My 1960 348 Chevy Could Have Left Me Dead, Maimed, or Jailed. Somehow, It Didn’t

No pictures survive of my '60 Chevy, but this one more or less captures it. Flickr/Chad Horwedel

The cop who pulled me over was thoroughly pissed. “You could have killed me,” he screamed through my open car window. “You came flying up that hill headed straight at me! I thought you were going to crash right into my door.”

Chasing my pal, Joe, in his white-on-red ’55 Chevy convertible, I had driven, admittedly, in a bit of a hurry up the Mayfield Road hill from Cleveland’s Eastside “Little Italy” neighborhood to where it crested a hill, jogged left, and headed east toward the suburbs. But not so hurried that I was driving dangerously, at least in my opinion. And I hadn’t noticed the cop sitting lights-off in the row of cars always parked along the far side of that street.

I apologized to the officer, explaining that I had driven that hill-topping left-hand jog many times before, that I was totally in control, and I was in no way close to crashing into him or anything else. He calmed down a bit, checked my license and registration, lectured me to slow down, and eventually let me go. Whew!

Meanwhile, Joe was patiently waiting for me a bit farther up the road. It was a little past midnight, and we were on our way from somewhere to somewhere else in our never-ending quest for fun female companionship.

Little Italy Cleveland Ohio 1968 Mayfield Street
Cleveland’s “Little Italy” on Mayfield Rd. in the late ’60s. Cleveland State Library Special Collections

This was the summer of 1966 between my freshman and sophomore years in college, and my car-guy dad (in his second-childhood years) had bought me a well-used, white 1960 Chevy convertible motivated by a 335-hp Tri-Power 348 V-8 as my daily driver. That 348 was about as strong as they came in its day, and that big Chevy was seriously fast, more than capable of getting me into major trouble. I loved my dad, but what was he thinking?

Joe and I were working evening shift six nights a week at Eaton Corp.’s truck-axle plant in Cleveland. The work paid well but used up most of our nights. The good news was that we were free most of each day to work on our cars (and our tans). The bad was that we had just a couple hours, after getting off work at about 11 pm each night, to party.

The 348 was also plagued by more than its share of troubles, and mine spewed copious blue smoke out of its dual exhausts whenever I stood on it hard. So, despite constant temptation, I did that very seldom … except to blow off the occasional stoplight challenger or remind pal Joe how much quicker it was than his sexier small-block V-8 ’55. Enhancing its fun-to-drive factor, my car also pumped all that prodigious power through a four-speed manual gearbox with a floor shifter cobbled up by a previous owner.

1960 Chevrolet Impala Converible Ad Options
Flickr/Alden Jewell

That was hardly the only time I got pulled over that summer, but I miraculously got through it without a ticket for speeding or anything else. I drove sanely enough, even in that rocket-ship car, to avoid not just tickets but also dangerous incidents on the road.

I do vividly recall one butt-clenching afternoon when I underestimated the amount of room it would take to pass a line of slower cars on a two-lane highway. When I realized that an oncoming car was closing too quickly, it was too late to brake hard and duck back into line, so I floored it and managed to clear the lead car just in time to swerve back into my lane. I’m sure I scared not only myself but everyone in the surrounding cars—both in oncoming traffic and in the line that I had barely cleared—not to mention the pretty young lady in my passenger seat. She never dated me again, and that might have been why.

As a serious car guy, I could not resist tinkering with that car when not bombing around in it. I once did some amateur hop-up work at a friend’s house and screwed up the ignition timing enough that it wouldn’t start. I ended up having to leave it in his parents’ garage overnight while I studied up on the problem, then went back and fixed it the next day.

But I was not qualified to attack the worsening burnt-oil smoke screen the Chevy belched out every time I accelerated hard. So, when the summer was nearing its close, my dad took it to our local dealer to have them diagnose and repair that problem before I drove it 600 miles down to college in North Carolina.

1960 Chevy Impala convertible side
Flickr/Chad Horwedel

It seemed okay afterward … until it didn’t. The oil smoke was gone, and it ran well around town. So, I loaded it up and headed for school. In the middle of the night, at highway speed near the town of Front Royal, Virginia, the 348 decided to self-destruct. It apparently lost oil pressure and clanked to a smoky stop by the side of the road. Damn! I spent the rest of that night trying to sleep in the car, then gathered up what I could carry, stuck out my thumb, and hitched the rest of the way down to school.

My father, bless his understanding heart, called a Chevy dealer in Front Royal and had the car towed there, then took a couple of days off work to drive down and take over the situation while I was sitting carless in class. With my okay, he negotiated a deal to trade it for a new ’63 compact Chevy II convertible, then drove that much tamer but more reliable ride down to me at school.

I had had about enough of big-power cars by then, and the six-cylinder, three-on-the-tree, white Chevy II was a pretty decent ride. It served me well for the next two years—not fast, but fun, handling well compared to that big, old ’60 Chevy.




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    When I was in high school, I had a friend with a ’59 2-door hardtop with a 348 and 4-speed. For such a big car (compared to my various tri-five Chevys) it was deceptively fast.

    We found a car just like this in a junk yard in Greentown Ohio just south east of Akron, The car was gutted accept for the 348 Tripower complete with air cleaner and 4 speed transmission. It was sitting on the frame. This was 1980.

    At the time we were flying around in a 1963 Grand Prix with 8 lug wheels and a Ram Air IV GTO engine in it. In fact we almost got pulled over when my buddy was driving the GP and I may Chevelle. We were just gassing it up Arlington street in Green Ohio. Then a Sherriff came over the hill. He tried to come after s as we looking like we were racing but we were at the speed limit. We turned into a parking lot on a hill and watch as he passed by flying. We waited till dark and made our way to our cruise scene.

