The word “birth” refers to a beginning; the creation of something that has a life of it’s own.
I have come to notice this does not always coincide with the start of our human existence. Such is the case with the phenomenon of the car guy.
Not so long ago my own 70 year old mother became grossly fed up with the transmission troubles she was having with her van. In a mixed fit of disgust and desire she traded the aforementioned people hauler for the object of her bridled dreams. A brand spanking new Chrysler PT Cruiser. Oh and not in the vein of retired persons usual frugality. No siree, touring package, chrome wheels, cd player and power sunroof all scream of mid-life crisis too long surpressed. I fully expect to have her arrive in my driveway in the not-to-distant future with her new toy sporting a raspy sounding exhaust note and power amped speaker system. (She has already added a cold air intake)
Proof positive that the passion of the car guy is an equal opportunity dream chaser, paying absolutely no heed to race, sex or age.
My next case in point has to do with car-guy movies. They’ve been around for a long time in many different forms. Most of the time us lowly peons must look on as our heroes on the big screen drive cars we only dream of with reckless abandon. Many a movie has made many a car guy get off his duckies to be able to drive what he saw in the theatre. Some time back Hollywood released a little low budget film about clandestine street racing in the urban jungle of southern California. This movie not only laid waste to it’s big dollar competitors at the box office, but stuck a high voltage wire to the adrenal glands of everyone who came under it’s spell. This movie showcased a new breed of street hot rod, not the usual ultra exotic sports car that we all drool over when the likes of James Bond saddles up. (In the driver seat that is!)
No, these were turbocharged, bottle fed, (that’s nitrous oxide injected or NOS, for the benefit of the unindoctrinated) multi-valve, screaming-for-their-lives econo-rockets that have been raised from the ashes of mediocrity. The Mustangs, Camaros and Challengers of the past I’ll bet never thought their successors would be Hondas, (don’t they do bikes?) Nissans and Mazdas.
The producers of this film were also smart enough not to focus solely on the young crowd. They widened new eyes and set middle age hearts aflutter with a well placed homage to the mighty musclecars of yore. My palms twitched with clammy sweat as a garage door on screen rolled open to reveal a glistening black, race ready, supercharged, 1970 Dodge HEMI CHARGER! I was instantly reduced to a quivering, babbling mass of 30weight Jell-O. This automotive Titan was the stuff not only of my fantasies, but also of many vivid memories of my younger days. This “elephant motored” monster was the dreaded fear of both street and dragstrip alike. For the driver who had the intestinal fortitude to pilot such a beast, he taught hard and fast lessons to those lesser machines that dared to call themselves musclecars.
On a side note, if the term “elephant motor” doesn’t sound like a worthy nickname for such a horsepower icon, allow me to paint you a quick mental picture.
Let’s say you’re standing virtually naked and unarmed on one of the many grassy plains in Africa. You are face to face with a hungry lion that is sizing you up for his next meaty snack. Scary so far? Suddenly the ground rumbles like a scale-pegging earthquake. You turn and see, preceding a massive dustcloud, an angry, stampeding herd of between 500 and 1000 galloping pachyderms bearing down on you at frightening speed! (by the way, between 500 and 1000 horsepower is a realistic for many Hemi engines, hence the number of elephants chosen for the stampede) The prospect of becoming the lions’ lunch quickly fades as you burst into maniacal laughter, not only at the lion but to yourself as well as you realize that running at your top speed in any direction is an exercise in futility. There’s even that small sense of satisfaction that your would-be attacker hasn’t got a prayer of escaping either.
Such was the situation when it came to tangling with a hemi-powered street machine.
There is no shame in losing to a racing legend, and the term legend is absolutely no exaggeration in this context. Even today, more than thirty years after its birth, every funny car and top fuel dragster in competition is powered by a hemi engine. Enough said!
Which brings me to my next point. To the car-guy, Hollywood is not only a dream maker and a best friend so to say, but in the same vein our most lethal enemy. When the aforementioned Dodge Charger was unleashed in a tire boiling, wheelstanding display of sheer power and speed, it was then promptly flipped and tumbled into so much junk. Just what the hell kind of sick, twisted pleasure do these movie guys get from turning automotive artwork into smoldering scrapmetal?! Do these guys go the art museum and knock over priceless sculptures and then set fire to them for kicks?! Please guys, give us a break with the pyro and the mayhem! Save it for the war movies for crying out loud!
However, the more subtle impact of films like this is truly amazing. After witnessing this exhibition of speed, I went to the parking lot to leave the theatre. My own car suddenly looked so ordinary, and upon exiting the parking lot I suddenly had the sensation of driving a brick. Could the scenery possibly have moved by any slower? Even more deep seated than my initial reaction was that of my son. A teenager of the driving age at the time, though the type of guy that has never expressed much interest in cars other than in passing. He conveyed to me just the other day, his intense shame at losing a video game race. It seems that his cyber-performance sports car was humbled by the video equivalent of one of these street econo-rockets. All this from a young man who has yet to experience the actual feel of serious horsepower in the seat of his pants. Well, at least while he was holding the wheel.
So it seems we have come full circle. Being a car-guy today might very well be different than it was when I was young, but that makes it no less fun. As my own mother and son have so vividly demonstrated, you’re never too old to be bitten by the bug. You’re never too young and you don’t have to have craved cars from infancy to get on board. One thing however is for certain, be it a little or a lot, car or motorcycle, vintage or new and everything in between, our ongoing love affair with our various mechanical marvels never seems to cease. It just gives birth to the next generation of the car-guy.