I got my first car as a junior in high school, but only seniors were allowed to drive, so I had a whole year to work on it before showing it off. It was a lime green 1971 Chevy Nova that had been handed down by my grandparents. I had always hoped to get a Chevy Chevelle Super Sport, the absolutely beautiful piece of American machinery pictured below, but no such luck.Image credit: Wikipedia via Vegavairbob
My wife will be the first person to tell you that I was born one generation too late – I was a child of the 80′s, but I always wished I had been child of the 70′s; and the American-made muscle cars like Malibu, Nova, and Chevelle are a big reason for that.
The car of my dreams, as mentioned above, was the Chevy Chevelle – one of the finest creations of American engineering ingenuity, and it featured one of chevy’s finest engines ever made – the big block, 396 cubic inch V-8. When you turned the key in the ignition it made a sweet rumble and you knew instantly the car had power. It was Chevy’s way of saying “no more squire station wagons…this is the 70′s, baby, and we’re packing some f’n muscle! ” Here’s a short video to give you a taste of what I’m talking about…
It was cool just to have some wheels – and, in essence, my FREEDOM! No more being dropped off by mom or dad, and no more waiting for them to pick me up either. If I wanted to go out on a date I could drive myself and avoid those embarrassing parent inquiries like “so Jane, would you like to see baby pictures of Craig? Oh he was such a cute baby but you’re very pretty too. Much prettier than the last girlfriend.”
Those first few months of having my license I probably made 100 trips to the supermarket for my mom doing just about any errand she needed so I could get a few more minutes in the car. Of course money was tight, so it was a balancing act trying to race around town while only being able to afford a dollar or two of gas at a time. Back then, in the early 90′s, gas could still be bought for less than $1 per gallon. So one dollar would get me more than a few miles with the Nova’s bored out straight six. Economical, but full of torque and power. There’s no denying the freedom you feel in your own car, especially a tank like that.
I spent that summer and a few months into the new school year searching junk yards for replacement parts. Except for a few specialty parts, it was relatively easy to restore the Nova both inside and out. The internet was still in its infancy then, so there was no searching online – you simply had to put the hours in at the junk yards and mechanic’s shops. I had the engine taken out, bored, and replaced. That gave me a few extra cc’s and a few more horsepower. Still no v-8 rumble, but it was close. I replaced the transmission, most of the interior, most of the electric, and even added a cool stereo system.
Unfortunately, I never had the time to do body work. It was the most expensive of the repair work and the area where I had the least experience. The car looked old and the paint had worn badly, but inside it was a brand new car, with great retro parts; and mechanically – it worked perfectly.
That summer before senior year of high school all of my friends assembled their cars in the high school parking lot. One friend had a Chevy Chevette we called the Bobby B, because when you turned the car off it danced like Bobby Brown – it shook, rattled, and then sputtered out. The Nova was called “the Pickle” because it was a horrible green color. We even christened it with a jar of pickles from Pathmark, a local supermarket. Another friend had a Chevy Monte Carlo, which we never named because it was newer and didn’t really need one. Some of my fondest memories were from cruising around town with my high school friends, going to parties, and just having a good time – not a care in the world.
I never did finish working on that car, but I did give it to my little brother who worked on it some more, drove it for a few years, and then sold it to another high school kid who, I’d like to think, continued on the tradition of driving too fast, having summer fun, and celebrating the 4th of July.
In the years since then I’ve had the pleasure to drive and work on several 60′s and 70′s era For Mustangs, Buick Cutlass Supremes, and even my beloved Chevy Chevelle SS. It’s easier to find parts for those old beasts today. There are dozens if not hundreds of online retailers and specialty part resellers. Even though I enjoyed digging through those old, dusty parts bins, and reveled in the joy of finding just the right part I needed, I prefer doing my shopping online now.
I can sit on my couch and search the web for that perfect part, and then have it sent right to me without having to get too dirty. (By the way, if you have a Chevelle of your own and need a great place to find parts online there’s only one place to go: Eckler’s Chevelle. If you enjoy digging through parts bins at your local yard, like I do, or scouring Craigslist for crazy deals on parts for the Chevy Chevelle or Malibu, you’ll love a place like Eckler’s which is the virtual version of that beloved experience.)
Owning a car like one of those old muscle cars is a form of freedom that so many of us enjoy in our beloved teen years. But as we celebrate independence day tomorrow we must not forget that freedom we enjoy was borne of the hard work by many millions of men and women who served (and currently serve) our great country.
The 4th of July celebrates our independence from tyranny 236 years ago, and remains a symbol of the work we must all do to remain independent and free; and to have the possibility of reveling in our free teen years!
With that said, I hope everyone has a very happy, and safe, 4th of July tomorrow.