In the Fall of 1954, my dad, the Chief, traded in his '53 Chevy on a brand-new 1955 Forest Green Chevrolet 210 (that means it had two doors and a door post), with the first edition of the small block V-8 engine (265 cubic inches), a two-barrel carburator, and a three-speed standard transmission. It was his absolute pride and joy (next to mom, my sister, and me). Little sister cried as they took the black '53 Chevy onto the lot and we loaded up into the new '55....little sister was barely two years old and cried for "...my chibby!!!..." Mom had her about calmed down when the mechanic who drove our old Chevy away came out with the little portable potty mom kept under the front seat for little sister's little emergencies...and the wailing began all over again.
Later, in 1960, just before we left Japan for the States, the Chief had a Japanese shop put a new paint job on it and new upholstery in it. So when I started high school that same year, I was lucky that the Chief had loved his Chevy so much because it meant that as a teen I had access to one of the most popular cars of the sixties (remaining so today, I think).
Prom Night...me and the Chevy.
It was Southern California. The car was king...and surfing...and rock and roll. The Chief taught me to drive when I was 14; By age 15, I and my buddies were driving illegally all over El Cajon (my folks somehow figured it was okay as long as I didn't go out of our little town). When I went to take my drivers' test on my sixteenth birthday, I flunked it. I had been driving for two years but made a DA mistake and flunked it. Which caused a great deal of upset for me...and my girlfriend...it cast a very pally pall over my birthday party that evening. But that isn't what I was gonna tell you about.
The Rochester two-barrel carb was equipped with one of the first vacuum-operated chokes and as it aged the choke became a little tempermental. Sometimes it would just quit running and you had to pop the hood, remove the oil-bath air filter, and flick the choke plate with your finger; it would pop back into place and off you could go. This became so commonplace on our evening cruises (easy Martin, it meant something else back then) that any of the three of us (me and my two good buddies) could "do the deed" in just a few minutes and we would zoom off again.
This is the engine on the '55 Chevy
None of the three of us were at all mechanically adept...in fact, quite the opposite. The Chief tried to teach me stuff but my attention span was limited when it came to getting greasy. I did learn how to adjust the jets on simple carbs and I knew how to flick the choke on the old Chevy...
One afternoon me and the boys were on highway 80, heading west across town, going somewhere like Grossmont or College Grove malls when we came upon a '58 Pontiac convertable sitting on the side of the freeway and a really nice blonde standing next to it looking all forlorn. So naturally we pulled over and offered our assistance.
She told us that the car had just stopped running. She had been trying to get it to start but was now afraid the battery was wearing down. She asked if we thought it could be out of gas. Rick told her it sounded like the choke to him, as he was lifting the hood. We all three stood there looking at the engine compartment. We were stunned...but not about to admit that the engine compartment on the '58 Pontiac was many echelons above the engine compartment on the '55 Chevy. We looked at the engine then at each other...then agreed, "Nope, don't think it's the choke"...
This is the engine in a '58 Pontiac.
We offered to give her a ride but she didn't want to leave her car. While we were trying to come up with a solution, a nice young man in a pick-up truck stopped. He was quite a bit older than me and my guys, maybe 19 or 20, but he had a can of gas in the back of his truck and suggested we try that before we do anything else. He dumped some gas in the Pontiac's tank, he took the air cleaner off, and put a touch of gas in the carb; the
n turned it over...and it started right up. We thanked the guy with the pick-up, said goodbye to the damsel -no-longer-in-distress, and returned to our business...feeling kinda dumb.
Years later, I switched from Chevy to Pontiac. I have had three GTOs ('65, '68, '69) and a '74 Sport Le Mans. MC has a 2001 Grand Prix. ( I published a lament when it was announced that GM was retiring the Pontiac line). It wasn't the pretty girl in the stranded convertable that swayed me...it was a test-drive in 1967. But I do remember the feeling I had that day, gazing under the hood of that huge Poncho...it is the same feeling I get now when I look under the hood of any of the new cars and trucks. Fifty years later and I still feel kinda dumb.