By David Dickinson
I had just finished stuffing a 327 V8 into a 1955 Chevrolet two door sedan body that my brother had turned me onto. The guy that had the car just didn’t want it anymore and I was able to pick it up for a pretty good price.
This was in about 1974, so prices were still low for a piece like it. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a decent burgundy paint job and a black interior that featured some pretty cool bucket seats. Even all of the glass was good. All I had to do was install some running gear and new brakes.
I found a used engine at one of the local junkyards that is long gone now. It had good compression and 4 barrel carburetor on it. A little cleanup and fresh gaskets and it was just like new. Well, kind of. I was hoping it would work well enough to have some fun.
I went down to NAPA and got a brand new clutch and throw out bearing to install between a flywheel and bell housing I’d gotten from a neighbor, a serious old car buff. Jack had a Chevy that he had wrecked and parted out. He had already sold most of the parts off of but, still had the exact pieces I needed and it couldn’t have worked out better.
“Here,” he says “I never sold it for what I wanted for it and now I guess I have to give it away!” I didn’t expect it for free, but he wouldn’t have any part of my money. “If you can’t give something you like to someone you like, then you probably don’t like anything!” he quipped. I laughed at his odd joke with an appreciation of the sentiment behind it. I’d given lots of car parts away over the years, too.
“Thanks, Jack,” I replied. “It will be put to good use.”
I had a 4 speed transmission that was lying in the garage from a car I’d had back in high school and after a quick inspection, I determined that it was in as good of shape as I remembered. I had taken it out of a ’56 Chev and it still had the shifter and linkage attached to it. A little clean up and a shiny new shift ball and I was in business. In the end, it shifted smooth and held up just fine. It was another few bucks I was grateful that I didn’t have to spend. This project was turning out to be pretty inexpensive and was fitting into my limited budget pretty well.
After a couple of days of wrench turning, more than a few beers and some harsh language one weekend, the old Chevy came to life and rolled out of the garage just as planned. I was anxious to get it out onto the Ave for some fun. It wasn’t all that pretty and it wasn’t going to be all that fast, but it was a V8 and a 4 speed. It was going to be fun!
Cruising 6th Ave in Tacoma, WA wasn’t the same in the mid 70s as it was in the late 60s, but there were still a few of the old guys out there and my beater Chevy attracted some attention right away. It had an exhaust that made it sound waaay badder than it was. I hadn’t made it half way up 6th Ave before a guy in a rattier looking car than mine pulled up beside me and started stabbing his gas pedal. I looked over and smiled, having no clue whether the old Chev would scoot or poop.
I didn’t know what gears were in the rear end or how the carburetor was jetted. Those were just two of the elements that would play a role in any attempt to show off. I really had no intention of racing this jammed together toy but, I had gotten in trouble more than once for not being able to control myself under the pressure of competition. Let’s just say I wasn’t chicken.
So, I stabbed my pedal a couple of times, too. What the heck? I didn’t have a thing to lose, except my driver’s license and I had already been there when I was a teenager. There were too many lights for it to be a very long race, anyway.
My challenger, in an old Studebaker Hawk, was anxious. He kept revving the motor in the old low slung, yet to be classic, two door coupe. Paint was non existent. The black primer had spots of smeared grease on the fenders and wheel wells. This guy was not into looks. I suspect he was a real life back yard mechanic by the greasy knuckles of the hands firmly gripping the cracked and greasy steering wheel. His hair was greasy and his forehead had smears of grease.
He revved his motor a couple more times, straining his neck to see the light turn yellow for the traffic coming from his right. He was going to get the jump on me at all costs! I revved back.
Vanity plates were not yet available but, had they been, this guy’s plate would probably have said something like GRSBALL. I was hoping to meet a girl or two, dressed in my clean jeans and T-shirt. The Hawk guy’s shirt looked as if it was woven from a mixture of cotton and grease.
Again, he revved his engine to demonstrate the deep throaty sound of the old glass pack mufflers as he rocked back and forth in his seat, anxiety about to get the best of him. I was sure he was going to jump the light early. I revved back.
Moments before the light change, I spotted the police car turn onto the avenue a block behind us and pull up behind the Studebaker. Studebaker guy revved his motor again. I was about to split a gut; ready to laugh out loud. I could see what was about to happen. He didn’t see the light adorned government issue Ford behind him. I revved back.
As the light changed, the guy in the Studebaker laid on the gas and slid his foot off the clutch, breaking loose the tires, smoke building up in the wheel wells as he made his escape from the motion inhibiting red light. As soon as he had gotten through the intersection and was about to forget one red light, another one came on behind him.
I slowly released my clutch and gently pushed the gas pedal, departing from the green light as if I was 80 years old. Studebaker man was just pulling over to the side of the road as I passed by. I turned my head, shrugging my shoulders at him as I rolled past his driver’s window. He was not as excited as he had been a moment ago.
I thought I had seen the last of him for a while, yet a little later, as I was telling an old high school buddy the tale of the race that never happened, I saw Studebaker man drive past with the officer a few car lengths behind him. He turned into the bowling alley and the police car continued on down the street.
I considered going over to the bowling alley and finding the guy with the intention of offering to buy him a beer. But, in the end, I thought better of it. I guess it was best to leave it be. I was satisfied with the fact that I came away from the whole thing without a ticket and only a story to tell.