For The Love Of Cars

I have always loved cars and trucks. When I was 10 years old my folks let me get subscriptions for several car magazines… Car Craft, Rod & Custom, Hot Rod and Car And Driver. I read those babies from cover to cover every month, and quickly developed a taste for what my little brain thought was “cool.”

I had no idea that my love of custom cars and sports cars would turn into a lifelong passion. Simply following my heart, I took pictures of the sports cars that attended my town’s rally every summer, even weaseled a few rides in the really neat ones, like a ’56 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing and a ’57 Jaguar XK 120. So much fun, such a thrill at the time… I was pathetically hooked!

 

 

 

 

My Dad used to let me sit on his lap and steer for a few minutes when I was 12. Harley Stevens let me drive his big flatbed Ford F-150 around his horse pasture when I was 13. One day I remember asking him if he’d let me leave the pasture and drive up the dirt road. He smiled his Harley smile. “Not yet, Stevie. You’re still a little short in the poo.”

Real car lovers, of which I am one, have a relationship with their car. Yeah, yeah, I know the auto is an inanimate object, and what’s to love, anyway? Ha, a lot! The car might be inanimate, but it makes us feel good when we’re around it, or in it, driving it. A good car provides a lot of satisfaction (and fun!) in a stressful world. There is dimension to our love of cars… we work on them, clean them and personalize them to our particular tastes. Our car returns our love in kind, with freedom of movement, and a feeling of belonging, of validation, or perhaps confirmation that we get from the feeling that we can share who we are with others, through our ride.

Why bother trying to analyze this? Why not just put this laptop away, go get in my car and take a drive? Good advice, of course, but I’m trying to put our love of our cars into a perspective that the non-car lovers, who are doubtlessly reading along here, can perhaps understand and relate to. For many of us it’s a pleasure of senses… the look, the smell of it, the sound of it, the feeling of power, the sense of when you’re around it, nothing else matters. When you love your car, it’s always fun to drive. And then there’s that incredible freedom it provides.

“That engine noise… that’s what always gets me. That engine noise.”
Walter Trachsler, Austin, Texas, ’76 Corvette Stingray

“I have to think that my artistic side also led to being able to recognize a beautiful car at a young age. And once I was able to drive, I learned that cars mean freedom and independence. And speed is fun!!!” Karen,  ’02 Monte Carlo

“it makes me smile to drive it! Playing some classic rock, taking in a little of that muscle car engine smell, and enjoying the thumbs up from passersby can really make my day.” Doug, ’67 Camaro

The automobile came to mean to me so much more than just a means of transportation. Besides freedom, the car offered fun, adventure, a sense of style, personality, even a sense of self. Weird? Perhaps, but I began connecting certain types of people with certain kinds of cars they drove. It began to make sense.

Early Corvette

In a post last year I told you about the guy who pulled up in an immaculate Porche into the gas station I worked at one afternoon. He was well-dressed, well-groomed, quiet, sophisticated, and set his leather driving gloves on the dash before he got out. He was nice to me, trusted me to gas him up and check his tires, clean his windshield. As he pulled away, I knew I wanted to be him.

Over time I learned to appreciate not only the good designs that made certain cars classics, but also for the designers whose vision made them happen in the first place. The builders and fabricators of custom cars back then always made their cars better, cooler, more powerful than when they came from the factory. And it became obvious that different cars spoke to us in different ways, suggesting that our ride might partially define us, or at least define our taste in automobiles.

This is what a customized pickup can look like!

I hear someone saying, “Wait just a minute! You can’t define people by the kind of car they drive…” Yes I can, oh ye of little faith. Hell, I can define whole cultures of people by what they drive, what their culture produces. Now I might be generalizing a little bit, but you’ll get my point. Italy, for instance; the Italians design, build and drive cars that are sleek, sexy and powerful. Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo. Most of them are red. And what about the Germans? Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi and Porsche – practically designed, mechanically engineered close to perfect. They are mostly silver or black. The English? Eccentric and somewhat undependable.; Jaguar, MG, Austin, Sunbeam. The Jaguar was their best attempt, back in the fifties. They like green. And the Japanese? Why, small, underpowered and practical; Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda… in fifty shades of gray. See? I told you.

