Need for Speed Part 6 - Wheels

December 07, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Those who have been following this blog know that I was and really still am a "Car Guy" of sorts.  With the kart, I learned a ton about what really interested me, chassis set up, engines, driving and a host of other vehicle dynamics topics.


I was really excited to get my learners permit, allowing me to drive on the road as long as an adult with a valid drivers license was in the front seat with me.  To be honest, I had driven all over the farm in Oklahoma in dad's old pick up as well as my grandparents cars.  All were stick shift.  I knew clutches and smooth starts so when I finally could drive on the street, I felt at home behind the wheel.  Nothing exciting to report about street driving in our old 1958 Chevy except for one trip home from Oklahoma!  We had left the farm about 8pm and dad was driving.  I was riding shotgun to read signs and watch for traffic.  About 10pm dad said he was tired and needed to rest.  He was going to stop in a roadside park and sleep for an hour or two then go on.  I offered to drive and he could relax.  Dad was reluctant since I had not driven much at night and never on a highway.  He agreed, pulled over and I slipped into the drivers seat.  Dad hated Dallas, literally hated that town.  I don't think we ever drove thru Dallas without getting lost or in a traffic jam.  Dad had tried ever route conceivable; Loop 12 was his favorite but seemed crazy to me compared to just driving thru on US 75.  Within minutes of me taking the wheel, everybody in the car was asleep with the exception of me.  Dad was really knocked out.  He woke up about 3am, looked around and asked where we were?  I said we were near Centerville, Texas and needed gas.  He asked, "What about Dallas?"  I said, "We went thru there a long time ago."  He couldn't believe it.  I had driven all those hours and even thru that most evil of towns, Dallas, practically all alone.  I can tell you that from that day forward it was my job to drive us thru Dallas both going to Oklahoma and coming home.


 How about my own real world wheels?  In high school a lot of my friends had cars.  I figured they were either from wealthy families or were owned by their cars; meaning every cent they had went into insurance, gas, etc.  I worked at a local grocery store, wanted to go to college so owning a car was not a good option.  I was saving for an education.  Some of you may find it weird that I didn't own a car until the middle of my sophomore year at Texas Tech, but it was one interesting car.  Dad had said he would buy me a car if it was cheap enough and was an economy version AND made in the USA.  We hunted around Houston during Thanksgiving break; found nothing that we could agree on.  Over Christmas break, we found a 1965 Corvair; economy car - check; made in the USA - check; under $1000 - check.  In fact it was $900 even.  I really wanted that car.  Four wheel independent suspension like the F-1 cars I loved so much and lurking under the, uh, trunk lid was a four carburetor, 140 hp flat opposed, air cooled six cylinder engine.  Same engine layout as Dan Gurney's F-1 Porsche's but of course it was a street car and had no pizzaz whatsoever.  That last part appealed to dad although he thought the four carbs would be a pain.  



I had read enough to know that the four carb version of the Corvair engine had larger valves than the single carb 110hp version and some cam tweaks.  I didn't tell dad about the differences.  He would have bought me a Buick had I mentioned any of this about the sleeper.  Most of the 140hp versions of this car were the top of the line body style.  Mine?  The "500" version, cheapest body style offered, two door hardtop with nothing to make anyone get excited.  In fact most of my friends felt sorry for me because I had a "plain jane" car.  I loved that thing.  There were so many complaints about the handling on Corvairs.  The ones built prior to 1965 had swing arm rear axles, probably one of the worst designs ever for car stability and handling.  Mine?  Starting in 1965 all Corvairs had true independent suspension rear ends.  It was rear heavy and handled like a go kart.  That was perfect in my book.  Lubbock had a lot of brick streets downtown.  If you have ever driven on wet brick streets, you know how slick they become.  Every time it rained, which was not that often in West Texas, me and the Corvair headed downtown to do some slithering on those streets. That car seemed to love to slide a little on ever corner.  Of course, I never took any real chances but I did get sideways a few times when there was no traffic.  If I got stopped by the cops I figured I could blame it on the "stupid Corvair" and get away with it.  Shortly after graduation from Tech and about a year into married life, the Corvair died.  100,000 miles of fun came to a halt.  I sold the car to some Corvair guys who wanted the heads and cam for other cars.  It was a bittersweet good-bye but by then I had another love affair going with my Morgan.  


