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Thursday, March 29, 2012

WHERE IS JAMES DEAN WHEN WE NEED HIM?

James Dean's ultra cool 1949 Mercury used in his film "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955).  Dean was a great influence to teenagers of his era; especially in their love for cars.



If you grew up in the 40s, 50s, 60s or even later, you can probably remember the love affair between kids and cars.  In small town America, kids would “drag Main” on a Friday night after a football game with their AM radios blasting in hopes of meeting some babes at the local Dog and Suds.  In cities like Phoenix it was a similar existence only on a bigger scale as Central was the street to cruise and KRIZ was the station to blare the current hit tunes.

I wonder how many gallons of Aqua Velva and Hai Karate the kids poured on themselves in those days to match their slicked down Wildroot Cream Oil soaked hair.  Their cars were the coolest too.  I remember the competition between the Chevy and Ford owners.  It didn’t matter which car you had, it better have a set of “duals” with “glass pack” mufflers and be able to “get rubber in second.”

A lot of guys from that era were good mechanics and did all the work on their “heaps” themselves.  I was no expert but I always changed my own oil and oil filters and spark plugs.  You could get Pennzoil for 25 cents a quart and a filter for about $1.50 at K-Mart.  Then, you would park your car over a curb and slide under to drain the oil.  For about $2.75, you had an oil and filter change.  Today, the same job is about $35 at a dealer.

Those were fun days.  Cars were a lot simpler and any kid with a mechanical aptitude could easily work on his own car.  The front seat was a bench so three could easily ride there.  Even more important, when you took your girlfriend out (hopefully to the drive-in theater!), she could sit right next to you.  I had a stick shift Chevy and I would drive with my right arm around her while she shifted gears.  

Those days are apparently gone as I read recently from two different reports that kids don’t really care about cars anymore.   Veteran sportswriter Frank Deford reports that NASCAR has been in trouble because “those old, white guys, who were the bread-and-butter NASCAR constituency, were not being replicated by their sons and grandsons. Frankly, the younger generations don’t care to mess around with cars.”  The love affair with the car is apparently over.

The New York Times reports that “Today, Facebook, Twitter and text messaging allow teenagers and 20-somethings to connect without wheels. High gas prices and environmental concerns don’t help matters.”  They think of a car as “a giant bummer.”

Maybe they should start thinking of what a giant bummer it will be when they realize they can’t spell or write correctly with their dependence on Smartphones, texting, and the other nonsense today that is considered by many to be progress.

As for me, I prefer to remember hanging with my buddies in our heaps with the radio blasting Elvis, The Drifters, or Dion and enjoying our 4/70 air conditioning.




Am I dreaming or is that a room full of 1955, '56, and '57 Chevy convertibles in mint condition?  Some billionaire owns them and a couple more garages full of similar cars.

26 comments:

Proud said...

Jim on Fri/Sat nights, I remember cruising Central, stopping at Bob's,(the drive in / car hop part) then cruising over to the library parking lot where everyone popped their hoods and held an impromptu car show and tell... (Some listened to KRUX as well as KRIZ)

Jim McAllister said...

From Jack in Glendale,

Jim,

Enjoyed the blog today.

Jim McAllister said...

Proud,

In Cincy it was Frisch's which was also "Big Boy". They are still in business there. Things never change much in Cincy. Cruising Frisch's after the Friday night football games was the thing to do. WSAI and WCPO were the same as KRIZ and KRUX with their formats.

When i was stationed in mid-Missouri, I went to a lot of the small towns in the are and they all had their cruise route through town that they would keep circling. Dog and Suds were popular along with Sonic. In those days Sonics had ALL the waitresses on skates; not like now where they rarely skate. I always admired their dexterity to carry the tray and roll up to the cars. Plus, their calves looked damn good!

Thanks, Jack.

Mike Slater said...

Jim, the good old days a gone for ever. There was a time back in the 40's,50's, and 60's when you would see a car or truck on the street and could tell the make,model, and year. Can't do that anymore because they all look alike.

I used to do my own oil and filter changes plus spark plugs and points. With the new cars I just take them to the shop.

One of the great pleasures I've had in my life was to take a tour of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan and see all the old cars. Quite a thrill.

midnightsstaff said...

