Of Cars, Dreams and Fetishes

I probably couldn’t write this with a straight face or a clear conscience if I didn’t at least try to explain what cars have meant to me. Through the years the automobile has been an essential part of my happiness, my pleasure in life, my daily shot of feel good. And it’s because I have nearly always driven what my taste and my bank account dictated. I don’t think it’s just a “guy thing” either. If I drive a car or truck that I like to go to work in, I enjoy the ride and feel better. If I drive a car or truck that I like to go home in at the end of the day, I get home feeling better. Bottom line, my taste and passion for cars taught me early on that it’s the journey, not the destination. I still believe that.

While I’m at it, I need to purge myself and ease my conscience about this: I’ve been a Chevy guy for 62 years, a faithful Chevy guy. Until I sold my ’59 Chevy Apache pickup last December. Through last winter I had plenty of time to consider my next auto purchase. I looked at Chevys, of course. I drove a ’13 Camaro, it didn’t feel right to me. Still, it was hard to break from Chevys.

This one got away from me last January. Would have been my first choice

But I finally got it worked out. My favorite Chevys were always the ’55 through ’57s. The designer, Harley Earl of GM, was my hero, as was Enzo Ferrari. I have been faithful to them through the years, I told you that cars have always been a passion. But it occurred to me that Harley Earl’s been dead for 53 years, and Enzo Ferrari is, well, Enzo Ferrari. And everything in this life changes… everything changes. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but everything changes. As do I. The Shelby Cobras got my attention years ago, and I’ve always kept my good eye on the Shelby cars. The Camaro didn’t ring my bell, and the Mustang GT did. That simple. And with that I tip my hat to my many years of being a Chevy man, and welcome in the new Ford chapter.


For some unknown reason, I’ve spent my life trying to turn dreams into reality. I think most of us do that to one degree or another. Turning dreams into reality is great fun… challenging, enlightening, immensely rewarding. Even the failures are usually educational, eye-opening. It’s so easy, so broadening, to learn about ourselves, and about life, by challenging the existing elements in our daily lives with new ideas, new dreams. Why trying to turn dreams into a reality became such a passion for me, I’ll never know. Through the years I’ve had a lot of success with it, and the rewards have been tremendous. It has, for me, been the main difference between a mediocre existence and an incredible adventure that I’ll probably still be writing about when I finally croak.

“You were born to do more than work, pay bills, and die. “
Shayne Smith

Betty and I often have a laugh over our differences in cars. I like to tease her and tell her that, for Americans at least, a car holds significant insight Into one’s personality, tastes, sometimes revealing deep, dark secrets one works hard to keep hidden, only to be exposed by (gasp) our taste in vehicles. There have beens studies, right? She always laughs and says, “In that case, I must be a very boring person. I happen to like white cars that are dependable.”
She never gets away that easily. “I’m sure there are car psychologists who could find fascinating aspects of your psyche in that seemingly modest taste.”
“Hmph. My taste in automobiles indicates nothing more than a desire for dependability and safety.”
I usually respond with, “Maybe. But don’t you think my diverse taste in autos suggests an interesting, maybe fascinating personality, deep and complex?”
She usually smiles and says, “If you say so.”



My latest dream has now morphed into reality. I just bought a car. Got just the car I wanted, paid a fair price for it. Took 3 weeks to find the one that had all the bells and whistles that pleased my peculiar taste in cars. Actually, it’s more than just a taste in cars, it’s more about which cars have those particular elements that satisfy some of the weird things I’ve discovered about myself over the years. There are several, and it’s time I shared them with you, on the bet that you have a few of these yourself.

Silly Passions

I’m an American male who has always loved cars. I have, like most American males, developed a particular taste for them… for whatever reason. Some would say it’s simply a mis-guided attempt to define my persona for all the world to see. Sure, that might be true for some. I remember a guy pulling into the gas station where I worked one summer’s afternoon, in a dark blue Porsche. He had cool shades on, and was wearing driving gloves when he pulled in. I remember thinking how sophisticated he looked to me, how continental, and for a few minutes I wanted to be like him when I grew up. So I see the temptation, and the perception of how we would like others to see us. My obsession for certain cars,, however, does not translate to any self image. If anything, it translates to my particular set of fetishes, it translates to my lifelong experiences with them, ( I’ve owned 22 ) and it translates to a great way of simply having fun!

I would guess that woodworkers love the smell of wood. I do too, but have always been content to hang around other’s workshops and smell their wood, rather than become a woodworker myself. Pleasing as that smell has always been, I couldn’t force any woodworking skills out of myself in order to indulge that delicious smell on a daily basis. It just wasn’t gonna happen.