The Morgan was a hand built British sports car.  Like any true sports car, when it rained, you got wet.  When it was cold, you froze. When it was hot, you burned up.  Morgan's were considered exotic sports cars.  After owning it for about a year, it seemed less exotic and more classic.  The lines were simply those of a by-gone era.  The long hood with the leather strap was just pure auto history.  Even though my "Moog", as the purists called them, was built in 1964, it still looked like something from the 1930's.  British sports cars all shared some weird characteristics.  One, stiff suspension.  We nicknamed our Moog, "Teddy Roosevelt" and even had a name tag made for it which was stuck to the solid wood dash.  The name come from our feelings that this car was one "Rough Riding, SOB!"  Two, to make up for the stiff suspension, the chassis flexed.  Driving across a dip at an angle you could feel the whole car twist and squirm under your butt.   This was unsettling at first but became second nature to me after a few weeks.  Three, all British sports cars had SU carbs, meaning you needed to spend as much time working on them as driving them.  BINGO!  Whoever owned this Moog had torn off the SU's and put on a Lotus log manifold and twin Weber 40DCOE sidedraft carbs.  The Webers were highly tune-able, a blessing and a curse.  I carried a small fishing tackle divided case in the glove box filled with fuel and air correction jets for changes in the weather.  Webers were just so cool.  You could change the jets in about a minute per carb, AND they were the same brand of carb used by Ferrari and most of the F-1 teams!!!  It was not unusual for me to drive the Moog to work in the morning and then change the jets in the afternoon before I drove home.

When I rode around in my friends Austin Healy Sprite, before I owned the Moog, we would wave at other people in sports cars much the way Harley riders wave today.  The other British car owners waved back.  The Porsche owners?  No way would they acknowledge a lowly Sprite with a wave.  Same with Jaguars.  I said if I ever owned a sports car I would wave to every other sports car owner I saw.  Once I owned the Moog, I tried to uphold that promise.  It paid off one morning when I met a guy in a deTomaso Pantera, an exotic Italian sports car with a mid mounted Ford 351 V8 running thru a ZF transaxle.  We waved and the driver motioned me into a parking lot.  We took turns looking at each others rides.  Then we swapped keys for a few minutes.  We took each other around a few blocks.  The Pantera was pure genius in design and stability plus it had the deep throated roar of huge American iron sitting inched behind your head.  The suspension was agile like a cat.  The chassis was stiff; the opposite of British sports cars.  I really wanted that car but it was even less practical on the street than my Moog plus my head rubbed against the roof.  Within a week of owning and driving one I would probably be bald!  After that, the only cars I lusted after were Ferrari's and Ford GT-40's.

After a few years of owning the Morgan I had a very solid job offer from a company in Denver.  I could not bring myself to take the Morgan to Colorado and not have a good solid garage to put it in so I sold it.  It was the ONLY car I ever bought and sold and made a profit.  I sold it for $4500 having parted with $3000 two years earlier.  Today, that Morgan would fetch $35,000 or more.  I sometimes wonder if I would have enjoyed it as much with kids around.  Probably not.  Not much room in them for sure.  I will say that it will hold me and two young ladies quite well!  One evening, my wife sent me to the grocery store to buy some milk.  As I got to the corner of our street one of my neighbors college age daughters and her friend were in the yard and waved for me to stop.  They wanted to go for a ride.  I said I would take them one at a time but they insisted they could both fit although it would be crowded.  With flip flops, shorts and tee shirts on they scrunched in and off we went.  Shifting was rather dicey.  First and second were OK and third was way up against one of their thighs.  I never went for fourth.  I (OK, we) were gone about an hour.  I dropped them off at the corner and drove home and into the garage, walked into the house and my wife asked, "Where is the milk?"  I just said, "What milk?"  Somehow I had been distracted.  I don't think my wife is reading these blogs so I should be OK.  If you don't see any more from me; well, she read this one.


I went thru the usual family cars except for a 1962 Chevrolet pickup, 1/2 ton short/wide bed.  Car guys will know what I am talking about.  I helped a friend rebuild it and put in new "stuff".  His wife got pregnant and he needed to sell it.  I gave him $650 for it.  The stuff we had added was a short list:  350 V8, Twin Holley four barrel double pumpers, custom exhaust with headers, a mild street cam, power steering, a close ratio 4 speed out of a Camaro and a Hurst shifter.   I later added aluminum wheels and wide tires.  It looked like Sanford and Son with colors not exactly matching on the fenders but it went FAST.   I owned and drove that truck for several years then parted with it to move on to other projects.  Evidently my son liked it, too.  He drove it to Prom in High School.  I wanted to add disk brakes.  Stopping was not a forte on that truck!!


Currently I have my grand parents 1955 Chevy which they bought in 1955.  It is not a show car but in nice shape and with the help of a good friend, Rob Pike, it is a solid car to drive.  It was recently featured on "Sunflower Journeys" on Kansas Public Television.  It has a little over 100,000 miles on it with the engine overhauled at 90,000 miles.  Rob and I put a lot of new stuff on that car including springs, shocks, brakes, brake lines, Master and slave cylinders, gas tank, fuel pump and electric windshield wipers.  The carb was overhauled, too.  We drove it in the Great White Way car run in May 2014 putting over 400 miles on it that day.  I can say that if I drove it everyday, my shoulders and arms would be much more muscular!  The steering wheel looks huge when you first get in it but once you start driving you know why it is so large.




This is me being interviewed on PBS about the car and the run that day.  Lucky me!  I found a shirt that was 1955 Chevy Camo Green!!


Video of the Sunflowers Journey Episode


Time to close this and get busy on some photography work I have hanging over me!  Keep it between the ditches!




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