And further proof resides in some of the songs that have been written about cars. Some of my favorites, that I’m sure you know, are Mustang Sally, Little Deuce Coupe, I’m In Love With My Car, Little Old Lady From Pasadena, Gonna Buy Me A Mercury. Yup, tons of car lovers out there.

Will You Real Car Lovers Please Step forward?

As important as ‘cool’ was to us back in my high school days, I now see it as a fairly shallow desire to be what we thought was “cool.” I remember some guys who bought and drove cool cars, but they weren’t cool, and the car didn’t really define them. But quite a few of my friends nailed it, at least to my eye.

Doug Abelin, a motor head all his life, had a ’33 Dodge coupe with a Corvette engine in it when I knew him. That car was Doug, through and through. Sorry to say, the Dodge was just about as homely as Doug. One of my dad’s best fiends, a master mechanic who had worked on heavy equipment for construction companies around the world, had a ‘’56 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing that I mentioned earlier. One afternoon I heard him tell my dad, “It’s a good little car, but it has a slight vibration and hesitation at around 135. I haven’t figured out what’s causing it yet.”

Charles Carter, a high school friend, had built a neat ’32 three-window with a big V8 while still in high school. That car was him. Back then Tiny Oliver had the coolest ’50 Chevy in the county, and that car was definitely him. Now, 60 years later, Tiny has been driving a cherry ’55 chevy for over twenty years, and that car is also him. And there is Larry Whitman, who bought a new ’63 Corvette right out of high school. As jealous as I was, I knew that car was really him. You just know.

A long-time family friend, Doug, has a beautiful ’67 Camaro RS/SS. He spent 31 years in law enforcement, the last 4.5 years as the Chief of Police in a city of 48,000. His Camaro? Yup, it’s him.

Doug tells us:
“My first two cars back in 1980-1983ish were 1970 Camaros. However, my favorite has always been the first generation models (67-69).  I had hoped that I would own one someday – maybe a retirement project? About a year before I retired a friend of mine decided to sell his ’67 RS/SS. I’ve always liked the hidden headlights that came with the RS package, but this one had the SS performance too. How could I pass that up?”

“Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track down any history of this car. The trim tag on the firewall tells me the following:”
Build Date: 12A (First week of December)
Interior Color: N/A
Model Year: 67 (1967)
Series and Interior Style Code: 12637 (Sport Coupe, custom interior)
Assembly Plant: LOS (Los Angeles)
Body Number: 11545
Interior Trim: 765-Z (Black custom with bucket seats)
Lower Body Color: F (Marina Blue)
Upper Body Color: F (Marina Blue)
Option Information: J (Tinted windshield)
Option Information: 2MGR (Powerglide Transmission, Center Console, Rear Seat Speaker)
Option Information: 3L (RPO Z22, Rally Sport Equipment)
Option Information: 4P (SS350)
Option Information: 5Y (Deluxe seat belts)

“So when I get around to painting it, I will take it back to Marina Blue, a Chevy color that I love! The paint looks pretty good in the pictures but it’s not. Almost enough to dissuade me from buying it, but a friend of mine talked me into it. I love everything else about it!  The previous owner (my friend) added VintageAir air conditioning, which uses controls that look just like the originals, and all you really see under the hood is the chrome compressor. He also put in an audio system that looks old school (5 push buttons for preset, etc.) but is modern (streaming Spotify from my phone).”

“The 350 is not the original engine (so no matching numbers, which would have drastically increased the value of this car). I found a casting number on it that indicates it’s from 1977-79. And the transmission was switched to a 700 R4 at some point.”

