Saturday Single No. 132

Originally posted May 16, 2009

For a time in the mid- to late 1960s, I – like many American boys – was fascinated by hot cars.

When I was thirteen or so, I got an Aurora table-top racing set, expanded with bridges and spirals and criss-crosses and more. My cars were a Ferrari, a Jaguar, a Maserati, a couple of Ford GTs, a Mercury Cougar, a Thunderbird and, for some odd reason, a dune buggy, which – even more oddly – I called “Hot Tuna.”

I drew awkward designs for cars (always in profile as my ability to draw in perspective was even more limited than my ability to draw in profile). I looked occasionally at the automotive magazines that made their way through the guys’ ranks at South Junior High. (They left me generally unsatisfied with their talk of torque and other – to me – arcane mechanical things; I was interested in design.) And I built some model cars: I recall a 1940s vintage Ford, a 1932 Chevrolet and a 1964 Thunderbird, on which I daubed royal blue paint so inexpertly that it looked like an experiment gone awry.

I never drove a cool car. My earliest vehicle was a 1961 Ford Falcon, followed by a 1967 Falcon wagon and then a 1973 Plymouth Duster, long after the Duster model had lost any cachet it might ever have had. Since then, the line of cars parked in my driveways has included Toyotas, Chevettes, a Mazda, an Oldsmobile and, now, a Nissan. Not one of them was ever a car that would have made the guys in junior high go “oooh” as I drove by.

I did have a short-term brush with sharp cars, though: For a couple of years as she finished high school and began college, my sister dated a fellow who raced stock cars at the local track. I went along a couple of times, so on those and a few other occasions, I got to ride in his cars, which included a Chevy Malibu and a Dodge Charger. None of the kids from school ever saw that, though, which diminished the joy slightly.

And when my sister entered her final quarter of college and moved from her 1961 Falcon to a 1968 Mustang, I bought the Falcon. It rattled a lot, it wasn’t fast and it didn’t look cool. But it got me where I needed to go, which was a far more important consideration. Anyway, although I still enjoyed the look of a nicely designed car, my interest in things automotive had waned.

All of this came to mind this week as I watched the U.S. auto industry continue to flail about in its efforts to remain viable. The closing of thousands of dealers by Chrysler and General Motors this week was only the most recent contortion. Among the earlier moves had come the announcement that GM would be ending production and sales of the Pontiac brand.

One of the spurs to the 1960s love affair between boys and cars might have been the huge presence on the radio of songs about cars and their drivers. The most prominent creators of such songs were, of course, the Beach Boys. From “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” through “Don’t Worry Baby” and “409,” cars were one-third of the perfect trinity of pastimes on which the Beach Boys relied for their inspirations (surfing and girls being the other two). Jan and Dean had their moments, too, with “Dead Man’s Curve” and a few others.

But the song I thought of the other week, when GM announced the end of the Pontiac, and one I kept thinking about this week, was an ode to an auto model that existed for only eleven years in its original form. The G.T.O., produced by Pontiac from 1964 through 1974 (and then from 2004 through 2006 by Australia’s Holden, a GM subsidiary), was – according to Wikipedia – the first “true muscle car.”

And in 1964, Ronny and the Daytonas went to No. 4 with “G.T.O.,” today’s Saturday Single.

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