Milt Abel is a stand-up comedian traveling the world, and places closer.

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Rare Old Cars

By Milt Abel | August 28, 2011

| August 28, 2011

I have never been into cars; I’ve sat in them, and I’ve snuck into drive-in theaters tucked into a trunk, but I’ve never been ‘into’ cars. Not like some people anyway.

In high school I owned a 1964 Chevy Impala 409. Listing those particulars reminds me that car hobbyists are similar to Starbucks regulars with their specified idioms:
“I’ll have a non-fat, double shot, mocha-frappe with room”
“It’s got a dual-quad, posi-traction, blown and balanced 454 … with room”
Makes you want to drive your hot rod to go get a cup of coffee, doesn’t it?

The Chevy 409 was a classic. I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew I had a fast car. I once was able to ‘lay rubber’ at 60 miles an hour, switching from second gear into third. it was a short squeal of tire against the road, but with most other cars at that time the only way you’d leave black tire marks on asphalt was to slam on your breaks -no computer controlled brake-release back then. I was months into owning that Chevy before I found out the Beach Boys had written a song specifically about the 409 engine.
“We sing songs of your car in our village.”

I ruined that car. It was a very nice sedan, that was screamingly fast; but as any seventeen year-old brought up in suburban America would, I wanted it to be even faster. “I must customize it.” At that time I was in metal shop, and auto shop, so I put the manufacturing branch of Leland High School into overdrive and built a custom exhaust system. One of the tweaks you can do to increase a car’s horsepower is to unrestrict its exhaust;  mufflers, in those days at least, slowed down a car, miniscule-ly. So I bought dual Hooker Headers (exhaust manifolds) and dual glass-pack straight-through mufflers and built custom pipes connecting the two. The new incarnation of that assembly-line beauty sounded like a earth-mover giving birth to a small car, and a painful delivery at that. It was uncomfortable to ride in the car; the extreme low register -but loud rumble, caused headaches. I sold it shortly thereafter, probably to someone hard of hearing, or soon would be.

Yesterday, my small town had its annual Cruise-in; a celebration of the American automobile by hot-rod, vintage, and custom car enthusiasts. I looked for a 409. There may have been one there, several Chevy’s from the early 60’s were present, but not everyone labeled their engines. There were probably 200 cars parked throughout downtown, with their owners perched in folding chairs nearby, ready to brag in detail about their detailing.

One car caught my wife’s eye, and then mine. It was a 1953 Ford Sunliner convertible -but very special one: it was an official pace-car of the 1953 Indianapolis 500. The date, May 30, 1953 was permanently stenciled on its rear fender, as well as the words ‘official pace car’ on the driver’s door. I felt I had seen the car somewhere before and as I started to realize where, I got goosebumps.

We live downtown, and our house was a small block away from this car. I went home and up to my son’s room where he had hanging a photo of his great-grandfather, given to him by my dad. It’s a photo of my grandfather sitting in that very car, taken at the Indianapolis Speedway on May 30th, 1953.

My grandfather was a WWII veteran who served as adjutant to Admiral Halsey, and he also worked at the Ford Motor Company. Those two credentials, and the fact that he went to the Indianapolis 500 race almost every year of his adult life, got him entry into sitting in that car and getting his photo taken. He grew up not far from the raceway, in Seymour, Indiana.

I brought the photo back to the car and began showing everyone the remarkable historical connection. Everybody was giddy, except the owner -he wasn’t there. I’m going to meet him tomorrow, he lives in town and goes for morning coffee every weekday at 6AM with ‘old-boys’ of town. I’ll bring the photo.

He’s a picture of me holding that picture, in front of that car.

Topics: humor | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Rare Old Cars”

  1. Ken Hawkins Says:
    August 29th, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Very cool car, and a great story. What are the odds?

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