Thursday, May 7, 2009

American Legends



The low, throaty growl of glass pack mufflers carry long and deep on the wind of the cool night air. The desire for speed signals the primal brain to ready for flight rather than fight. The appearance of spring heralds the arrival of cars from all over the country. They roll into town and spin, like golden oldie time machines, back into the past. Thousands of vintage and classic automobiles arrive for cruisin' and draggin.' Some are daily drivers and trailer queens. Others are tubbed, frenched and fatted. Some are chopped and lowered. Others are customs, originals and street rods. Some are stroked and bored . Others are blown and Hemied. Some are primered. Others are one-off paint jobs. But all are here to enjoy these perfect weeks of cool nights, hot cars, and the police department's eye-turned-blind to the smoke of burning rubber.




For months, car shows, rod runs and Concourses d'Elegance will be staged. California, being an arid, relatively salt-free environment, is lead sled heaven. Car cancer, rust, is minimal and many models are resurrected to, once again, shine their lights in the aprés-winter climate. The trifecta of auto collecting is an original, good condition, unrestored, California rust-free car with black-letter-on-yellow-background license plates. If you have one of these, feel free to tack $$ on to your price.


Cars. For as long as I can remember, I have loved them! My first real memory of a car is from when I was very young. Perhaps four or five years old. As a young child, I remember riding around in my nana's green, 1948 Chevy. "Nellie," as nana called her, had coil spring seats. Tall from a child's point of view, they beckoned to be climbed. I felt as tall and safe in those seats as I did in my nana's arms when she sat and held me on her frieze covered chesterfield. Nellie's soft, short-bristled, mohair upholstered seats playfully tickled the backs of my stubby, summer-bared legs as we drove to the grocery store.


I loved looking at mom and dad's old, black, embossed leather photo albums filled with pictures of young adults I scarcely recognized as my parents. Curly edged photos framed black and white images of young women wearing the soft, bobbed hairdos of the 50s, men's collared, white, dress shirts, rolled-cuff dungarees and saddle Oxford shoes over white bobby socks. Often, a strand of pearls outlined the neckline of a cardigan sweater set layered over a full, mid-calf length, plaid skirt. The boys wore white T-shirts, blue jeans, black leather shoes and Pompadour hair styles. In many of the photos, the teens posed on or around cars. There were many photos of my mom and her friends striking movie star poses--one hand on the hip and the other hand on the back of their head.


One of my favorite pictures was of my father around age twenty wearing the khaki uniform of an Army Private First Class. He was standing in front of his rounded, black, 1949 Chevrolet Business Coupe--straight, proud and holding salute. Tan against black. Straight against curve. Flesh against metal. Refracting star strikes of light caromed off the Chevy's gleaming chrome bumper back into my eyes.




And I was in love. As infatuated with cars, as I was with my daddy, the center of my universe. As infatuated with cars as Americans have been for over a hundred years. Inventor Henry Ford had the vision of bringing the automobiles role from a luxurious status symbol of the rich to that of being a necessity to the masses. He said, "I will build a car for the great multitude." American tenacity, independence, perseverance, imagination and pioneer spirit became synonymous with the automobile the instant he rolled his first Model T off the assembly line in 1908. Henry had produced a car, affectionately known as the "Tin Lizzie," that was affordable to ordinary people. With this act, he undeniably changed the American way of life.


This profound change has become ingrained in our belief system, culture, music and movies. Men like Preston T. Tucker and John Z. DeLorean have continued to link the automobile to American individualism. Tucker, in the 50's and DeLorean, again in the 80s, challenged the great motor corporations of their times by attempting to establish sole-proprietor managed auto manufacturing factories. Their roguish attempts failed, but their cars, the Tucker and the DeLorean, exist as monuments to their independence.


Our music reflects the power of vehicular perseverance in such songs as the Beach Boys "409," "Little Deuce Coupe," and "Fun, Fun, Fun." In "Shut Down," their simple rhythms and intricate harmonies laud the Fuel-Injection Stingray, a Super Stock Dodge, and a 413. Wilson Pickett croons "Mustang Sally." The Rip Chords' "Hey Little Cobra," lives as testament to muscle cars of the 60s. Drag racing's demise was chronicled in the tearful "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean.



