Through The Lens: Looking at a Classic Chevy
Recently my column mentioned the AM radio in my old car. That car was a 1956 two door Chevy. To my surprise an old friend, Charlie Patterson remembered the car down to its original color, faded green. The car was originally owned by a lady who lived in his neighborhood, Mrs. Druckenbroads. I remember the car and the lady, but I had forgotten her name, Charlie’s message helped to remind me.
This story is not so much about how I came to own the car, but more about muscle cars of those years. When I brought the Chevy home my dad shook his head in displeasure saying something like, “And where did you get that, and where is the Ford?” The Ford was a reference to a four door pail cream colored car that I was driving when I left home that morning. It was not a cool car.
Now, I would like to tell you the Chevy was a true muscle car, but that would be dishonest. It only had a straight six engine with a single barrel carburetor, (that’s something car’s once had to supply the engine with inexpensive leaded fuel). It had bench seats and three speeds on the column, that’s a standard shifter. I could smoke a single tire, but I only did that when I was pretending to be driving a muscle car trying to impress my buddies. Back in the day, New Martinsville had its share of real muscle cars. Mustangs, Barracudas, GTOs, Camaros, Dusters, Corvettes along with a variety of others. If you had a muscle car there was two places to show its stuff, the Red Gable Hamburger Shop and the Fat Boy Restaurant. For those of you who may not remember the Red Gable, it was a hang out just north of Bruce Park. During summer evenings, teenagers would hang out and watch cars cruise by. Every now and then one of them would smoke the tires. Drivers had to be careful, a policeman may be in hiding waiting to give the car’s owner a ticket for $25. Not much today, but back then that was a lot of money. Those watching the parade of muscle cars would make a spinning gesture with their hand encouraging drivers to smoke the tires. The spectators would cheer and sometimes rate their burn out. I don’t remember any scores of 10, but I do remember lots of 9.5s. One time back in 67, someone laid tracks of rubber in front of the high school nearly twenty feet long. The next day the word went out, the police were not going to stand for any more spin outs in front of the school. Well, you can just imagine what happen next. I figure most every muscle car from Sistersville to Proctor paid a visit to Maple Avenue the next night. Law enforcement decided the less said in the future about such things, the better. By the way, if you saw a single tire mark about four feet long, I might know something about that particular tire mark, now that the statute of limitation has expired.
My 56 Chevy was a standard in every sense. Standard transmission, standard brakes and standard steering. Standard steering meant it had a steering wheel at least 24 inches across. It was that large so you could turn the front wheels if you were not moving. Steering the car was difficult unless you were moving forward. And without power brakes you had to hold the steering wheel with both hands and press as hard as you could on the brake pedal to stop quickly. Driving a standard was not a job for sissies.
The Chevy’s original green paint was not a muscle car color. So, I decided if I wanted to be cool, I had to paint it Midnight Metallic Blue and I want to paint with lacquer. To be clear, lacquer paint should only be used by a trained professional in a well ventilated garage. My parents had a garage and I had a paint mask. As to experience, I once painted a car with cans of spray paint. Surely that qualified me to be an expert. So I set about painting the Chevy with Midnight Blue metallic lacquer. It did not turn out too bad, if you stood back about ten feet at night.
My 56 needed a couple more thing for its claim to Muscle Cardum. A set of half-moon hub caps and blue lights in the fender wells. One glass pack muffler that fed into a Y-Tee pipe that made it look like I had duel exhaust. Throw in wing windows for ventilation, and a working heater, my 56 was a real show car, at least in my estimation. It even had a place behind the back seat under the large rear window that could pass as a sleeping birth like on a train. Add floor ventilator doors for both the driver and passenger and you had a magnificent piece of Detroit automotive craftsmanship. And it was all mine. A true muscle car of the sixties, well almost.
There was one feature that my 56 had that I did not like, vacuum wiper blades. These primitive wipers were one step above the hand operated wipers on Amish buggies. They used the vacuum created by the engine to power the motor for the blades. If you were running along in the rain at normal speeds you were okay. But if you slowed or were going uphill, you were in trouble. No high speed or intermittent. They just move when the engine created enough vacuum.
My 56 Chevy and me didn’t need some hot rod magazine to write about how great we were. All we had to do was pass by the Red Gable with Mary by my side and look for the guys. And if they gave me the spin out sign, I told Mary to hold on as I pushed my foot into the single barrel carburetor. Two seconds later my Midnight Blue Chevy spun its balding rear tire leaving the prettiest four foot strip of rubber you ever saw. Then I glanced over at the guys and they gave me thumbs up, I knew I was in muscle car heaven as I now remember those days Through the Lens.