Wow Jim that merc looks exactly like my very first car, I had I think it was a 50 merc two door and it was a beauty..
well to a sixteen year old kid it did anyway...
flathead 239 and a three speed, no air- no payments.. got it for seventy five bucks- cold hard cash..
Yeah those were the days- I used to go crusin' in Hawthorn Ca. on Sepulveda between Rosecrans and Imperial on Friday nights, turn around at the A&W and back... checking out the other cruisers- trying to look cool and basically wasting twentyfive cent gas all night long...
Wolfman Jack was what you got out in the desert where you couldn't get anything other than KOMA and that station right across the Texas border in Mexico at night XERP or something like that, in LA there was plenty of stations on am... all us desert rats learned how to "tune" in the pot adjustment on our car radios to pick up those distant stations... nevertheless, they faded in and out..
all that car had was am... punched in a few stations and skipped back and forth between em.
No gunplay, no fights, no racial crap to speak of.. just kids having a good time and learning about life...
what are the kids learning today?

Jim McAllister said...

Mike,

I remember being told, "You need points, plugs, and condenser."

I do the same as you, I take it in. I must admit cars are more dependable and run better today, but they are all clones of each other. I take mine in when it needs an oil change and they go over it by hooking it to a computer. I don't think the word "computer" was even invented yet when some of the great old cars came out.

Remember taking off the air cleaner and putting your hand over the carburetor trying to get it to suck up some gas?

There wasn't a car on the road in the 50s that I couldn't identify by year and make. Today, it's like you say: They all look alike.

Middy,

"I used to go crusin' in Hawthorn Ca. on Sepulveda between Rosecrans and Imperial on Friday nights, turn around at the A&W and back.."

That sounds like a typical cruising route of the 50s. It seems like they existed everywhere, small town or large.

There were some distinct differences between a '49 and '50 Merc although they looked almost exactly alike. The '49 had a totally different dash and the door handles and badge on the hood were different as were the trunk handle.
I think the '50 also had a few with early "Merc-O-Matic" transmission, not available on the '49.

The '49 was the first model made after Henry Ford died in 1948 and it and the Ford were totally different from the '48s. I guess Jr. got his way after the old man died.

Weren't the Beach Boys from Hawthorn? That was XERF from Del Rio, TX that had Wolfman. Great AM stations in those days. When I was in L. A. in '59, KFWB was a big one (Jingle: KFWB, channel 98!). KOMA was huge out of OK, as was WLS from Chicago (Dick Biante, Art Roberts) and KAAY, Little Rock (Beeker Street). All were great late night listening.

You're right: Those were great days to be a kid.

Jim McAllister said...

From Joe Finnerty of Scottsdale.

Jim,

I had no affinity for cars while growing up back east as virtually no one I knew owned one. Boo Hoo. I had no role model. Later, I bought them to serve my transportation requirements, not to fulfill dreams. They usually fell apart quickly as I exhibited no interest in maintaining them. Had they been horses, I would have been arrested for animal abuse.

Most of the male members of my family are qualified to pump gas but only one of them is a certified “gear head” by virtue of his ownership of a restored ’50 MB red convertible. They all tell me the same thing: Your tires need air. Who knew?

I was so inexperienced that the first time I took a date to see a drive-in movie, we watched the film.

Bubba Watson, pro golfer, owns that Confederate flag adorned car once featured in some TV show years ago whose name escapes me. I read or heard recently he and his car were not welcome at some celebrity event. If true, the nation may be rising up against NASCAR, one car at a time.

The most successful “hot rod” enthusiast has to be Carroll Shelby who convinced Ford to finance his sports car design. I watched a documentary about him recently. It said Ford invested over two hundred million bucks into the venture. If he had put a few dollars into maintaining my Studebaker, I’d still be driving it.

Joe,

You saw a movie in a drive-in? What was that like? LOL I could never get past the previews with my girl. Hey, at 75 cents a piece (no pun intended) and a gorgeous 17 year old at my side, I wasn't about to watch John Wayne!

I knew some NY guys in the Air Force who didn't know how to drive. In NY that made perfect sense. I remember all the trouble George had trying to park on Seinfeld.

I think Bubba's Dodge was from the popular series of the '70s, "The Dukes of Hazzard." I never watched it but living in Missouri and Kansas at the time, I knew plenty who did.

Bubba paid $100,000 for that heap. To paraphrase the great Robin Williams, "It's God's way of saying you have too much money." What a waste!

Carroll Shelby is a fascinating guy. He is about 90 now and I remember him speaking at the Barrett-Jackson show a couple of years ago. He mentioned his tie in with Ford to do the Shelby Mustangs. During the show one of them sold for about $200,000 and Carroll said that in '66 they couldn't get rid of them for $3,900. It's amazing how some things increase in value with age. It's the law of supply and demand at work again.

Jim McAllister said...

Middy,

When talking about 50,000 watt radio and KOMA before I forgot to mention how we had a small transistor radio in our barracks in tech school in Amarillo in 1961 which was passed from barracks guard to barracks guard for each two hour all night shift rotation. I remember one rainy, cold morning I was on from 2-4 a. m. and it was really comforting to hear from KOMA in Oklahoma.

