The Formula

Some kids these days don’t even bother getting their driver’s licenses until they’re 17 or 18.  This amazes me.  I cannot even comprehend it.  I on my eighth birthday, I got rubber ball, about the size of a volleyball, only it looked like big eightball.  I remember holding that ball, looking at the number eight, and thinking to myself, “Eight years old, I’m half way there.”  That wasn’t the first day I started waiting to get my license.  I had been from the earliest times I can remember.  Everyone I knew, could hardly wait to get their license, but that was only half the battle.  To really get to where you wanted to be, you had to have your own car.

All of my friends and I, had dreams of what type of car they’d like to have once they got their license.  What we actually got was always something different, and that was always due to lack of money.  Usually kids got whatever some family member or relative either sold to them cheaply, or just gave away.  More often than not, it ended up being something like this:

No hot rod potential at all here, but these cars usually did pretty good one wheel burnouts, and they were great cars for road drinking.  

Occasionally, a kid would get lucky. Not  Camaro or Mustang lucky,  but at least, a two door.  Something like this:

Not an Impala (few kids were so lucky), but a Bel-Air or Biscayne was close enough.  They looked kinda like Impalas.  

Those first few days owing your own car were the greatest.  You could sit in it for hours, paging through the J.C. Whitney catalog, imagining all the things you were going to do.  You’d tell your dad all your big plans.  Fathers were almost always wet blankets.  They'd usually say something like, “It’s fine just the way it is. Leave it alone.”

There was a formula for sixteen year olds to turn their mundane grandma hand-me-downs into fire breathing street machines.  All that was required was a willingness to swap out perfectly good stock components for old, worn out “high performance” parts, accessories, and other goodies.

The first item on the list, you could do on day one, and it didn’t cost a dime.  Turn the air cleaner lid upside down.  This didn’t help performance at all, it just made your car louder.  You had to love that VWOOOOOOOM sound it made, when you mashed the gas pedal to the floor.  

Next on the list were tires and wheels.  Those whitewalls and hubcaps had to go.  If your car actually had the power to do burnouts, you would peel that tread right down to the cords... on the right side that is.  The left was fine, so you’d swap rear tires, and burn off the other tread.  The front tires, you might save.   Used 50’s on mag wheels often come only in sets of two, and that’s probably all you could afford to spend at one time anyways.  By the time you were done with this step, you managed to go from a set of practically new steel belted radials, to two bald, dry rotted, bias ply tires. Now they say that you’re not supposed to mix bias and radial tires on the same car, but they say a lot of things.  Never mind snow, with these babies, you could get stuck in the rain, if you ever ventured off the pavement and onto the grass.  In stock form, those tires wouldn’t even fit on your car.  That’s wasn’t a problem because step three would take care of that.

What you now needed were some air shocks and extra long spring shackles. Once you got those tires fit, your car was starting to look pretty good, but you still had those white walls in the front to deal with.  A can of black spray paint took care of those just fine until the day came that you could find a good deal on some wheels for the front.  

OK, you car was looking mean, now its had sound mean.  That six month old exhaust with the lifetime Midas muffler just wouldn’t cut it, but you would, with a hacksaw.  A new crossover pipe might have cost half of what you paid for the entire car, but you didn’t let that stop you. You hacked that sucker off just before the two halves met, and then you fired up the motor, just to hear what that beast sounded like, once it could breath.  It was irresistible.  You just had take it out on the road and run it with “open headers” just once before you put on your new “exhaust system”.  It was now, time to go to the autoparts store and stock up on flex pipe and muffler clamps.  You saved that piece of hacked off y-pipe to give to your friend who’s car had a straight six.  Maybe he could reverse it, and make his own set of duals.

Doing the exhaust system was kind of fun, because it’s one of the few times you actually bought something new for your car. (Used flex pipe... isn’t) Time to check out mufflers.  Notice how I said mufflerS, plural, the whole point of the project was a ‘high performance” dual exhaust system.  Shopping for mufflers was fun.  What should you go with?  Most kids went with glasspacks, and the most common brand was Cherry Bomb.  What a cool name, and that red paint!  Man, that looked cool!  Sure beat plain old bare steel.

If you really liked painted mufflers, you might have wanted to go with a pair of Thrush mufflers. I always loved the way they sounded on a V8.

Or, you could have gone with something a little more exotic.

Of course, these were my favorite.

You just couldn’t beat mufflers with a paint job.  Of course, in a about six months, they looked like this.

While you were at the auto parts store, you’d check out the side pipes.  Too cool.  Too expensive.  Maybe someday.  Now, you had to go home and fabricate your new system.  The most common varieties consisted of mufflers hung off of the head pipes and that’s it.  The “deluxe version included two tail pipes, exiting in front of the rear wheels at a 45 degree angle.  The finished product usually left something to be desired.  It usually hung down lower than you envisioned.  It’s a good thing you had those air shocks and spring shackles.

Once you finished the exhaust, you started up your car, and it souned...  not as good as you expected, but it was still, pretty cool.  A lot better than that quiet Midas muffler and single pipe.  At least now, your friends could hear you coming.

You managed to make your car ride rougher, handle worse, have less traction and make more noise.  Success!  One last thing item in the formula.  You had to make make your car run worse and decrease it’s fuel economy too.  The time had come to ditch that two barrel carb.  Now a brand new intake and carb would set you back at least $300.  That was probably more than you paid for the entire car.  You already spent most of your money on previous “improvements”, so cheap and used was your only option.  The four barrel carb you got, needed a complete rebuild, had worn throttle shafts, and dripped gas that puddled in the low spots of the intake manifold, but included a cast iron intake.  You could take care of it’s faults later.  For the time being, you painted the intake, aluminum silver, (you weren’t fooling anybody), and maybe took the opportunity to install a chrome air cleaner and valve covers. If you were feeling really ambitious, you degreased and repainted the engine while you were at it.

Even though everything you did to your car up to that point, made it less safe, valuable, practical, and economical, it got the approval of your friends, and they were the only people that really mattered.  You set out to make your car cool, and your mission was a success.  


  1. I was 16 when I got my first license to kill. It was a good day indeed. I have a stepson who is 21 and STILL does not have a license. His problem though is he is almost illiterate and can not pass the written test. He is a perfect example of what our public schools produce these days. You, can't read or write, but here is your diploma, now, go forth and be a burden on the system and your family.

    1. That is not unique, but i don't understand it. When I was in school, there were plenty of kids who didn't do well in class, but it seemed that on average, these kids were more likely to be all pumped up about cars and driving. At least they could go out and get a blue collar job. What's with kids these days. So many don't give a damn about their studies, their too lazy to work, and don't have the mechanical sense to get a good paying, blue collar job. They don't have any strengths that would enable them to make a decent living.

    2. Job? He doesn't have one of those either. The young adults of today seem to care more about their next tattoo more than anything else. My God, do not even try to talk to them about politics are any subject that matters.Ever see the movie or read the book the Time Machine? It was one of my favorite as a kid. H.G. Wells was ahead of his time, the Morlock and the Eloi. Today in this country more than half are Eloi. Just waiting for the next welfare check the Morlock sends them. They don't read, they don't think, they just wait to be taken care of until one day they get eaten.

    3. The system can't handle the strain. The Eloi will be swept away when SHTF, and the smart, independent Morlocks will survive. That's what my other new blog page, "Practical Prepping", is all about.