Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s third column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.
See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
Cars and More Cars
By Steve Canipe
When I was in my early teens, probably like most teenagers, I dreamed of having my own mode of transportation. I’m not talking about a bicycle but something with a motor and headlights!! There was something about the freedom that a vehicle would give me. Maybe the readers had a similar urge to be in control and not to have to ride in the back seat or the “shotgun position” with parents or older siblings.
Beginning in the early 1960s there was a move underway to urge young people to get in a car and get away. There was a television show, called Route 66, that encapsulated that desire for both wanderlust and freedom. In the case of this show there were two young men (Tod and Buzz) who drove a Chevrolet Corvette and wandered and worked their way through weekly adventures. These guys were friends and stopped and worked here and there and not always around Route 66 – “The Mother Road.” Actually very few of the adventures occurred on Route 66…but the title and the idea of a road through the great American middle section to Los Angeles had a strong appeal to boys from a small Southern town such as I was in during 1960. My best friend and I even contemplated doing exactly what the characters were doing –taking off after high school and seeing the country…something crazy enough for a 14 year old to consider!! The show actually ended during my senior year in high school (1964).
When I turned 16, I never forgot the desire to have my own car instead of driving, on occasion, my parents huge Pontiac Bonneville — definitely a land tank!! Having saved some money from working, I was able to convince my dad to go car shopping. My dream car was available at a local used car dealer — a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette!! It was red and white but otherwise looked very similar to the one from the television show. It was even sort of within the price range that I thought I could afford.
Unfortunately my dad was more sensible, although at the time I did not think so. He was not impressed with the fiberglass body and called it a plastic car. So the chance to actually drive my dream was smashed. We did continue to look and we found a used 1955 Chevy Bel Aire. Not as sexy as the ‘Vette but it did speak of freedom for a 16 year old!! I guess now, looking back from my current perspective, it was a wise choice, but I did not agree at the time.
The car was not my dream car by any stretch but because of needing to learn some mechanics to keep it running, I became more adept at dealing with car repair issues; including at one point even needing to replace the engine. However, having the freedom of movement was great. I was able to get myself to and from basketball and track practices; attend school events and club meetings; able to go out on the weekends with my friends; but it also meant that I was also asked to run errands to be of use to my parents. While this last was sometimes aggravating it was a small price for freedom.
Gasoline prices were low compared to now — about $0.25/gallon; but if you look at the inflation this equates to today’s prices of $1.93. This is based on the government inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.
When it came time for college, I was fortunate to win some scholarships, which meant that money set aside for study could be used for more important things like cars!! I was able to convince my dad in 1966 that I wanted to get one of those new-fangled Ford Mustangs. They had hit the market in mid-1964 and were huge hits and wonderful little sports cars. Based on the success of the Mustang, Chevrolet and Plymouth came out with their own versions – Camaro and Barracuda. It was not long until they were joined by other pony cars, as they came to be known, like the Pontiac Firebird, AMC Javelin, Dodge Challenger, Mercury Cougar. Then a larger size version of cars called muscle cars like the Olds 442, Chevy Chevelle, Plymouth Challenger, Pontiac GTO, Dodge Charger, Ford Torino, and others.
My 1966 Mustang was beautiful — it was a pale yellow with a black vinyl top and black interior. It was a stick shift on the floor with bucket seats. I loved it!! Many of my friends had other cars that were fast including one of my best friends at App State University. He had a 1966 Chevy II with a huge engine that would have flown had it had wings!! I remember one time driving down Blowing Rock Road (back when it was two lanes, he wanted to pass another car — we were going about 50 already — but he down shifted to 3rd gear and accelerated to over 80 in no time. Obviously illegal and dangerous but the feeling of being driven back into the seat was something that I did not feel again until I was taking off in a jet!!
I guess the old saying that God looks after fools and young people was in operation in my case. As a young person, I never thought of dying at those speeds but had we had a wreck death or serious injury would have probably happened. I did wise up a bit and took my driving fast to the drag strip. At least I was not going to hurt someone else there!!
Each of us in the Boomer Generation probably has a story to tell of our cars. There was an understood rule that while we could complain and moan about our cars, no one else had better do that…just not acceptable. When I think of my coming of age years, there are a lot of my activities, which revolve around cars — fun times, dating, traveling, in general freedom!! I still love cars but do not drive anywhere as fast as I did when I was in my teens, 20s, and 30s….but they still provide freedom of movement. As I get older this freedom may be as, if not more, important that that I felt at 16!!
I’m interested in hearing about your car freedom adventures. Share with me at [email protected] and I will post some of them in a subsequent column.