Jim McAllister said...

From FD.

This is a cool piece about cars from FD. Great cars, great tunes. Check it out!

http://cruzintheavenue.com/CarsWeDrove.htm

midnightsstaff said...

There were lots of great rides that could be gotten for a song.
I guess it was because those were the good old days and people were buying new models pretty quickly or something, but in the mid sixties you could pick up a late fifties chevy for a couple of hundred bucks, and that was for a perfectly good running car.
Yeah, I had my share of those vintage Chevy's, owned a couple of Studebakers, a few Dodge products- for a while I was changing cars faster than changing my pants.
I don't see much similar in today's youth, that era we lived in will never return- it was the boom years after WWII and Americans really had no idea of what limits they had, we were putting men on the moon soon, we had factories, mining, oil production in Texas, Hollywood was the magic kingdom- and there was a great interstate system that you could travel and see parts of the country that a mere generation past could never hope to travel..
the closest thing now is a trip to Johnny Rocket or the In and Out burger joint where the servers don't look like they are out on parole..
Yet for the lucky few of us who grew up in the culture before Viet Nam... we got the memories..

Allen Duffis said...

Oh the joy of being a child back in that era.

In 1947 I was 7 years old and living in Manhattan when, along with three of my friends, we plotted o sneak out late one night, and travel to the new car dealership 8 or 9 blocks away.

The purpose was to solve the mystery of how they got those huge cars through the showroom windows.

It never dawned on any of us (even the future Scientist - me), that the windows were supported on special hinges that allowed them to swing open and recess.

What a spanking we all got for that forbidden late night adventure. But later our dads took us to the dealership to, firsthand, have the mystery revealed.

Back then, to kids of that wonderful time, new cars of the day, in style and awe, were worth a spanking or two.

Jim McAllister said...

Middy,

I always looked at Studebakers as really ugly based on their designs in the late 40s when the hood and trunk looked alike. But, when Raymond Loewy designed the '53, I fell in love with them. That was a classy car way ahead of its time.

You're right about the 50s. We didn't realize it at the time but it was a wonderful era. Unlike Obama, everyone liked Ike.

I'm glad I got to live through those times of double features, drive in movies and restaurants and great cars.

Allen,

As a kid I always wondered how they got those damn cars in the showroom too.

Those spankings were always deserved. Today, if a parent spanks his kid, the kid hires a lawyer. Nothing like a loving family.

Even without air conditioning I would prefer a lot about the 50s compared to what we see now. People have really changed. Finding someone with a good sense of humor is hard to do now.

midnightsstaff said...

Keep this up Jim and I might just name you Ozzie...
and you know that name changing is no big deal to a guy named Pedro..
I forget how I ended up with that late 40's Stud.. it was a Commander and it drove just about as good as it looked... but beggars do with sometimes and it served the purpose in ways I couldn't explain in mixed company...
Oddly enough, I acquired and even more interesting vehicle a 54 Studebaker truck... it had been painted by roller by the painter I bought it from, had most of his leftover house paint mixed up to a nice pink tone... My buddies started calling it The Rhinoceros- because if you looked closely the paint had separated kind of like a dry lake bed with nice leathery fissures all over it.. but it like many of my automobiles suffered an untimely demise.
Of course the Rino was a local icon of sorts within a certain crowd so when I decided to put it up there was quite a few interested people..
I sold it to a guy named no kidding-Bob Smith- who had a brother... yeah the Smith bros- just cough.
I was living in Big Bear at the time, Bob bought it and was taking it back to Twentynine Palms and he hit a wild donkey about twenty miles into his maiden voyage, hey it was a fourteen year old Stude that didn't have decent brakes the day it rolled off the line- what did he expect? (I told him not to tail gate) He totaled both the Rino and the jackass and cost him another twenty five bucks to have the donkey hauled off and had to hitch hike home..
He got off lucky... today he might be hauled into federal court for unlawfully killing an endangered species- that is unless he is a protected species himself if you know what I mean..
Well Oz, better get that screen door painted...

Jim McAllister said...

Middy,

Ozzie? Nelson or Osbourne?

I hated to see those cars like Studebaker (especially the Avanti), Nash, Hudson, Packard, Kaiser, go under. Studebaker was an old company having been in the stagecoach business starting in the 1850's I believe.

Those companies had some neat ideas like the Nash bathtub shaped "bedmobile, and Hudson with the low center of gravity that made it virtually impossible to roll the car. I remember a kid in high school who had a Kaiser with a bamboo interior.

Those guys sold enough cars to keep the big boys on their toes.

Love the pink, roller painted Stude! Now, that's classy!

