My Cars
By Steve Laifman
VIN: B9472289
March 27, 2000

The Terrible Teens:

Having a car, in California, is life, itself, to the teenager. This is not unique to Los Angeles, but for lack of adequate public transport. Getting a Drivers License was like getting a passport to heaven. ‘Driver’s Ed’ got it to you 6-8 months earlier. Getting the O.M. to let you take the family car was another battle. But these are things every teen goes through. Performance cars were not a significant requirement, wheels were. As I recall it, my father bought one of the last ‘41 Pontiac Chieftains sold to the public before GM switched to tanks. After the war it was almost impossible to get a new car. Now again, this is California. No one can get by without a car, including the wife. So my mother had the new big 1949 family sedan, and Dad the Pontiac commute car. I was driving this flathead 8 with sloppy 3 spd. column shift when I was allowed. On a rain-slicked Hollywood street, one Saturday night while prowling for Girls!, the car ahead of me died at the light. He turned off his headlights to try to start the car, just as I was coming up to the green light. A rear-ender was inevitable, and the demise of the Pontiac the same.

Well, my father needed another car now, and there I was, anxious for him to get one I just might be successful with in picking up girls (is this a common, unfulfilled goal of teens - you bet, at least then). I searched the papers looking for a likely replacement ‘for my Dad’, when I found it! A bright red 1949 Olds 88 convertible, with the new Kettering 303 CID overhead valve V-8 based on the Cadillac design - in a Chevy sized body. I don't know how, but I talked him into it. Remember, he was a young sport himself, and maybe a little wistful for that V-16. In 1949, Wilbur Shaw drove one of these as the Indianapolis Pace Car. What a drag wagon for the Stop Light Drag Strip (nobody knew what a “Grand Prix” was, except maybe something ‘dirty’.) The car had four wheel coil springs. Instead of winding up the rear leaf springs, as we are all too familiar with, and having the rear end hunker down like a proper car, this sleeper would rise up and forward - thrusting for flight and dominance. With a genuine (measured on chassis dyno) 135 rear wheel horsepower delivered this baby was a killer. Having a 4 speed Hydramatic (Olds was first to use this transmission, in 1938) you couldn't rev-it up at the stop light, and ‘pop’ the clutch for some soul-satisying rubber burning. Or could you? I found out that the “pro's”, remember an automatic transmission was still rare then, revved up the engine in neutral and dumped it into “Lo” at the green. Very satisfying.

Until one Saturday Night (always a capital event), I was on Beverly Boulevard approaching what was later to become CBS TV City. Back then it was Gilmore Stadium, home to a football team - and Midget Racing. Great sport, with pre-Indy driver's throwing the dirt into the stands. A lowered ‘39 Ford Coupe, with hood sides off to reveal shiny stuff inside, was next to me at the light, blipping his dual exhausts and giving me “the look”, with “the sneer”. This challenge is enough to bring out the racer in the strongest of men. H-ll, I’d race for anything. Eyes on the signal, car in neutral, the revs were climbing. “I'm gonna have you, buddy” was in my mind. The light changed, the gear selector snicked into “Lo”, the car lurched forward about 1 foot, I heard a “clunk” and went nowhere. The engine revved, but we didn't move in any gear. Very embarrassing. Towed to the dealer's lot, ignominiously, explaining to my Father that I had no idea why the car just suddenly stopped, or why we had this long tube on the tow truck with the car. The dealer said he had never seen a drive shaft that had snapped both U-Joints, simultaneously. “Beats me”, said I, “must be a factory defect!”. Does the word “grounded” strike a bell?

The biggest day in any teens life is when he gets his own car. No more begging and pleading. Cool to drive to school. Freedom, at last. I felt like the genie released form his bottle. Found an ad for a very used ‘41 Ford convertible, owned by a WW II bomber pilot who had rewired all the electrics to a panel where the sun visor used to reside (I know the drawing is a ‘48, but that's all I have). Two summers of working for Pep Boys had made me wealthy. A $300 car, a $19.95 Earl Schieb Metallic Green paint job, right over the wrinkles in the panels, Brillo on the cracked whitewalls, the “Boys” shoe-polish white top dressing, $20 seat covers, and a crank case fume breather tube (chrome), and bright red manifold vacuum wolf whistle and “Necker’s Knob, and I was ready to conquer the world. Still couldn't pick up the girls, though. Always seemed to go with the sailors. {When I was in college, I went by our favorite hunting grounds, Hollywood Roller Bowl Skate Rink, and saw the pimply faced young girls with no shapes. Can't figure out what we saw in them, then. Hormones, I guess.} It was a great feeling, the freedom, the wind in your hair, the rain through the holes in the top. Drove the guy with the other ‘41 metallic green convertible with the perfect body and Carson Top red in the face to see ‘another’ one. {8-)

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