Cars Back When


by Terry Hogan


Do you remember cars back when…?  You know, back when they only had an AM radio.  Back when the AM radio often counted the firing of the spark plugs by the clicking noise.  Do you remember when the windshield washers worked off a vacuum so that when you went to pass a car in a rain storm, the wipers stopped sweeping the windshield clean?


Do you remember when the exhaust system would “eat up” about every two years and you’d be under the car trying to loosen up the C-clamps to take the pipes and mufflers off?  If so, you can probably still feel the rust dropping precisely into your eyes. If fact, the rust still might be lodged in the corner of your eye.


Do you remember when tires lasted two years; had wide white sidewalls, and contained inner tubes?  Flat tires were common and cars actually came with a wrench that worked to twist off lug nuts. But the jacks generally weren’t much.


Do you remember when the cigarette lighter was used to light cigarettes and not to charge your cell phone?  Speaking of cell phones, do you remember when you would climb into a 10 year old car and drive across country and not worry that somebody couldn’t reach you immediately?


Do you remember having to replace spark plugs, rotor and distributor caps frequently.  Cars still have spark plugs but they last nearly forever now, in the absence of lead in the gas.  I believe rotors and distributor caps are gone down the path with the buggy whip, replaced by electronic systems.


Do you remember when the exhaust system was louder than the radio? Or how about when cars were pushed by rear wheels rather than pulled by front wheels? 


Do you remember snow tires? Studded tires? Slicks?  How about running “black wheels” or “moons” or “baby moons”?


Do you remember when you could buy a new car for $3,000?  I bought a year old ’67 black Camaro convertible in Galesburg in 1968.  It cost about $3,000 and the car payments were $59/month.  I recently saw a restored ’67 black Camaro 2-door hardtop.  The asking price was $56,000.  I was told that a convertible (“rag top” he called it) would be substantially more expensive, if he had one, but he didn’t.  Nostalgia is an expensive path to walk.


This whole theme came from a recent tour of a building next to a car collision repair shop near where I live.  I had been visiting the repair shop to see if it had gotten tired yet of holding one of our cars hostage.  It had not.  I was told for the third time in three weeks that it was scheduled to go to the paint shop the next day. 


I walked out of the gigantic metal building full of damaged and apparently neglected cars, hosting spiders, mice, and who knows what else, while they languished, waiting for their turn for repairs.  I was both muttering and thinking very unkind thoughts about the touted repair shop, when I looked through an open bay of an adjacent building and saw about 150 restored cars.  These were pristine, shiny, un-dented, loved and cared for. And, they were all for sale.  You want a 55 Chevy? They had several.  How about a 56 Chevy red and white convertible? They had one.  They had Corvettes, Camaros, and about any type of muscle car you could dream of.  Most were restored.  A few had been upgraded to surprise the unwary of the street.  No competitive bidding.  Just ask the price; plop the money down; and drive it home and explain it to the wife. (She’d understand). 


This was where I saw the 67 black Camaro, waiting for me to take her home.  She saw the gleam in my eyes, as well as a hint of a love long passed.  She knew we were meant to leave the building together.  To start a new life together, sharing our common dreams in my garage.  I lingered by her side and admired her interior.  She was tender and sleek while having the muscle to take care of herself. She was only waiting for me to ask her what she was doing in a place like this.  She was waiting for me to take her home.


I still don’t have our wrecked car out of the shop.  And no, I do not have the beautiful 67 black Camaro, powered by a 396 cubic inch old-fashioned, gas guzzling, high compression, V-8. She is probably still sitting in line, waiting for Mr. Right – an old gray-haired guy with both memories and money.