In the the 1950s, actor James Dean's portrayal of a rebellious, drag racing teenager insured that the automobile would live on as a celluloid icon to American life. His subsequent and eerie, early demise on September 30, 1955 linked the tragic, brooding star to the car crash of his Porsche Spyder 550. He died at the intersection of Route 466 and 41 near Cholame, California on his way to a racing event with his mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich. Ironically, he had filmed a public commercial for car safety just prior to his crash. In it, he cautioned teenagers to drive safely because, "The life you save might be mine." A black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor driven by a 23-year-old Cal Poly student, Donald Turnupspeed, was coming from the opposite direction. Attempting to take the fork onto State Route 41, he crossed into James Dean's lane without seeing him. Both cars hit almost straight on.


Dean's last words, "He's going to see us," infinitely race across the winds of eternity.


28 comments:

Liza said...

I would love to have the wind blowing through my hair in those convertibles. Your memories of your dad are so sweet. Keep the motor running!

Candie Bracci said...

Nice cars.old cars are really cool.And yeah road movies,I love road movies!
Have a nice day :)

Poetikat said...

Very cool post! I love to watch the British program "Top Gear" about sporty and classic cars. The oldies are so sleek and hold so many memories for so many people. This was a wonderful interpretation of the theme.

Kat

The Silver Fox said...

Excellent entry! Reminds me of my own "motorhead" years in the mid-1970s, when most of my friends and I owned cars from the 1960s due to their affordability (then).

Too many individual good points to this post to list. I'd just be reprinting your article!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

the post makes me think of the promise of opening cuba for american tourists and how car lovers will be able delight in seeing some really cool old cars....

I've always thought it fun to learn the names people give their cars, my grandpa had a buick named mariah...

The Clever Pup said...

I love old cars - such a treat when I see one on the road. A change from the usual grey drudgery of cars.

Ronda Laveen said...

Liza: I drove a Cutlass convertible for a number of years. I loved her. She was classy with her white paint, turquoise pinstripping and matching turquoise interior. Yep, she was a looker.

Candie: I love road movies too! Just happened to catch James Taylor in "White Line Fever" the other night. Not the best road movie but still a slice.

Kat: I haven't seen Top Gear yet but we have been watching a lot of British programming lately. It is nice to get a different view of US life.

Fox: After seeing how the US auto industry has declined, I am so glad we have these reminders of their excellence. You were there for the best days!

Mouse: I had the same thoughts about Cuba when I heard they were trying to open up travel. I always love seeing footage of the country just for that reason. My husband currently drives a '67 Buick. Mariah sounds like a good name for her. She doesn' have one yet.

Pup: I know what you mean. Today's cars have become so "cookie cutter" designed that it is hard to distinguish one from anoter.

Wings said...

Love the car pics!!!

Dot-Com said...

If I could be in one of those cars, I'd all the wind to make my hair a real big mess!

Marianna said...

I remember photo albums of my parents like that as well :) Good times!

Great post and pics
Happy TT
xoxo

Tom said...

i always wanted a red 65 mustang, convertable would be nice. The closest i ever got was the crappiest Gran Torino on the planet. Cool rides.

Ronda Laveen said...

Wings: Thanks. I love car pics...and chrome.

Dot-Com: The wind is quite the stylist!

Marianna: They are fun to look at aren't they?

Tom: My mom had a Gran Torino. Blue with black vinyl top. It was definitely a wanna be.

Baino said...

Ah you've outdone us all Ronda, what a different take. I've never been a 'car' person myself and the only Gran Torino I've ever heard about was the latest Clint Eastwood movie! Great post . .reminds me of that rather sad song by Marianne Faithful - the Ballad of Lucy Jordan!

Ronda Laveen said...

Baino: Why, thank you! I respect your work very much and am humbly honored by your compliment. I have yet to see Clint's Gran Torino but hear that it is quite good. I love Ballad of Lucy Jordan by Marianne Faithful. I saw a documentary on Marianne last summer that was outstanding.

Mrsupole said...

