Chrome is Where the Heart Is

One of the things that my dad and an older brother often did in their spare time was to take an ordinary car or truck, strip it down to its nuts and bolts, pistons and bearings, gaskets and gears – and then rebuild the entire vehicle from the tires to the headliner, turning it into a faster, more powerful, shinier, louder, way more impressive piece of rolling stock than it had been in its former life.

Whether it was Dad’s ‘48 Jeep 4×4 Willys wagon with a small block Chevy powerplant and completely custom interior (including a hand-fabricated cockpit-like dashboard and overhead console) or my brother’s mid-60s era Chevy Chevelle SS with extra wide street racing tires, a Hurst shifter and Holly 4-barrel carb, our house near Two-Strike Park was the birthplace of these and many other impressive rides as I was growing up.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about the vehicles of my youth this past Saturday when – in honor of my father-in-law Bud Falkenstien’s birthday (who fittingly is a retired mechanic) – we attended the weekly gathering of the Early Rodders car club at the United Artist theaters on Verdugo under the 2 Freeway interchange with the 210.

The Early Rodders have been meeting on Saturday mornings at 7 o’clock since 2001. Although many of the cars on display any given weekend are painstakingly restored muscle cars from Detroit’s golden years (think ’56 Chevy Nomads or Corvette Sting Rays) or much older classics (a 1951 “Henry J” looking like a Studebaker on steroids had me daydreaming of quarter-mile qualifying runs), anyone with a passion for cars is invited to bring their ride and show it off.

This past Saturday I was surprised (pleasantly) to see a couple of 70s-era Nissan (known as Datsun back then) Z-cars like one I used to collect speeding tickets with way back during my misspent youth.

There were also several of the more exotic sports cars present last weekend – including a suh-weet Ferrari GTB, a rare mid-engine Ford GT40, a vintage Rolls Royce, a totally bad and rad Shelby Cobra and even a gorgeous, British-built, open-cockpit Morgan.

Stroll around the UA parking lot on a Saturday morning and you’ll see small groups of men (this is a decidedly “guy” thing – including my wife, I counted a total of three ladies in attendance last Saturday) with their heads under the upraised car hoods, inhaling the heady fragrance of hot motor bath and 10-40 weight oil and talking exhaustively (sorry) about cubic inches, torque-foot pounds and gear ratios. Walking and gawking, hearing brief snatches of conversation about 4:11 gears in a Dana 60 rear end or singing the praises of a 289 Ford V8 vs. an Olds 455 or Chevy 396, it occurred to me that – whether it’s sports cars or sports heroes – we guys always seem to share our passions by the numbers. If you’re into more typical sports (which, for whatever reason, I have never been), you can recite runs scored or single season passing yards, field goals attempted or rebounds per game as easily as your own home address. On the asphalt at an Early Rodders event, however, the talk is mostly about horsepower and model years. But nonetheless, it’s all about the numbers.

It seems to me that the popularity of this sort of gathering is growing, even if only on a subconscious level. For example, the Men’s Ministries team at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena has had such success with our annual summer “Classic Car Nights,” we’re sponsoring six such events over the next three months alone.

To which I say, enjoy the phenomenon while it lasts. I mean, seriously. Can you even imagine attending a weekend gathering of gearheads a decade or two from now and drooling over a souped up, “classic” Prius? (“Dude, don’t you just love the smell of rechargeable batteries in the morning?!?”)

Yeah, neither can I.

I’ll see you ‘round town.

© 2011 WordChaser, Inc.
Jim Chase is an award-
winning advertising copywriter and native of Southern California. Readers are invited to “friend” his My Thoughts Exactly page on Facebook.
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