September 27, 2023

Automotive Beakdown by Denny Mandeville


The other day a few auto centered terms came up that would only be understood by those of a certain age- those common terms that have just quietly slipped away. Fender Skirts, and the ultimate skirt; the Cruiser Skirt. You may know of, or had, fender skirts, but the real test is “Cruiser Skirt”. Give up, or don’t know?  They were an extra long skirt that went to the rear bumper giving the area behind the rear tire that lowered, ‘slip-stream’ look. They went along with glass packs and fox tails hung from the rear mount antenna for the AM radio.

How about curb feelers?  Those wire whiskers attached to the fender to make a fingernail-on-the-blackboard sound when touching the high curbs in the city so as to protect the wide white sidewall tires from curb scuffing, or to protect those very expensive wheel covers that weighed a ton and cost a fortune to replace (some folks- like my great-aunt in her Oldsmobile Rocket 88- did so regularly). Other cover  losers invested in wheel cover ‘locks’ that attached to the replacement metal valve stem to, at least, prevent the covers from popping off and rolling down the street.  As kids, we made the occasional tip by chasing the runaway wheel covers as they noisily rattled down the gutter.

Steering knobs/suicide knobs/spinners. Ooh whee!  Clamped to the rim of the steering wheel they allowed cool, one handed, cornering or other feats of one handed steering such as parallel parking. When I was a teenager the local Western Auto store was THE automotive emporium. There we could peruse, drool, dream and purchase those nifty dress up parts, including steering wheel spinners that had a clear cover with photos inside. For mom there was the spinner with a flower, or something equally benign and pleasing. For brother there was a lady in a bathing suit (how risqué that was). And if dad was so inclined- under the counter was the nude lady posing, oh so provocatively, under the clear plastic.

How about Continental Kits? Modeled after the classic Lincoln Continental with the extended rear bumper that held the spare tire externally in a fancy metal housing. The addition of this to your plain-jane Chevy 4 door was supposed to make it as cool as the above mentioned Lincoln. In reality it made getting into the trunk a royal pain.

Do you remember “stepping on the starter”? Or folks using the term? That was when the starter button wasn’t a button on the dash (before the start function was incorporated into the key ignition switch) but a big knob on the floor next to the gas pedal. To start the car/truck required placing your right foot kitty wampus on the gas pedal so you could give the engine some gas at the same time pushing down on the starter control with the toe of your shoe, while your left foot was pushing in the clutch pedal. Add pulling the choke on a cold morning to this and it was a three ring circus requiring some dexterity and coordination to get the car started. Oh, you did remember to turn the ignition switch on, didn’t you?

Did you ever have a sunshade above the windshield? How about the little plastic prism mounted to the  non-safety steel dashboard so you could see the color of the 2 bulb traffic light hung in the middle of the intersection?

Ever wait for your dad to come so you could ride on the running board up the driveway? Just how many ways of unsafe was that? Unsafe, but fun and so kooool. It was easy to do because the windows were always rolled down in the summer for the 4-40 air conditioning  (4 windows rolled down and driving 40 MPH).

When did “emergency brake” turn to “parking brake” anyway? If your family had a Chrysler product, do you remember being taught not to pull the emergency brake on too hard/quickly while moving or you’d break the drive shaft?  Speaking of Chryslers – the left hand thread lug nuts on the driver side wheels in the theory they wouldn’t loosen during driving, caused grief to many motorists trying to change the flat tire.

Do you remember when ‘Coast to coast” was a phrase that held all sorts of excitement and visions of a faraway world? My dad was an over the road owner/operator truck driver in the 50s and 60s, and going to Canton, Ohio, not to mention Florida, (from New York) was exotic (to me) and required route planning (for him). No just jumping on the interstate and heading west with signs directing the driver to his destination.
If you know, used, or experienced these terms, I hate to tell you, but you, my friend, are OLD! And like you, these phrases are slipping quietly away, just like the noble steeds we used to drive when cars were cars and meant to be customized. Meet you in the musty halls of nostalgia.

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