Fast Cars, 4-Speeds, and Fist-Fights

By R.A. Jetter


Not a very long time, right?

Equates to 300 seconds… now that’s longer, isn’t it?

One is interminably slow… yet, the other can be damned fast. How can that be? Same amount of time. Guess it all depends on where you were and what you were doing in those five minutes…

I gotta tell you, we were flying… the big ol’ Buick topped the hill… felt like the whole car lifted as we flew over the top, down into the bottom of another and up, our stomachs did flips. Didn’t know that big hog had it in her… Dave chortled. “Look, almost got the speedo buried. Betcha can’t do that with yours … goin’ uphill.”

He’s right… my ‘57 wouldn’t do that, and, in 1961, it wasn’t quite four years old, but there was a big difference between a straight six and a straight eight. Even tho my 150 two door was six years newer, that ‘51 engine still had a lot of life in her… and a lot of horsepower… or is that cubic inches?

Didn’t matter… the speedo bounced off 110 flying that narrow two lane — Hiway 30. We were headed to Carroll, for a football game… and good high school girls… maybe a couple beers… uhm, six-paks… reason enuff for speed. Ten miles from the field Dave decided we’d better hurry… pushed that accelerator down… took about five minutes to get her going and about five minutes to cover ten miles. Dave felt pretty smug… we’d make the kick-off. Grinning, he let off the gas, allowed the Buick to coast down the last hill before town. That’s when we heard it… a slight knock coming thru the firewall, just under the blare of the AM radio. “Hear that?”

“Yeah. What is it?” I asked.

“Sounds like it’s in the engine.”

He shoved the gear-shifter into neutral and revved the engine. Big mistake… the knocking got louder… and louder still. Ka-thunk! Bad noise… metallic, loud. Quit. “Uh-oh.”

“What?” I asked. “We in trouble?”

Dave shifted back into gear at 60… that was all she wrote… it went wappity-wap, wappity-whoosh, bang, bang, bang! Blue smoke poured instantly from the edges of the hood, the smell overpowering. Red lights on the dash illuminated, the car groaned. Dave tried frantically to start it… wouldn’t even turn over… we rolled to a stop across from a trucking company. “Crap,” Dave said.

I knew it’s huge trouble, just by that tone. Why? Well, Dave talked his Mom into secreting him the keys… told her he’d just cruise around town… besides, his Dad pulled his license a few days earlier… here we are, 27 miles from home with a Buick Eight rod hanging out the side of that straight eight blok. Dead on the side of the road and him without a driver’s license.

Fun? Sure, at first. Life-changing… weee-ll! Definitely five minutes of adrenalin… at speed… and 300 seconds of knowing we were going to be car-less for six months. Those five minutes stretched into an hour on the road home in the cab of a tow truk!

Ever wished you had five short minutes back? Maybe for something really stupid you did. Then again, ever do something that you really liked for 300 seconds and wish you do could it all over again, with all the same pieces in place?

Whether stupid or intelligent… five minutes can change your life… and probably did… for most of us.

Five minutes in a showroom fresh 409″ was memorable. A friend, Dick, decided he needed a branny new-off-the-showroom-floor 1961 Impala Sport Coupe when they debuted in September of 1960. He had a very nice ‘56 Bel Air two-door hardtop… pure white, slammed, 3-two’s on a built 283″, four-speed, whitewalls, flippers, rumbling exhausts… but those brand new, deep blak, red interiored ‘61 hardtops were oh-so-cool.

I didn’t run with him much… he was one of those guys that hung around with nearly everyone in town… and everyone knew him… once in a while we’d cruise together when we were the only two out looking for trouble… ehhrrrr, uh, looking for fun! His ‘56 was fast and the V8 sounded a lot better than my six’s splits.

He procrastinated all winter… finally ordered it late spring, 1961… “No sense getting it in the dead of winter,” Dick said. “It’s a bitch keeping the ‘56 clean, don’t wanna dirty up a new car.” Took two months to get the ‘61 in… factory shipped the Impala with a four-barrel… mainly becuz the order was so late in the model year and the new ‘62 production run started. Dick wanted 3-two’s, swore he’d ordered it that way… wanted it that way or he wasn’t buying. He was one of those guys that had cash-in-hand when he was ready to buy something and the dealer didn’t want to lose that! Four days later the 409″ had three deuces on it… and chromed, reversed wheels to boot… he’d also had the white trim insert painted blak… it was a gorgeous car.

Before he accepted it he had to have the front end lowered… sat too high… with cut coils the Chevy garage would take no responsibility for the car once it left their service department… “voids the warranty” Dick was reminded… he didn’t care…a new car shouldn’t have any mechanical problems, right?

