who didn’t want to perspire. And expensive. So expensive, I sold it after only six months. The impulsivity of youth.
One summer, while my daughter was at YMCA camp, I bought a new silver Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, with a blue landau roof, AC, cruise control and AM/FM stereo radio. A definite upgrade for me. When I picked Erin up from camp, I proudly pointed out our new wheels. She was impressed. A couple years later, when I told her that she was about to meet a woman I was serious about (Carole), she responded, “She’ll certainly be impressed with our car.”
Several months later on our wedding weekend, when I picked up Carole’s father at the airport, he was not impressed. “What Is this? A 4-cylinder??” Wow. It was like he’d seen my tax returns, and knew that I was not worthy of his daughter. Our marriage was already in jeopardy.
Fast forward to today. Now it’s all about the feeling of sitting behind the wheel of a quiet, clean, roomy automobile with all the convenience features at my fingertips. The kind of car we feel comfortable driving on road trips through the Tetons or the Florida Keys or New York City.
A car with that special je ne sais quoi.
So why a blog entry about cars?? I don’t know. They’ve always been important to me. And like most important things, my car experience has evolved, along with my hearing, my vision, my hips and knees. Now, it’s all about old guy comfort.
But every now and again, it’s cool to revel in the nostalgic poetry of 1962: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHRJCcCYAF4