A good year for cars

Rick Watson
Posted 5/22/16

Each time I hear someone mention the year 1966, an image of a Chevrolet Chevelle develops in my mind like a Polaroid picture. Chevy started building the Chevelle Super Sport in 1964. The first two years they were beautiful cars, but designers got it …

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A good year for cars

Posted

Each time I hear someone mention the year 1966, an image of a Chevrolet Chevelle develops in my mind like a Polaroid picture. Chevy started building the Chevelle Super Sport in 1964. The first two years they were beautiful cars, but designers got it right in 1966.

The first one I saw was the color of fresh churned butter with Raider Mag wheels. When the owner revved the engine, needles on earthquake detectors danced as far away as Atlanta.

I was 15 years old in 1966 and a few years shy of a steady job, so all I could do was lust after the Chevelle.

What I had was a 1946 Plymouth Coupe that my mom repossessed from my older brother when he defaulted on a loan. She’d given him money to paint the old car maroon with tiny flecks of gold that glimmered in the sunlight. He also bought moon hubcaps and a steering wheel knob. When he decided to move to California after high school, she kept the car and for my 15th birthday, she gave it to me.

Police weren’t as persnickety about things like driver’s licenses and auto insurance then, so I drove the car to school every day that year. It would have been a head-turner in the happy days of the ‘50s, but in 1966 sitting beside the shiny new Chevelle SS, the old coupe looked like a bruised turtle.

The ‘60s was a great decade for designers in Detroit. The Ford Mustang, Chevy Impala SS, Plymouth Roadrunner and Barracuda, Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO were all incredible cars.

There was no better place to see all these cars than Sherer’s Drive-In in Jasper on Saturday night. Rumbling through Sherer’s in a dirty car would have been just wrong. So for the price of a chocolate shake you could watch a parade of polished steel in a prism of colors. The best cars were two-door hardtops with all four windows rolled down. From inside the 8-track players blared Brown Eyed Girl, White Rabbit, and other songs that are still popular on Oldie Goldie radio stations.

I graduated from high school in ‘68 and worked nights while attending college during the day. After a few paychecks, I talked my dad into co-signing a loan with me to buy a 1965 Impala SS. It wasn’t a Chevelle, but it was red as a sunset and once I got those big wheels turning, it was curiously fast.

If you talk to most any man that came of age during that time, they can name half a dozen deserted stretches of needle-straight roads that became drag-racing venues on weekends. At the drop of the flagman’s arm, you could smell burning rubber, hear screaming engines and watch headlights streak like shooting stars for the quarter mile drag race.

But that was a different time. The 1973 oil embargo sent gas prices skyrocketing and started a flood of imported cars from Japan and Germany. The desire for gas-sipping transportation made Detroit’s muscle cars a thing of the past except for collectors. But even those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to hold on to one of those beauties, we still have the Polaroid photographs in our minds.

Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at rick@homefolkmedia.com.