Henry Ford had no idea what he was doing to the youth of America when he came out with the ‘Flathead V-8’ engine. Its looks, sound and smell, let alone its power, caused the adrenaline to flow, mixing into a dangerous combination with raging hormones. But unlike girls, we could, most of the time, control and understand the V-8.
In 1951, my hormones were pretty much dormant, but I had a lust for carsany car would do. The smell of crankcase fumes and gasoline were perfume enough to turn me on! Before I was 16 years old, I had four cars angle parked in front of the house, all requiring push starts. One of them I inherited from my father who passed away suddenly, leaving this unlicensed kid the only one in the family that knew how to drive. It was a 1940 Pontiac Torpedo Eight four door sedan, which wasn’t my idea of excitement, but it was a car and it ran. A law student at the University of Washington changed my life by offering to trade “a good running car” and $65 for the Pontiac. Off I went to the ‘U’ District to see.
On a side street in an underground garage, he slid open the doors and there it was! The teardrop taillights pierced my heart. And a rumble seat! The final arrow drove right through my pounding heart when I realized that this car was a 1938 Ford rag top!
We pushed her out into the light so I could see all of her. The paint was mostly maroon but badly faded. The hood side panels had been leaded in for a custom look. Although I preferred cars (and later, girls) with a stock (natural) look, love blinded me. The top was original, badly tattered with many patches. There was just enough canvas left to keep off direct sunlight, the sides were gone and the back window was a large ragged open space. All of the stainless was pulled off and the holes filled carelessly with Bondo. Crawling underneath, my legal friend pointed out several dangling hydraulic lines; it had juice brakes!
“Go ahead, take her for a spin, I’ll wait here,” he said. I got in , turned on the ignition and pushed the starter button. She started instantly with an un-muffled roar, throttle light and responsive to my nervous foot. The clutch was abrupt but solid as I backed out and pointed her down the street. The short stubby hood with a torpedo at the end of it was much different than the Pontiac. Out of sight of the owner, I pulled out onto 45th and punched the throttle. At first, I thought the clutch was slipping (like the Pontiac), but then the tires began to scream, and yes, that was rubber smoke piling up back there! The car leapt forward as the tires hit rougher pavement. A quick shift to second brought another large screech from the tires. I quickly braked, turned the next corner and made my way back to the garage. My heart was poundingI couldn’t believe that I was really going to possess this wild beauty!
Well, our relationship was a stormy one, filled with moments of intense love and pride.and periods of intense hatred. This ugly/beautiful machine brought me adolescence to manhood faster than I wanted to go. She broke down a lot, shorting wires and plenty of broken axles transmissions, but she was the fastest stock flathead V-8 I have ever encountered.
I learned about policeman. Her evil looks caused them to continually pull me over, looking for real or imagined safety violations.
I learned that one could drive with no top (it blew off one morning on the way to school) as long as one kept moving. I learned to squirt paint, coats upon coats of yellow lacquer that quickly rubbed down to the dark gray primer I had applied, a dumb move. I covered it all with sky blue enamel, all work being done in my dusty driveway, of course.
I learned how to really swear, banging my knuckles while removing those lower bolts from the u-joint cover.
I learned to de-mount, patch and re-mount tires along the road using two screwdrivers and a bicycle pump.
I learned that the leaded-in side panels looked cool but weren’t cool for the engine, so I left them off.
I learned that I could never get my hands clean.
Well, that ’38 ragtop is long gone, making the few that are left even more valuable. When she left my life, everything calmed down and it looked like girls could be a lot less trouble than a flathead Ford ragtop. I was so
This was car #4 in a life filled with 67 cars.