“I’ve been such a rule follower for so many years (ok, maybe not the speed limit 😉 ) that I’ve never even burned out from a stop in this car! It chirps second gear with no effort at all, but someday I need to go make some smoke just to see what she can do.”

“I’ve always liked the first gen Camaros more than any other. When I first started noticing cars as a kid, there would have only been 2 generations of Camaros. First gen were 67-69 and second gen were 70-81, however they changed the front end drastically in 74 and they never seemed as much like a classic muscle car to me after that. I ended up with the 2 70s, but my best friend bought a 67 and I always liked his more than mine.”

“Then, between the 67, 68 and 69, I guess the 67 has always appealed to me because it was the first. There are very small differences between the 67 and 68, and the 69 had a number of changes. You are probably aware that the Camaro was Chevy’s response to the Mustang’s popularity, and I’d say they did a good job!”

I don’t know what else to tell you about it except that it makes me smile to drive it! Playing some classic rock, taking in a little of that muscle car engine smell, and enjoying the thumbs up from passersby can really make my day.”

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Another good friend, Karen Hathaway, has a rare 2002 Dale Earnhardt tribute Chevy Monte Carlo. And yeah, that car is really “her.” She is a fine artist… a photographer and designer and maker of beautiful jewelry. She spent over 30 years working for the King County Tax Assessor and in property tax appeals. Her Monte Carlo is her, all the way.

Karen tells us:
“My baby is a 2002 Limited Edition Dale Earnhardt Monte Carlo. She is # 644 of 3,333 that were made. My love of cars didn’t come from home. Our family vehicle was a 1965 station wagon with fake wood paneling on the sides. But when I was 10 years old, my grandmother purchased a brand new 1969 Chevy Nova. And drove it until she was 80! When I was 13, she took my sister, Andrea, and I on a true road trip from Bellevue, WA to Disneyland, in the Nova. We stopped at every tourist attraction on the way. I was in charge of maps and navigation. I loved it! Before I ever got my license, I could recognize every make and model on the road. The muscle cars were my favorite. When I purchased my first car at the age of 18, it was a 1972 Mustang Mach 1. 351 Cleveland, 4-barrel, mag wheels, red and black…I loved my car! Next was a 1970 Mustang Fastback. Followed by a 1975 Pontiac Trans Am. Are you seeing a trend? Then I got married, we bought a house, money was tight, and we were driving a used Chevette that we purchased from Jims’s grandparents.”

“Fast forward 20 years and lucky for me, my husband, Jim, has always worked for a Chevrolet dealership. After the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt – we were watching the race and I remember searching for news about his condition following the wreck. It was unbelievable that Superman died. His widow, Teresa Earnhardt, and his team owner, Richard Childress, together with Chevrolet, designed my Monte Carlo as a tribute. Every morning, I would drop Jim at the Bellevue dealership where he was working and see the one Earnhardt Monte Carlo that had been allotted to them. And every morning I said, “There is my car.” Luckily for me, Bellevue is not a big Nascar town, and “my” car sat on the lot for 3 months. They had not been willing to sell it to Jim at an employee price. But one day after work, I arrived to pick up Jim and he said, if you want it, go sign the papers, they want to get it off the lot. I didn’t have to think twice! Drove it home that night.”

“It’s now 20 years old and I hit 44,000 miles today. I drive it like it’s a parade car. And especially when she was new, strangers (aka men) wanted to talk to me about it, and congratulate me on driving the finest piece of Earnhardt memorabilia. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that anytime I casually glance at the speedometer, the number 3 is always the last digit! I smile and give angel Dale a little shout out. I have never been stopped, but if so, I will tell the officer “Dale made me do it.”

“I have to think that my artistic side also led to being able to recognize a beautiful car at a young age.
And once I was able to drive, I learned that cars mean freedom and independence.
And speed is fun!!!”

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But Is It Really “Me?”

On the outside chance that you still suspect our love of cars and trucks, let me try to convince you with this list of autos I have owned.