Glo said...

When my brother got out of the Marines he bought a brand new 1964 gold convertible Oldsmobile, complete with those fantastic fins and chrome bumpers. It was a gorgeous car, a sweet ride. He love that car, and what guy in his early 20s wouldn't?!

Unfortunately, the car only lasted until October 31, 1964. It's a long story, but basically it sorta blew up. Mom and I were in the front seat. She had started the car (we were picking Tucson up at 9 from Sears after his work shift ended) and when she turned the key: BOOM! The car lifted, the front end was engulfed in flame, and we managed to get out. I don't think the police ever found out what happened, but it was a Halloween to remember for a ten-year-old-girl. I'm pretty sure that was the night I had my first Valium.

Jim McAllister said...

Glo,

Is your brother's name "Tucson"? If so, that's cool; great name.

That's weird about the '64 Olds. Barb's aunt bought a '64 Olds Convertible in about 1968 and it was a beautiful car: dark blue with white top; really nice. The trouble was that it was a total lemon that they wound up taking back.

You and your mom are lucky you weren't killed. That explosion sounds a bit like sabotage. I can see why you were scared!

Glo, Sister of Tucson said...

Yep, my brother's first and middle names are Tucson McArthur (born during WW II). He's always hated that name; I love it, and it would have been cool if Mom had named me Dallas or Sedona! His wife, however, REFUSES to sign her name Mrs. Tucson xxxxxx. Heavy sigh.

Yes, there had to be some sabotage when Mom and I were in the Sears diner having hot chocolate. It was scary.

Jim McAllister said...

Tucson McArthur Giroux is a great name. Your brother should be proud of it. He should tell his wife that when she took him taking his name also was part of the deal.

He and I must be close in age. I was born 8 months before Pearl Harbor. By the time I was 4 in 1945 I knew enough to know we were at war and I remember rationing. I also remember the day FDR died in April 1945. Our neighbor in Cincinnati came rushing from next door telling my dad and I about it. At 4 I wasn't really sure what he was talking about!

Tuse's sister said...

Actually, we have different last names, different fathers. He was born in July 1942 - the big 7-0 this year.

Jim McAllister said...

Glo,

The big 7-0 this year, huh? I just had the big 7-1 on Friday; time sure goes by quickly. It's been over 50 years since I joined the Air Force. It seems like yesterday.

Hope all is well with you. I'm sure you are getting ready for the Balkans trip in May. That should be a good one; lots of history there.

buzzard said...

Well, with all of the electronics and control modules, there is not much you can do to a car these days. Then you have to pass the emissions test.
When I bought my first car (68 Camaro), the first modification I did was remove all of the emission controls, which was pretty easy to do back then.

buzzard said...

BTW Jim,
did you hear the good news? Votto signed a 10 year contract extension with the Reds. Unlike Pujols, he showed some loyalty to Cincy and the fans. Everyone expected him to leave the Reds as soon as his current deal was up.

Jim McAllister said...

Buzz,

I haven't heard the term "catalytic converter" in a long time. Do they still put those on cars?

As much as i love the old cars and miss the era they existed, I have to say that the cars of today are a lot smoother and dependable. I wouldn't think of dumping a car with under 100,000 miles today where in the past they were pretty much done by 80,000.

I bought my first Hyundai XG350 in Fall of 2001, traded it for a 2005, the last year they were made and have yet to be dissatisfied with either. I never thought I would be able to say that. My '57 Chevy was done at about 65,000.

It's great about Votto. The guy is a great ball player and I'm glad Cincy could hold on to him. With Pujols gone from the Division maybe they will have a shot this year to win it. I don't see St. Louis repeating. Carpenter is hurt again and Albert is gone.

buzzard said...

Jim,
Did you get that email I sent you yesterday about the rare Bob Hope movie?
I thought that the story was interesting about how the movie was made and the uncut full version was never released to in the US.

Jim McAllister said...

Buzz,

Yes, on "The Iron Petticoat" (1956) I never saw it but I know it was kind of a remake of "Ninotchka" with Bob Hope as a military guy chasing Hepburn, who played the Greta Garbo part.

I see that it was made in England and had some good English actors like James Robertson Justice and and Robert Helpmann.

That is quite a story about the machinations of this film over the years. I loved "Ninotchka" and look forward to "The Iron Petticoat." Even if it stinks, it will be fun to watch it a as curio that has sat on the shelf for a long time during a lot of acrimony.

I saw the one remake with Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire and it was OK, not great. The original with Garbo, Douglas, and Felix Bressart is hard to beat.

Suzy Davis said...

Actually, we have different last names, different fathers. He was born in July 1942 - the big 7-0 this year.