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1959 Pontiac Bonneville - Front Man

Long Live the Musclecar

The Wheels Of Time
I just recently digested the book Muscle Car Confidential, which glorifies the exploits of Joe Oldham, a test driver from the '60s. In the book, the guy wails on some pretty cool cars that are stupid-expensive now. Back then he could call a PR rep from any of the manufacturers and score a beefed musclecar with a set of slicks in the trunk, go street racing in the New York area, and write about it in Hi-Performance Cars magazine. He speaks of the evolution of his character that eventually led him to dropping out of college, getting a job driving for a flower shop, and street racing in his clapped-out '59 Bonneville so he could gain street cred at shifty hangouts like Pizza City and the Big Bow Wow. Like all delivery driver/street racers I've ever met, Joe wasn't exactly going to get a house in the hills with this lifestyle, so he picked up journalism and 40-something years later is still at it.

The old-school tell me that those were the golden-era years and things will never be the same. The new-school tell me that now is the greatest time to be a car guy and the old days are seen through the eyes of nostalgia. I say that nothing much has changed. If you are a car guy, you are going to do the same things no matter what decade. The hardware is just going to look a little different.

All of this settled on me at the end of the front straight at a racetrack near L.A. called the Horse Thief Mile. I was trying to see if I could get a GM-owned test car I was driving to hit 14 pounds of boost before the rev limiter denied me a full-throttle shot at the braking cone. Did the car have racing tires? Sure! Did it have a race-prepped interior and a 'cage? Yes. Did anyone care that I bounced the thing off the rev limiter and bang-shifted it after winding the tach needle like a second hand? No.

I am a car guy, and same as with you, throttle abuse and speed shifting come naturally, so this kind of behavior is expected if not encouraged by the guys at GM. The big difference between now and the musclecar era is that factories don't want this kind of play out on the street. I actually agree. Track time is felony-free.

My life, and likely yours, is eerily similar to the lives of the original car guys, and likely the same as that of some chariot racer who wrecked his two-wheeler back in 500 B.C. Car guys just keep popping up and will until the end of time. Take my nephew, for instance-his parents (sorry, guys) can't even change a tire, but their son can identify makes and models of cars with just a glimpse and even has a few favorites set aside for future investment. Even though he is only 7 years old, he's already a car guy. In him is hand-eye coordination for handling that next apex, street racing, burnouts, and future credit card debt. By the time he's old enough to drive, I don't know what he'll be driving but I do know how he'll be driving it-same as every other car guy in the history of the world. We might as well embrace it 'cause nothing's gonna change.

CarCraft@primedia.com
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