!.  ’47 Chevy Coupe – my first love. Worked on this car more than any other.
2. ’50 Ford Coupe – threw a rod after 2,000 miles.
3. ”56 Chevy 4-door – fast and fun!
4. ’32 Ford Coupe – had to sell it for money for college.
5.’60 Nash Rambler – flesh colored, I hated that car, caused me endless grief, Dad bought it for me.
6. ’55 Ford 4-door – again, Dad bought it for me, good car, but tires and parts stolen in Boston.
7. ’64 Oldsmobile – burned oil and smoked badly, I dumped it in Boston after 6 months.
8. ’48 Chevy (my best friend Rick McGregor’s car, after he died) Sweet car, V8 w/a 4-speed.
9. ’63 Chevy mail truck (converted into a camper) Drove it to Nova Scotia. It died in Atlanta.
10. ’61 Volvo, called it Wiley Post… it only had one headlight. Wiley Post was a one-eyed pilot.
11. ’72 Chevelle – sweet car – Wiley Post and this Chevelle were my first Atlanta cars.
12. ’73 Chevy pickup – cool little truck, had a 6 cylinder in it with a split manifold and glasspacks… sounded so good.
13. ’80 Ford Bronco –  first one I ever bought brand new.
14. ’56 Chevy – 327 with 4 on the floor, it was a dandy.
15. ’74 Bronco – hated this ride. Everything broke and was hard to fix. I called it “Henry’s Revenge.”
16. ’90 Camry – family car
17. ’68 Toyota Land Cruiser – for years, our family’s fun fishing rig in Montana. I inherited it.
18. 2005 Camry – family car
19. ’95 Toyota Celica – my first sports-type car, I drove it ’til it died, 200,000+ miles.
20. ’72 International truck – “Iron Jack” Hauled my wood in Montana for 6 years, a real horse.
21. ’81 Ford pickup – named it “Walt” for Walter Matthau, It was old and tired but wouldn’t stop working.
22. ’59 Chevy pickup – named her “Roxanne” She was mean and fun, looked better than she drove.
23. ’07 Ford Mustang GT – love this little car! It’s me, about 40 years ago!

Cars I would have liked to own are:
’53-’57 Jag XK120s.
’57 – ’62 Corvettes, MG’s, MGB’s and Austin Healys.
’32 – ’34 Ford coupe or sedan hot rod.

This little Sedan would have definitely been “me.”

Of those cars I’ve owned, do I have a favorite? Probably number 17, the Land Cruiser. We had so damn much fun in that rig, bouncing around Montana’s mountains and meadows with my mom and dad. It smelled of fish and spilled beer, and it saw much of the most beautiful parts of Southwest Montana. I must have loved it, I wrote a short book about it.

Me, in the back of our Cruiser, in ’76, after a hard day of fishing in SW Montana.

Our Land Cruiser, with Dillon and Ruby

Betty, between my two favorite trucks in Montana

Did I wreck any of them? No. How many tickets did I get over the years? Two, both for speeding, one in Wyoming, one in Illinois. Have I been in any accidents? Yeah, five. One was a head-on with a tree, one was a roll-over, both with other guys driving. Then there was Alex Stewart, who broad-slid into an Air Force truck on a Montana highway, spinning us around and sending us off the road, into the ditch… on fire. That was a scary one.

Our family Camry got t-boned twice at a stop light just a block from our house in Atlanta. Both times we were crossing the intersection on the green light, and another car slammed into the side of us. Both said “they just didn’t see us.” Also didn’t see the red light. Life in the big city.

The weirdest experience I ever had in a car? That’s a toughie. There were two. One happened in Nebraska on I-90 during my college years. Four of us were rolling down the super slab after a fairly wild afternoon at a bar in a small town. We had a case of beer on the floor in the back seat, and four opened beers in the car. Trooper pulls us over, and we try to hide our beers. I was driving, and handed him my license, trying to appear, and sound sober. He looked at my license, then at me. “Hulse? I knew a Hulse, a Guy Hulse. Ever heard of him?”
“He’s my dad. He’s a county sheriff up in Montana, where we’re going.”
The trooper smiled, shook his head and handed my license back. “Slow it down and be careful, all right? And put that beer away. Open containers are illegal in Nebraska.”

