My Search For American Muscle – Part I

MY HISTORY WITH CARS

I was born in 1963 at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, and I think we and maybe the first of the Generation Xers are the last of a breed of guys who think the muscle car era (1964 through 1972) was the greatest period for cars ever.  We may be the last group that can appreciate the beauty of these machines and the last that may appreciate the value they hold.  These are the cars we grew up around.  Maybe your parents had one.  Maybe your cool uncle came back from Vietnam and bought a GTO.  Maybe the neighbor down the street would roar past your house in his Mach 1.  Maybe it was a cool guy in your school whose dad let him have a Chevelle.  For me, the biggest influence was my brother Jon.  He was eight years older than me and was into going fast.  He had a 1968 Camaro that I think he rolled into the ditch near the high school, probably showing off.  He also had an orange and black 1969 Chevelle SS, that I begged him to drive me around in.  I can clearly remember getting in the back of it and driving to Old Chicago, a suburban indoor amusement park in the early 1970’s where I experienced eating Wendy’s for the first time, and watching an old guy hand roll cigars in the window of a tobacco shop.  I think my sister might have even thrown up in the back seat once, not sure on that.

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My sister Sue and the ’66 Ford Mustang, circa 1979-80.
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Believe it or not, this was a color photograph.  Pictures sucked back then.  Neither the sign nor the house in the background are there anymore.

 

My first car was a 1966 Ford Mustang, a car whose radio would only work if the lights were on, and the brakes would work sometimes, only if I really stood on the pedal.  When Mom found out about the brakes, Jon was enlisted to find a replacement.  It was a beater 1974 Chevy Vega, a car that got me through high school but was far from a performance vehicle, although it did have a four speed manual transmission that made driving it at least a little more fun.

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A stock photo of a 1974 Chevy Vega.  I had the same exact car, just imagine it with more rust.

 

In college I found a 1971 Olds Cutlass 442 for sale for $1000 in Macomb, Illinois.  I called my mom and asked if I could use my savings to buy it.  She agreed, and the deal was made.  Then I learned some hard lessons about buying a 23 year old car for $1000.  The original motor wasn’t there, and in it’s place was a Buick 350.  I didn’t know any better to even check.  The body had a little front end damage that was not really visible from a distance.  And it wasn’t long before I could see where the body had been repaired with body filler.  There was lots of it.  But inside it was pretty nice, and it drove well enough for me to drive it around and get the occasional thumbs up from someone who could appreciate a car from that era.  I even courted Kari in that car, cruising around going nowhere in particular, even though I had a nice new 1987 Pontiac Sunbird Turbo GT by then.

Then Kari and I got engaged and married and I sold the not very original 442 for $500 so that I could help fund our honeymoon.  Five hundred bucks.  Today you can sell the rear bumper of a 442 for much more than $500.  I was thinking that I was kind of dumping this car on the guy that bought it because the transmission was fried, no longer really wanting to go in reverse.  But when he came back with the money to pick it up, he was driving a cherry 1970 442 that looked brand new.  His intention was to restore the car for his daughter.  I was glad it was going to someone who knew what he was doing, and I hope that the car is still out there today.

 

MY SEARCH FOR A MUSCLE CAR

Since selling that 442 back in 1992, I have often wished that I could have another muscle car to drive around in.  I can remember back in the mid to late 1990’s I even started a muscle car savings account at the bank and would throw some money into it hoping to save enough for another car.  The problem that arose however, was the market for them exploded.  Baby boomers were now in a position to buy them and they were scooping them up.  Prices skyrocketed.  Some of the Hemi powered Mopars were fetching well over $100K, with the rare Superbird reaching close to a million bucks at some auctions.  I knew that I wasn’t really positioned to purchase a muscle car with three young kids, a mortgage and college to pay for.  I think I emptied that savings account to help pay for one of our houses we moved to, or the minivan that we bought for our growing family.  So I waited.  Waited until I turned 55 years old.

On my birthday this year, my wife gave me a birthday card that was car themed and on the bottom she had written “Let’s go pick up that classic hot rod!”  I was floored, but excited!  She had seen that I had been looking online at old cars for sale.  I was looking just because I like to look at them, but she also could tell that I was interested in getting one again.  Thankfully, prices for classic muscle cars has come down quite a bit.  The 2008 economy tanking affected the values somewhat, and they came down to more reasonable levels.  But they are starting to creep up again.

