I recently read Auto Biography by Earl Swift in which he retraces all the owners of a '57 Chevy and it's had me thinking about my first car.
It was a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. I unwrapped it in the Fall of 1990. Twenty one years after it rolled off the assembly line. It was a cool car. I, on the other hand, was not cool car guy. Nor was I even a cool guy. In the movies a guy gets a cool car and then suddenly he has people following him around buying him pizza. That’s Hollywood. In real life I didn’t smoke or have a varsity jacket. No tattoos. I didn’t listen to cool music or have a cool haircut. I was tall and awkward. After my 16th birthday I was a tall and awkward kid driving a 1969 Barracuda with a slant six engine.
The car was a surprise. My father and I went car shopping in the months leading up to my birthday but unbeknownst to me, that was a ruse. My muscle car was parked in the neighbor’s garage the whole time. Interestingly enough, during the car shopping game I picked out several equally cool cars that neither fit my personality or my body type. There was an awesome topless Jeep whose seat belt wouldn’t have been able to restrain my lanky frame had I taken it off road like the trying-to-prove-something 16 year in me would have done. There was an equally preposterous MG that I had my eyes on even though at over six feet tall, my head touched the roof while seated and once inside the only way for me to exit would have been to recline into the passenger seat to get my legs out of from under the steering wheel.
So instead of those silly toys my father surprised me with 3000 pounds of banana yellow steel Detroit classic. If cell phones would have existed I would have had Heart’s “Barracuda” as the ringtone.
My car wasn’t necessarily a muscle car but just as I looked in the mirror hoping to see a muscle or two somewhere on my frame I called my new ride a muscle car. I bought a car cover fabric to protect it from the elements although it was over twenty years old and had proved it could survive just fine in the Florida sun. I installed a cassette player in the glove compartment to not damage the look of the dashboard and rocked out to very uncool music.
I think the plan was for the car to be a team building exercise for my father and I. It was a high ropes course for the two of us. Actually, it was more like going to a high ropes course with no ropes, helmets, gear or upper body strength. None of which we had.
But, we had a guide! Our guide had tools and knowledge and experience. And a sales pitch! A coworker of my father’s was a muscle car guy and explained to us how much fun it would be and how much we would learn about cars, the world, each other!
And then soon after I unwrapped the classic he moved out of state and we were looking up at the high ropes course without gear.
One of the first projects we undertook was replacing the master cylinder.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. “But the 1969 Barracuda had manual brakes. Are you sure it was the master cylinder you replaced?”
Before the Fall of 1990 I wouldn’t have known that either. The power brakes were an after market add-on a previous owner had installed.
With our guide out of state he sent us step by step instructions via fax.
This was 1990 remember?
The nearest fax machine was at my father's office.
Follow up illustrations were a drive away.
“And where is this nut that we loosen to bleed the lines?” We would ask on the long distance phone call.
“I’ll send a drawing.” He would answer.
To the office! A fax awaits!
By the end of the project the faxed instructions were as stained with red brake fluid as our hands and bodies were.
But our team grew stronger.
I owned the car for a few years and then upgraded before I went off to college as I needed a more reliable car to make the journey out of state with.
I replaced the muscle car with a more practical VW Jetta that needed less maintaining and fit my uncool lifestyle a little better.