    We all have stories like this and can really relate.

    I bought a 4 year old 67 GTO that needed a new engine during my last year of high school. Put a freshly rebuilt 400 and new clutch in it. It was way too much for a 17 year old kid. Never had an accident, only one ticket over the 3 years or so that I drove it, but looking back I really don’t know how I survived some of the things I did with that car.

    My mother had a 283 ’60 convertible, a pretty blue with matching plastic plaid interior. Unfortunately, it had a Turboglide slushomatic transmission, which sapped all the power the poor V8 could make. It struggled to make it up the Mayfield hill. Those were the days of drum brakes, bias ply tires, no seatbelts, and plenty of us who were lucky if we survived those days of auto ignorance.

    While I was cramming 4 years of college into 5 (from 1960-1965), I was also abusing a ’60 Fury with the cross-ram “SonoRamic Commando” engine. To make that big-torque MOPAR even more effective off the line, I put a set of Hedman Hedders on its 383 CID mill and some 4.10 gears in its rear end.
    However, while that TorqueFlite trans was the best of all automatics, it almost did me in on one early spring morning. As usual, I left for my 8:00 AM class at the last possible minute. Ordinarily, that got me there in ample time, but this day an early morning snow shower left a slight skiff of snow on the ground, but the streets seemed to be dry. However, as I accelerated up the curved on-ramp of the freeway and pulled onto an overpass, that auto trans shifted into 3rd. Unfortunately, that bridge had iced over, so with the ice, the shift, the turn, and the acceleration, I immediately found myself southbound in a car facing north. Luckily, I was able to recover in time before a crash, but I can never forget the bug eyes on the guy who passed me. I quickly turned around and started on my way once more, congratulating myself on how well I maintained control of myself in the face of disaster — but right at that point, I got the shakes so bad I had to pull over. As it turned out, I wasn’t late for class, but just barely in time.

    I think Haggerty should consider a compendium of our youthful driving encounters with law enforcement. I know that I certainly ducked a few possible tickets in my “too-fast for a teenager” cars.

    The good fortune we enjoyed in our vehicles is reflected by the fact that we were neither injured nor jailed, when both were distinct possibilities, given our proclivity to drive daringly.

    I didn’t have a big Chevy like your 60, but I did drive a Chevy II convertible much like your replacement ride. It wasn’t new, being at least 10 years old by the time I got it. Red on red with a black top, I wish I still had it . . .

    It’s a beautiful car and the story was quite entertaining with the cop and also the oil burning issue.

    My BFF’s girlfriend’s brother had a ’61 Chevy convertible with the 348. He picked up several of us from high school one day and drove us home. From just that short ride, I so agree with the recollection, “That 348 was about as strong as they came in its day, and that big Chevy was seriously fast…”

    Also speaking of fatherly recollections, I’m forever grateful to my dad for teaching me stick-shift driving in his 6-cylinder, 3-on-the-tree Mercury Comet. He then traded it for a 350-equipped Pontiac Tempest Custom, which I drove to my junior high prom. And then he contributed half toward my college car, a sweet lil’ 2-litre, 4-speed Mercury Capri. ‘Love these driving memories from the early days.

    Ok, fast car, lots of smoke, narrow escapes. But nobody’s mentioned the great Dad. To your father, Sir. A great car Dad.

    I never owned a car fast enough to garner any respect at a stoplight (unless the contest was about standing still till the light turned green, in which case I ruled), but like Witzenburg and Dickman, I did own a ‘63 Chevy II ragtop (emphasis on the rag) that I bought for $300 and drove till it dropped. Both front fenders were disengaged from the frame, so I drilled two holes through and bolted them in with a huge nut and bolt arrangement, earning the car the moniker of Frankenova from my less than impressed friends. Burned oil faster than I could replace it, smoked like a house fire, and sounded like there were two freight trains crashing in the pumpkin. But I was 19, it was red, and the top went down. ‘Nuf said.

    My Sister owned a near identical car, but by 1970, it was pretty tired. At the time my everyday car was a BMW 2002. For some reason, I had borrowed her Chevy and was headed down a road I knew very well. As I entered a pretty tight S Curve, a disconnect in common sense failed to remind me I was driving a very different (and older) car…amid loud tire squealing, unbelievable body roll and much sawing at the wheel, I survived the curves, but it was a lesson I never forgot…
    The Chevy was great in a straight line but couldn’t turn or stop worth a damn.

    Even though most of my high school buddies and I all had a need for power, cubic inches and speed, I can only remember one instance where I afterwards chastised myself for doing something stupid enough that I could have killed myself and other innocent people. And I still remember that vividly today, many years later. More common was our nights of racing on our favorite long straight secluded country road. One night a fairly large group of us were enjoying some good races. I was taking a break and leaning up against the side of my ’66 440 Satellite. I noticed a black 67 Chevy Biscayne come rolling up to the area rather slowly. The two guys in the car stopped next to me and asked what was going on. I said just a little friendly racing. About that time I noticed the 427 emblems on the fender. I asked the guy in the passenger’s seat if it was really a 427 and he replied “sure is.” I said “you want to run it?’ About that time, he reached in his pocket and flipped out a badge and ID card, saying “I think you boys need to pack it up and go home”. Needless to say, given the chance to go without getting tickets, we wasted no time in getting the hell out of there.

    Perhaps “The Only Thing As Fast As That Car Was My Guardian Angel” could be a regular feature. I’m sure I could contribute a few column inches!

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