Tracy K. Lorenz ...



I was picking my kid up from school and I noticed the cars in the parking lot. There were some nice cars, BMWs, Cadillacs, a couple Volvos, and a smattering of Hondas but there wasn’t one “cool” car. When I was in school the Catholic Central parking lot looked like a Berrit Jackson auction.

There were Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, Cutlass 442s, Monte Carlos, and Chevy Novas, even the “big” cars that kids drove, like Buick Rivieras and Pontiac Grand Prixs were cool. They were yachts but they looked and rode like a cream puff sitting on a cloud.

On the downside these cars had ZERO safety features, there were 400 horses propelling two tons of metal towards eternity.  We didn’t have airbags, we puffed out our cheeks.

But it’s not the kid’s fault they aren’t driving cool cars, there aren’t any cool cars to drive. I can’t name one car out today that’ll be a classic in forty years. Even the new Camaros and Chargers are lame. Mechanically they’re a bazillion times better than our cars but they have no personality.

Here’s the problem: when you buy a car today some engineer in Detroit has already made it complete. In my day when you bought a car it was like the ante in a poker game: it was a starting point, how you played the hand after that was up to you.

Usually you’d start out with tires, rule one was the back tires had to be wider than the front tires. You better have at least 60s on the back and 70s on the front. (Kids today would have no CLUE what that means, but in the wonderful world of tires the numbers are counterintuitive, the smaller the number the more meat you had on the ground.)

Next you had to make sure the back end was higher than the front end so you looked like you were going downhill. I had a Camaro with air shocks that I could adjust with an air pump. I might drive it at one height during the day, but when I hit the beach at night that back bumper was a foot higher than the front bumper. It rode like a cinderblock but it looked cool. Luckily I had a lap belt to keep me from falling into the dashboard.

Then there was the stereo. They didn’t have to be the bass-thumping seizure mobiles like some members of society with Mommy issues drive today, but the sound had to be clean and pure and you had to install the stereo, amplifier, and speakers yourself. I don’t know how much time I spent installing stereos in my and my friends’ cars but it was more than a little. 

Last came the paint job, nothing crazy (unless you had a panel van with some Molly Hatchet murder scene on the side), just a couple big stripes and you were cool.  And those stripes better be under about a quarter inch of wax. My Camaro looked like it was encased in plexiglass thicker than the window at a Detroit gas station. If you dropped a rag on the hood by the windshield it would slide off down by the front bumper. Quickly.

The big thing was no two cars looked the same. When you drove the beach at night there were 200 cars and they were all different yet identifiable. When you saw the red Torino with the white stripe you knew it was Curt Shields, the orange Mach I with the black stripes was Frank Lewendoski, and so on. 

Oh, and our cars sounded cool, not like these little Japanese wheezers that sound like they have a baseball card in the spokes.

I guess every generation has something that sets the social pecking order, I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when that “something” was Detroit muscle (and /or Glen Fountaine’s black Pinto).  The amazing part is the amount we paid for these cars was about what kids pay for a new cell phone now. You could legitimately pick up a semi-hot car for about a grand which was cool ‘cause for most of us, that’s all we could a ... ford.

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