So I began looking in earnest for a car.  What did I want?  What could we afford?  Lots of things to consider.  It was almost a burden, because the cars I really like are the most popular of the muscle car era.  I particularly like the 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS.  That’s really the dream car for me.  But I see those all the time and Chevelles are really expensive.  So I broadened my list to include not just the Chevelle, but all of the GM A bodies – Buick GS, Olds Cutlass, Pontiac GTO.  I really like the 1970 through 1972 era for the A body, but there is another year that really stands out for me – 1967.  That year seems to me to represent the last of the old 60’s cars before the newer 1968 style ushered in a new look that would take those car styles into the 1970’s.

But I didn’t limit myself just to GM.  My dad had a 1965 or 1966 Plymouth Sport Fury III sedan that I remembered from being a kid.  It was a cool car, painted white with a nice light blue interior.  On summer days when it would rain, I would go out and sit in the car and listen to the raindrops pound away on the roof of it.  It just had a cool interior.  One muscle car from mother Mopar that reminds of that Fury is the 1967 Plymouth GTX.  The lines on that car are super sharp, and it just looks aggressive sitting still.  The Dodge R/T is very closely related, so that car is on my list as well.

So I guess I’m not saying no to any of the cars from that ’64 through ’72 era, it’s just that those are the ones I like.  I was looking mostly online on the Hemmings Motor News website, one that had a ton of cars.  I found several that I saved as favorites.  The trouble is many of them are located several states away.  That meant that I would have to plan on taking a trip to see them and budget for shipping costs to get them delivered home.  Lots of things to consider now.  I told my friend Carl that it was becoming a pain in the butt for me!

 

THE FIRST TEST DRIVE

I was searching on eBay and found a 1967 Olds Cutlass Supreme 442 convertible in an ad.  This car was local too, being sold in Huntley, Illinois about 55 miles away.  The listing had a ton of pictures and I was blown away.  A convertible 442 that looked awesome and I could get it locally.  It listed for $45,750.

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A red 1967 Olds C/S 442 convertible for sale in Huntley, Illinois.  Are you drooling too?
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One of the best looking 1967 GM A bodies in my personal opinion.

This car had me drooling.  The pictures made it look like a show winner.  This car was sexy.  I now knew that this one might be the one.

The engine was billed as original to the car.  I studied and decoded the body tag on the firewall.  It indicated that it was a 1967 442 built in the third week of April.  The one discrepancy was the paint code, it showed a “P” which meant a Pewter color and this one was “arrest me red.”  The other thing that bothered me was the underbody was painted the red body color and most all of the ’67’s that I have seen are painted black on the underside.  It was super clean though, and all of the floor panels looked original and in great shape.

I contacted the owner, a guy who ran a dealership called National Muscle Cars, and arranged to go see it.  I just didn’t feel comfortable making an eBay offer on a car without seeing it in person.  I promised him that I wasn’t just some tire kicker and that I was serious about acquiring a collector car.

Kari and I drove up and met with the guy.  He was super cool and told us that he acquired muscle cars as a hobby and did a lot of buying and selling.  This was the only car he had for sale at the time.

My first impression of the car was wow, it looked awesome and sounded cool too.  We did a cursory walk around and I liked what I saw and we took it for a spin.  It was the test drive that started to change my mind about the car.  The very first thing I noticed was that the compartment lid in the shifter console would not stay closed.  For a car that was billed as having an extensive restoration, to not put the effort into making sure the lid would stay closed seemed odd to me.  Plus it had some weird bolts in the bottom of it securing it to the floor that did not look factory correct to me.

The transmission shifted hard into gear and it seemed that it just wasn’t shifting very smooth.  I decided to put my foot into the gas and there was no get up and go to it.  It rode pretty smooth, but the drive did not thrill me like I had hoped.

Upon getting back to the shop, he let Kari and I look the car over.  It was then I could see some of the little flaws that from 5 feet away you wouldn’t have noticed.  It was a piece of chrome trim that was loose around the the convertible top that made me think that this car’s rotisserie restoration was just basically a repaint and not much more.  For nearly $46,000 bucks, I wanted a little more of a solid car.  I didn’t want to have to correct every little thing.  I told the guy that I would have to think about it, but I had already decided to take a pass.  It just seemed to me that if I was finding these little issues, there would be more that I would discover later on.

I thanked the guy and Kari and I drove to the local Culver’s and had a quick bite to eat, and I explained to her why I didn’t think this was the right car.  We agreed that there are many more out there, and there was no rush to buy the car right away.  I learned to make sure to put in the time to check them out before committing.  These are cars that are 50 years old, and were basically driven hard by baby boomers and people like me for  five decades.

I guess that I will need to kick a few more tires.  The search will continue!

 

Author: Ironman Chris

Family, running, triathlon and drumming are my things.

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