June 13, 2009
"Well I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes
For I knew there would be a time
When I would buy a brand new 409
Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up 409
I began taking an interest in hot cars when my bicycle lost its appeal with the girls in my class, somewhere around the age of 12.
South Delta Motors faced Highway 61 just a couple of doors down from Delta Implement Co., the International Harvester dealership, in Rolling Fork. Folks there never referred to it as South Delta Motors; it was called "The Chevrolet Place."
The late Arthur "Buck" Buckley was the lone salesman -- not just a salesman; he was a "salesman''s salesman." We were neighbors, and my dad and Buck were good friends. Buck had movie star good looks, manners, charm and a killer smile topped off with the swagger of the fighter pilot he once was.
The folks around Rolling Fork who couldn''t afford Cadillacs, Electra 225''s and Olds 98''s drove Chevrolets. Buck did a masterful job making sure Chevy''s were parked in the driveways of a lot of homes around those parts.
My dad was one of Buck''s best customers, and I was one of Buck''s favorites in the neighborhood. I got to spend quite a bit of time doing "figure 8''s" in old Stearman biplanes and soaring in gliders with one of my childhood heroes. (huh?)
As a Chevy guy (how could I have been anything else?), I also got 100-miles-per-hour test drives in some of the hottest cars Chevrolet put on the road (sans seatbelts). I''m pretty sure that, right behind Buck, I was the first "prospect" to ever test drive a Camaro. I''ll never forget powering it down the best "unsanctioned" drag strip in America.
My coming of age with cars coincided with the introduction of the 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS.
That was some year for Chevrolet. The Impala SS offered an optional 409 cubic inches of 100 percent American red-white-and-blue V8 muscle. Dad had a 1957 Chevrolet, but, in my eyes it paled in style and appeal to the SS, the best looking car ever produced by Chevrolet.
Lloyd Brizendine was an upper classman at Fielding L. Wright Attendance Center. He was the definition of cool -- quiet, a pretty good quarterback, had a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend and a flat top with long, swooped-back duck tails on the side.
Lloyd had a bright red ''62 Impala SS. He was never one to settle for second best, so naturally his was powered by the 409 V8. There was no way to disguise the engine for street racing. All a hotrodder would have had to do was look on either side of the front fenders, and there it was -- 409 -- embossed right over two criss-crossed racing flags.
One afternoon in front of Colonel''s Dairy Bar, Lloyd won a $10 bet, a lot of money in the early ''60s. Someone made the mistake of questioning his claim that his car could "rare up." For a 12- or 13-year-old, how cool was witnessing that?
I seem to remember the new models showing up in late September or October. Buck made sure to keep them well hidden in a garage under lock and key so as not to diminish the mystique.
Going out on the highway to get a first look at the new models was a big deal, not only for us kids but our parents, too. Everyone wanted to see the latest from Detroit. My dad traded cars every three to four years, just like the big boys in Detroit planned. Somewhere around 70,000 or 80,000 miles, our cars would either wear out or lose their luster.
"The Chevrolet Place" closed in Rolling Fork a long time ago. It didn''t close for the reasons we read about today; rather, the agriculture business changed, and there weren''t enough skilled workers to attract going manufacturing concerns. So, the buyers just moved on.
I''m no historian, but I believe something changed in the car business after the 1965 models -- for the worse.
I know I lost interest.
Hot muscle cars lost their appeal for the guys who were taking the place of the Lloyd''s, perhaps like Harley did to the supposedly "nicest people" who rode Hondas.
For the "in-crowd" came the Beatles ... guitar-playing, long hair, heading out to Haight-Ashbury. And (looking back over the last few days), the first nail in Detroit''s coffin -- the Volkswagon bus.
My thinking? The VW bus made it OK for us to drive a "foreign car," (a way of describing what the ad guys have done a masterful job of replacing with one word: "import.")
Sadly for Detroit, the VW bus offered reliability, utility, economy and more rec room than four back seats combined.
Detroit missed the bus. Instead of bringing in some young, hip Bill Gates or Steve Jobs types who knew all the words to "A Day in the Life" and shopped from "The Whole Earth Catalogue," the boys in Detroit didn''t recognize that "a change is gonna come," kept on playing their Jan and Dean records and used more than a little dab of Brylcreme.
I sure hope that since we all now own a little piece of Detroit, this time those old boys get on the right bus.
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.
5. Pulitzer finalist Martin to deliver reading Thursday ENTERTAINMENT