The fabulous ’57 Jaguar XK120


From the time I was 11 or 12, however, I’ve been interested in cars – their design, the way they smell inside, their instrument panels, their sound, their power. My little town in Montana held a sports car rally every summer for years, and I took pictures of all the Jag XKEs, the Austin Healeys, the MGs. They were small and stylish, I thought. They all had a lot of gauges on their dashboards, all had leather seats, all were very different from the American cars of the time. They all had 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder engines, and I loved their sound. When I got my first car, a ’47 Chevy coupe, at 16, I reworked the exhaust system on the little 6 three times, trying to make it sound more like a Jaguar. I finally ended up with a split manifold running straight pipes, no mufflers, and got several tickets for my efforts.

One doesn’t have to be a musician to be particular about how one’s car or truck sounds. But it helps. When the ’55 Cheys came out, I loved them. Their new sleek look, everything. Plus, they had V8 engines, and sounded completely different and better than the old sixes. During my life I owned two ’56 Chevys, both of them with 4 on the floor, sounding great. The sound of a V8 engine with a semi-open exhaust has always been a pleasing sound to me, and often I spent good money modifying the sound of my cars and trucks. I know my mom thought I was a little nuts. But quiet cars were no fun. Still aren’t.

Jag XK 120 dash

Then there is the problem with gauges and lights. I quickly learned, as a youngster, to distinguish between a cool-looking dash on a car, and developed a serious taste for what looked right, and what didn’t. The ’49 – ’51 Ford dashes were very cool… a big round speedometer that lit up a deep green after dark. They had V8 engines that sounded pretty good, too, but they were still flatheads back then.

When I was 15 I took my first small plane ride in a twin. Holy cow, the gauges. I was mesmerized by the different gauges and their functions for the whole trip. From that day one, I’ve always been more interested in what the gauges are telling me than where I’m actually going. Ah, those little wiggly needles that tell us the momentary state of whatever it is they are monitoring. Love those wiggly little needles!


Steve, Pete and Joe at the console in Doppler Studio E

Lights and Buttons

It had to happen. My love of music and my pursuit of it led me to a recording studio. What I found there was fairly mind-blowing, at least to me. Good recording studios have these large audio consoles, called “boards,” usually with a ton of buttons, gauges and lights.of all kinds. The board functions as a complex router of the sound from any and all the microphones being used to record sound. Boards have tons of buttons, lights and wiggly needles galore! Pair all that with recording my first love, music, and kaboom! A little slice of Valhalla!

Turns out cars have the same elements that studio sound boards have… all the elements my fetishes desire! Cars have buttons, lights, little needles and great sound! What’s not to love?

The Search


Anyway, back to the car. Turns out I was trying to “settle” for a small, fun car with a back seat for our little dog. I had a budget and it had led me into mostly Japanese cars from 2005 – 2012. They were okay, but I couldn’t get excited about any of them. I test-drove a Subaru BRZ and a Honda Accord coupe, no instant bonding with either. In semi-desperation I began looking at used Mustangs online. Little hints of like and excitement began to sprout as I kept seeing things I liked, things I could relate to. The style of the ’05-’09 Mustangs looked cool, the interiors were nice, and the dash boards were just right! What got me was the speedometer and tach… they were retro styled, looking like the speedometer designs of the ’49-’51 Fords, which I had always loved. See, in high school, there was a gang of 5 or 6 of us that used to hang out together, play sports together, double date and drink beer together. Two of them, Tom Erdie and Laurel McAtee, had those old Fords. When we made those night runs to Norris for beer, it was usually in one of their Fords. I can’t tell you how many nights I sat in the middle of the front seat, watching the deep green speedometer with the little red needle. And now, to see the same one on the ’07 Mustangs… the nostalgia alone pulled me right in!

’51 Ford speedometer

 

2007 Ford Speedometer. See the resemblance? The numbers!

The Trigger… Pull The Trigger!

Nothing to do but find one with all the stuff I wanted, which I did, two days later. A test drive proved what I had thought… that the car had everything I was looking for. A strange grouping of wants, perhaps, but I wanted a stick shift, a V8 engine with a throaty purr that was pure heaven, plenty of gauges, a CD player and a back seat for the pup. This ’07 had it all, and was great fun to drive! I was hooked… so I bought it!


The last 8 years had blown by in a wink. Time to jump on that Mustang and ride! I know, I know… a classic example of a old duck trying to recapture his youth. Well, that’s probably true. Some of us old guys were never able (for one reason or another) to have the car or toy we wanted as a younger man. That came from doing the right thing often enough that we didn’t indulge ourselves when we might have wanted to. Now, we’re finally able to afford it, and are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. What’s the harm? It’s like finally getting to satisfy a 40-year-old itch.


