Is there any time machine more reliable for Americans than a car manufactured in the years of their youth? I’m not even that much of a car nut, myself, but this weekend’s car show on the square in our town reminded me that a quick trip back to my formative years is only a muscle car grille away. The town’s annual car show is not one of those high end, multimillion-dollar auction deals full of people who phone in their bids from some remote private island and send their Handlers to pick up the two or three classics they’ve nabbed just for parts. This is where you go to watch little kids waddle around and have their tiny, mustard-coated hands pulled away from the chrome at just the last second by Daddy, who had turned around to talk with the next guy down the row about his customized low rider while Mom was off listening to the live music across the street with the lady who is showing her two vintage tractors at the meet.
The local preference, at least this year, seems to be slightly in favor of mid-century muscle cars, which suits me fine. I’m a mid-century model, too, as it happens, and while my gears are hardly a matter for general admiration, I’ve managed to keep my chassis from getting too badly dinged up so far, and my motor still revs a bit over anything from the great tail fins of the late-’50s models that dominated when I was a young whippersnapper to the sleek, hard-edged lines of the amped ‘Cuda or Cougar in whatever dangerous-looking color some daredevil chose in the early ’70s.
I never got to buy or drive one of those—the closest I ever came was the ’58 Mercury I was sorely tempted to buy for my first car because it did have a trunk big enough to tempt a mafia don (“room for the whole Family!”, if you know what I mean). But being a realist, I knew I had better invest my meager savings in a sturdy station wagon with a solid engine, so I could haul all of my tools for the few years I worked as a painter-slash-gofer at my uncle’s construction company between undergraduate and grad school days. It would’ve broken my heart to mess up that sweet Merc. As it turned out, the studly slant-six engine of my dorky looking station wagon took the sting out of the tradeoff pretty neatly, being able to handle anything I threw at it, and I did put some money into a sound system worthy of shouting along with ZZ Top, Van Halen, and Oingo Boingo tapes (depending on my mood) in the car, a fair consolation on the long drives to more remote job locations.
In any case, I was never the most spectacular driver, so practicality would, and will, always win for me. So it’s all the more entertaining on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to wander around the parked prizes of other car owners’ loves and reminisce just a little about that brief period of my younger days when a car was more than just transportation to me.