Ditto for me what Silver Fox said. I could list so many cars we have owned from the sixty's and a few from the 50's. Funny how those cars could be considered classics right now. My '66 Malibu is one car I wish I still had and even my '69 Malibu would have been nice. 1967 Corvair, VW Fastback and VW bug, Mustang, Ford Pinto Fastback and Station Wagon, 1955 Chevy, '69 VW bug, VW Squareback. These are just a few of the ones I have owned. Maybe I always have had a love affair with my cars. And yes I even have a story about a haunted car.

But now I am a Honda owner and you know what that means. Honda Owners Never Drive Another. Hubby keeps wanting to buy me one of those Honda Hybrids, but I am fine with the one I have. It only has about 67,000 miles on it and is just getting broken in. I think I should at least be able to get another 100,000 on it. So you know how much we love our cars here. I saw on the news the other day that CA has the biggest market for cars in the world.

Thank you for bringing up such memories of all these cars. And yes maybe I have owned too many. But can one truly have too many.

God bless.

The Silver Fox said...

Ronda: Yeah, years ago they made "automobiles." "Cars," if you will. (Use a Ted Baxter voice to say either word.) Now they make... "vehicles" (and use a wimpy/whiney voice to say that word), those offensive-looking blobs that look somewhat like they were excreted rather than manufactured.

Mrsupole: Wow, if I didn't know better, I'd say that half the cars you owned were sold to my friends or myself thirty to thirty-five years ago. My friend Jeff owned a '66 Malibu, and a few years later, I owned a '69. Another friend, also named Jeff, owned a '66 (not '67) Corvair. My friend Wayne owned a '65 Mustang, and his mom -- bless 'er -- owned a '66 Mustang fastback. Wayne was the only guy I knew who was actually eager to borrow his mom's car when his was in the shop!

Ronda Laveen said...

Sherry: I'm not sure I could list all the cars I've (we've) owned. Lost cars find my husband like lost dogs find me...all the time. VWs, Malibus, Hondas, Novas, Chevelles, Impalas, El Caminos, Chevys, Fords, Buicks, Chryslers. It is a good thing we have pictures of them all.

Fox: My husband's mother was like Wayne's mother. She had a 65 Mustang which she sold to my husband so she could by a 68 Cougar. We later bought the Cougar and I drove her daily until about 9 years ago. He always wanted to borrow her car.

subtorp77 said...

Awesome post, Ronda! The western states are still loaded with older cars just waiting to be 'discovered" and restored. Or rodded out!

reyjr said...

Awesome!! I want one.... Daaaad!!!! :D

Michael Rawluk said...

"Curly edged photos framed black and white images of young women wearing the soft, bobbed hairdos of the 50s, men's collared, white, dress shirts, rolled-cuff dungarees and saddle Oxford shoes over white bobby socks." is a bit of perfection. I can feel those albums.

Ronda Laveen said...

Subby: Yes, there still many cars to be found and saved. And with the current state of our automotive industry, they may soon be all we have left to show how great it was once.

Reyjr: Your are too funny! I'll take one too if Dad is buying:)

Michael: As a photographer, I'm sure you can. My father was a photographer. Although I can't shoot, I know good work when I see it. That is why I so admire your photos!

books,coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Ronda Laveen,

What a very interesting post...pertaining to cars, memories and your interest in cars.

The information about actor James Dean, was very interesting.Because I just posted photographs of Dean on my blog last week...how very apropos.

Dean's last words, "He's going to see us," infinitely race across the winds of eternity.

Ronda, thanks for sharing!...and Happy Mother's Day!
Take care!
DeeDee ;-D

Ronda Laveen said...

DeeDee: Thanks. I'll stop over and check out your James Dean post. He is intriguing to me.

tony said...

Wow!This Is Car Heaven !Great Photos too Ronda.
I hope You&Yours have a Fine Weekend.
tony.

Leah said...

What a romantic post, Ronda! I love cars too, but only got my driver's license five years ago, at the ripe old age of 33. I now have a lot of lost time to make up for, both driving and ogling fabulous cars.

Ronda Laveen said...

Tony: Thanks. California is Car Heaven!

Leah: Even though you didn't get your license unit later in life, it sounds like you are making up for lost time. Yes, in many ways, that was a romantic era.

My {S.T.U.F.F.} :: said...

Yowza!!!
I'm in {luv} with these hotrods...

Ronda Laveen said...

STUFF: They are beauties aren't they.