The other strange, almost unbelievable occurrence was on highway 287 outside Ennis, Montana, when I was a college sophomore. I had just bought a ’32 Ford five-window from Charles Carter and was driving it home for the first time. About three miles out of Ennis I heard a “thump” and the coupe began wobbling ever so slightly and steering a bit funny. I slowed down, not knowing what was happening, when I see a wheel rolling down the highway in the passing lane, slowly rolling by me. I probably did a double take, not believing what I was seeing. I finally realized that was MY tire that had just passed me! The wheel slowly wobbled off the road and down into the ditch. I got the ’32 stopped, put the tire back on by borrowing several lug nuts from the other wheels. Turns out only one lug nut was holding the wheel on, and it had finally broken off at the blinding highway speed of 40 mph. I asked Carter about it later. He just smiled and said, “Really? ! I have no idea how that could have happened…”

“Crazy, I’m Crazy For Loving You…”

I love my ’07 Mustang GT. Have only had it two months now, and already we’ve had a bunch of fun with it. A 3-day road trip through the mountains has been the highlight so far, with much, much more to come. The ’05 – ’09 Mustang has the perfect styling for my taste. To me, from the ’69’s to the 2004’s, Ford was all over the place with their Mustang modifications from year to year. I remember thinking, when I saw the first ’65 Mustang, that most of it looked fairly cool, but I didn’t like the grill and the headlights… the grill was too high on the front, not cool. it was off-balance to me, somehow. My ’07 has all the body lines and look of grill and trunk that make me happy. My son Dillon asked me if my new “old” car had finally drifted back to the original body style. I assured him it had all the classic elements.

The fifth-generation Mustang’s design was previewed by two pre production concept cars that debuted at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. Development began on the S-197 program in 1999 under chief engineer Hau Thai-Tang, shortly after the 1998 launch of “New Edge” SN-95 facelift. From the second half of 1999, design work commenced under Ford design chief, J Mays, and concluded in July 2002 with the design freeze. There have been several variants of the fifth-generation Ford Mustang that include the Mustang GT/California Special, Shelby Mustang, Bullitt Mustang, and Boss 302 Mustang.

Currently the Romeo engine plant, in Romeo, Michigan, produces engines for the F-150, Mustang, Shelby GT500, Explorer, E-Series van, Crown Victoria and the Mercury Grand Marquis. The plant is well known for producing the Ford F-150 and the Mustang engines, due to the fact that both vehicles are iconic for Ford. The current engines the plant produces are the: 4.6 liter 4-valve V-8, 5.4 liter 4-valve supercharged, 4.6 liter 2 and 3-valve V-8 and 4.6 liter 2-valve flex fuel V-8 engines.

Looking back on my personal auto ownerships, I appear to be schizoid to the max! Out of the 23 I owned, I only really wanted 13 of them… the other ten were out of necessity of one sort or another. Passionate about them? Only four – Rick’s ’48 Chevy, the two ’56 Chevys and my new Mustang. For whatever reason, I really am a sports car and a hot rod guy. Truth be told, I’m not so much a hot rod guy anymore, as that suggests fast and fun, but not necessarily dependable. In my old age, “dependable” has become a premium quality in anything I leave the house in. I’ve endured enough flat tires, dead batteries, empty gas tanks, broken radiators, clogged fuel lines and fried starters to last a lifetime. Now it’s time to simply drive ‘em, have fun with em, feel good about ‘em, and, most important of all, get out there and make my personal statement with my ride! Show ‘em who I am, with what I drive, by god… or at least show them who I used to be!

Steve Hulse