First Impression


I love my “new” car! I haven’t put a hundred miles on it yet, and already I’ve had some hair brain in a Dodge Charger want to race me. So far it’s a little hard to drive in town, as the throttle is touchy. I don’t have a good feel for it yet, but that will come. Out on the road, it’s terrific. After about 5 minutes I start grinning… it’s so much fun! Rolling down the highway in 5th or 4th, the V8 just purrs… it’s like music to me. I can turn off the radio and just listen to it. It’s easily the best car, the most fun car, I’ve ever owned. Yes, I’m old. Yes, I. Just bought a toy I’ve always wanted. And yes, I look like yet another case of a second or third childhood, a foolish old person trying to reclaim his youth. Guilty. Guilty as charged. Happily, happily guilty!

 

For you gearheads, the engine in the Mustang is a 4.6 Liter V8 with a 3-valve single OHC. I’ve always understood engine sizes in cubic inches, with my previous favorite engine, the Chevy small block, being a 283. The power of the.Mustang suggested a much larger engine than a 283, yet I’ve found out that the 4.6L Ford is actually 280.8 cu. in. Surprised? Totally, until I read the design changes in the engine along with the why’s and how’s of making the engine versatile enough for several different kinds and sizes of vehicles. There are plenty of things one can do to juice this engine, but it already has enough for me.


It’s A “She”


It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, it makes me feel much cooler and younger than I am, and… it’s a “she!” That’s right! Here’s part of it: “Ships are referred to as ‘she’ because men love them” or “like a woman, a ship is unpredictable”, tradition used to say. Also,

“It takes an experienced man to handle her correctly and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable,”

Or,

“Love her, take good care of her, and she shall take good care of you,”


I’ve added  those quotes from the internet purely for humorous effect. I am not chauvinistic, nor am I biased or warped toward women in any way. But neither am I willing to turn my back on tradition. Remember Kathryn Hepburn, in “The Philadelphia Story” where she was reminiscing about their sailboat, the True Love. “”My, she certainly was ‘yar.’” Kathryn grinned.


What’s “Yar?” An old British English word. “Yar goes beyond how something looks. It implies something that is well thought out and efficient, too. AKA, done the agreed-upon, ‘best’ way.” When asked what “yar” was, Kathryn responded, “Oh, easy to handle, quick to the helm. Fast, bright… everything a boat should be.” (See Kathryn live -)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HBUgdY9UNw

In my somewhat-convoluted way of thinking, if something is “yar,” and my Mustang certainly is, then it is obviously also feminine. There you have it… my Mustang is a “She.” Besides, kathryn said… “She’s yar.” See? Kathryn said it, and that’s good enough for me.


Music And A mythical Woman


It had to be. I have already named her for a mythical woman who was made semi-famous in the ’60’s TV show “Get Smart.” She was made even more semi-famous by a song one of my favorite bands, Toto, recorded in ’79, called “99.” See them and hear “99” here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhw-XlTMB5I

Why 99? Easy. While we were sitting in the car dealership, waiting for the paperwork to get finished, “99” by Toto played on the overhead. I had to smile, I’ve always loved that song. I sat there thinking, “99. Hmm. Beautiful, mythical woman, Maxwell Smart’s secret agent sidekick. If I’m like Maxwell Smart, (and I am) and the Mustang is a beautiful lady and my sidekick, (which she is) then she must be ’99!’”

Lost yet? Good. Here’s the explanation. “Some say that someone in the band had been dating Barbara Feldon – Agent 99 on Get Smart – and it was written about her. That turned out to be not true. David Paich actually wrote the song as a tribute to George Lucas’ first film, THX-1138. This film takes place many centuries in the future where people live in a totalitarian state and are referred to by a number. Thus it’s a fantasy love song to an imagined someone in that world with the number 99.”

Whole bunch of fantasy going on there, right? And who am I to poo-poo it? I love most fantasy, so it was a natural to pull my new ride into the fantasy world. Barbara Feldon was a beautiful woman. Besides being a tv actor, she was also a model… a perfect 99, I thought. The lyrics to the Toto song explain it further. Sort of. Written by David Paich.


99
I’ve been waiting so long
Oh, 99
Where did we go wrong?
Oh, 99
I love you
99
I keep breaking your heart
Oh, 99
How can we be apart
Oh, 99
I love you
I never thought it would happen
I feel quite the same
I don’t want to hurt you anymore
I never knew it would work out
No one to blame
You know I love you, 99
99
You keep holding my hand
Oh, 99
They don’t know who I am
Oh, 99
I love you


Cool song, cool myth, cool car… perfect. You know I love you, 99!

Steve Hulse