Out cruising Friday nite a few weeks later, this butt ugly ‘61 Fury hardtop rolled into town. I’d always felt the 1960 Plymouth’s weren’t exactly the best looking car Plymouth built, but they really whipped the car with an ugly stick when they brought out the ’61’s… peee-yewww…

Dick got into an argument with the Fury owner at the A & W… said argument resulted in a $50.00 wager… Plymouth owner said his 383″ could whip any 409″ that ever existed… hmmmmmm.

Here’s where that 300 seconds comes into play… it took two minutes to get to Highway 59… and another minute for Dick’s 409″ to take the Plymouth down… the first time… by no more than a bumper’s width. Fury owner wanted to go again… Dick was talked into thinking he could double his money… sucker play! In 60 seconds, he lost the second race even tho it was close. Dick’s 409″ should have taken him. The final 60 seconds of those 300 seconds in this epic battle was the clincher… both guys were even, one for one. The original wager was increased… another $50.00 each, two out of three for the $200.00 pot… put up or shut-up. I flagged them off for the final go… Dick was in trouble from the instant they left the line… the Plym pulled hard… Dick’s engine winged about a third of the way down… I heard it from where I waited. That hadda hurt. It did. He not only cleaned nearly all the teeth off of third gear, but got the drive-shaft as well… Fury driver came back, collected his cash, offered a lift back to town and upon hearing a disgruntled negative answer, took off with a squeal of tires. Walking to town in the dark wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time… just as we got to the nearest phone, a tow truk pulled up… seems the Fury owner told them where to find the Impala. Cost Dick for the tow and the Chevy dealer wouldn’t cover any of the drive-train.

Before Dick got his Impala back, we’d heard thru the grapevine that the Plymouth did not have a 383″ as the owner claimed… it had a 413″, removed from a wrecked Chrysler letter car… one very perfect sleeper out earning some cash!

Remember the scene in American Graffiti, when Milner raced Falfa out on the old highway… and crashed? Regardless of how long they dragged it out in the movie… that whole scene, in real life, lasted less than five minutes… maybe less than 300 seconds. Louie and I got involved in one of those races… pushed to a point by a guy from Carroll that carried a reputation bigger than mine. Louie was two years older than I… bought his ‘58 Impala brand new. In 1961, it was still one of the cars to beat around our parts… carried a reputation as being quik… 348″, 3-two’s, four speed and blak as nite.

“Stick” was the challenger’s name… don’t know if he got that from being excessively skinny or that his ‘61 Dodge Dart lacked a four-speed. His car boasted a 383″, an automatic behind it. What we didn’t know was it had twin fours on ram-induction manifolds… good for 330 horses. No one around town knew the car or how hard it could run.

South of town, near the golf course, up on the hill, a new section of concrete replaced the asphalt county road… virgin concrete… smooth concrete… devoid-of-traffic concrete… still blocked off… no one on it. For a while, it became known as the quikest stretch of road in the county… blak trax marked the beginning of the 3/8 of a mile that was straightest… a new asphalt ribbon, across both lanes at the transition of concrete to asphalt, marked the finish… Louie suggested that as the place to find out which car was quiker. Being it was a Sunday nite, the Sheriff, already in the know about the newest “strip” in the area, usually patrolled that section on Friday and Saturday nites, but tonight, he’d probably be home in bed… and the locals that hung out at the A & W wouldn’t know about this race… didn’t need spectators anyway.

I was the “extra” in this one… to make the race equal, I couldn’t ride so I played starter… pulled a red construction flag from alongside the road… as both guys brought the R’s up and signaled they were ready, I dropped the flag… apparently Stick wasn’t paying enuff attention and Louie put a hole shot on him. Even tho there wasn’t a lot of money riding on the outcome I’m gonna hear about favoritism if the Dodge loses… . Louie and his ‘58 was out ahead of the Dodge, but the low roar of dual fours sucking Ethyl fuel meant closing ground on the 348″… it was going to be a photo finish no one would see. I watched as taillights bounced on the transition… I couldn’t tell who won. A few minutes later Louie came screaming back. “C’mon, the Dodge went over the embankment at the curve… gotta go get him out of the car.” We stopped about where Louie said he’d gone off the road… grabbed flashlites and headed down the bank looking for an overturned Dodge. Louie yelled, “Look at this.” About twenty feet from the road’s edge, the Dodge hit after its’ airborne flight, gouged out a big section of dirt and weeds… his flashlight followed flattened weeds, a busted barbed wire fence, part of the corn field had been mowed down and the other corner of fence busted and laid toward the road. Didn’t even look like he slowed once he got out onto the dirt road and was long gone…

About ten minutes later, we were spending a slow 300 seconds chugging a beer at the A & W when the Sheriff went screaming by with lites and siren, headed east… maybe for golf course road. We figured that Dodge was halfway home by now.