I saw my first 2010 Camaro in the parking lot at work the other day. I felt that familiar twinge of excitement I used to get as a kid over each year’s crop of new cars. I was young long enough ago that cars were still facelifted every year, and you could easily tell the 1971 model from the 1972 model. I used to spend pleasant hours sitting on the front stoop of our home on Rabbit Hill watching the cars go by on the busy road at the end of our street. I called out the Impalas and the Galaxies and the Furys and the Mustangs and the Beetles. When I didn’t know what a car was, I kept a mental picture of it until I saw another one up close and could ask. Before long, I became able to name pretty much any car on the road and even tell you what year it was made, plus or minus one model year.
Today, automakers hardly change their cars at all from year to year. Bleh.
I’m old enough now that I can sing along with most of the songs on an oldies radio station. When I was a kid, oldies were songs from before I was born, but now they’re songs from my childhood. Listening to Oldies 101.9 as I drove to work one morning a few weeks ago, I “named that baby” — they played a snippet of someone singing “baby” in a song, I recognized the song immediately (an old Chicago tune), and was first to call with the answer. I won passes to the Mecum Spring Classic, a big muscle car auction. It’s an annual event that has somehow escaped my old-car-loving notice.
So I went. And it was incredible. It was overwhelming. The auction was held it at the state fairgrounds, and it filled six or seven buildings, including the Pepsi Coliseum, with cars. My passes were good for all four days of the auction, but I had only four hours to spare for it. I could have gone for four hours each of the four days and lingered over every glorious hunk of old iron. Now, I love to see a classic Camaro or Mustang on the street. If my camera’s with me, I’ll even stop to take photos. But at the auction, there were so many Camaros and Mustangs that they became dime-a-dozen, and I quit looking at them! I realized that if I was going to get through it all in the short time I had, I would have to focus on the unusual.
It was easy enough to do. They had cars there I had only ever heard of, like a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T with the 440 Six Pack, a humongous engine with six carburetors. It is a storied engine, the stuff of hushed, reverent awe among Mopar lovers. It made the Challenger extremely potent. A review of the day said, “The explosion comes when you stuff your foot down on the gas pedal, either on purpose or accidentally. The car squirts forward like an unleashed dragster.” I saw one for the first time at this auction, and it even came with the shaker scoop atop the carbs and the hole in the hood necessary to accommodate it.
Although the 1957 Buick Century predated the muscle-car era, one had been sold at the auction and sat outside awaiting its new owner. I had only ever seen the ’57 Century in photographs. It is every bit as beautiful as those photos suggested, with its big, round wheel wells, chrome side spear with its checkmark-like dip, and four-section rear window. Buick stuffed their big eight-cylinder engine into their lightest platform, and the result was a car that could cruise comfortably at 100 mph.
Even though I quit looking at Mustangs early on, and the 1967 Shelby GT 500 was based on the Mustang, the Shelby is special. It’s another car I’d only ever seen in photographs. This gorgeous example had just been pulled out to make its way to the auction floor, so I was able to get a good, close look at it. With a 428-cubic-inch big-block V8, it hauled serious butt. These are seriously collectible cars – this one sold for $175,000.
My favorite car of the day sold for a mere $40,000. This 1967 Impala SS has a 427-cubic-inch big-block V8 under its hood. I think that the 1967 and 1968 Chevy Impala fastback coupes are among the most beautiful cars ever made. I love its graceful greenhouse and the line where the rear fenders bulge. I also have a childhood connection to these cars, as my mother’s best friend owned a ’68 Impala hardtop sedan in midnight blue. I loved riding in that car. It was gigantic, but it cruised so easily and comfortably.
I would love to own a ’67 or ’68 Impala someday. I once came across a partially restored ’68 coupe in this color that was for sale, but before I could scrape together the $5,000 the owner was asking, he wrapped it around a tree. I almost cried.
Like classic cars? Ok, so my 1975 Ford Pinto may not have been a true classic, but at least I have a story to tell about her.