April 25, 2024

Automotive Breakdown . . . by Denny Mandeville


As long as we are on the “do you remember” kick- and may be on it for awhile as I relive the more  carefree days of high school and the “California Dreamin’” days.

Early 1960s high school in rural New York were the days of hot cars, wanna be hot cars, and the family sedan driven like it was a hot car. Cars you could buy from the dealer, or cars built by the owners. This was also in the days when the Feds and state governments were by-passing the little towns with the better built highways. Of course, to a red blooded teenager, the new straight-aways were a God given drag strip. In our case it was the new SR12 by-passing the town of Lyons Falls in Lewis County. The new 4 lane concrete road took traffic around the black topped four corner blinking yellow light on the edge of town with its 25MPH sign. 

At corner of the old road you could fill up with SUNOCO 260 (the HIGHEST octane gas you could buy- but it had to be before 6PM, ‘cause that’s when the station closed) and waited until almost dark to use this gasoline, either racing or aimlessly cruising. To put this in a bit of perspective- living where I did, in New York, was very similar to my currently living in the VOC- the nearest town was Sedona, and the high school was Mingus. In other words, to get into trouble I had to drive there for that purpose. One of my girl friends lived in Constableville- so it was like going to Jerome from the Village.

On our not-so high fidelity AM/single speaker radios we sang along to “Two cool sharps sittin’ side by side- a fuel injected Sting Ray and a 413…”. How many, today, still sing along with the Beach Boys and don’t know the meaning of what was so familiar to the teenage crowd of the period?  The 413 referred to an engine in a Chrysler product- THE hottest engine of the period, and a fuel injected Sting Ray, of 327 CID, referred to GM’s early attempts at going away from carburetion- an experiment that died for lack of technology. Or you hummed along to the Daytona’s “spring little Cobra, get ready to strike…”- a song about Carroll Shelby’s little package of dynamite- stuffing a rather large engine into a rather small car.

The perennial favorite of today’s Oldies stations; “Little Deuce Coupe,” another Beach Boys song, was a concept  as foreign to us Easterners as it is to most folk today;  a 1932 Ford Coupe cut down to barest essentials (as a car).

Think John Milner’s car in “American Graffiti.” Only in Southern California could it be considered normal transportation. And, as teenagers, we ached to have such a cool ride as we cruised in our 4 slammer, three-on-the-tree, practical cars.  Oh! “4 slammer?” The sound of 4 doors being closed. “Three on the tree” was the column mounted shifter. If you had an automatic transmission, you learned to let off the gas between shifts so it sounded like you were shifting while moving your body in a parody of sifting – four times.

“Purrs like a kitten ‘til its Lake Pipes roar…” We used to make our own “lake pipes” by welding  a gas tank filler neck into our exhaust pipes, with a large chrome gas cap as the block off cap. Lake Pipes? They were called Lake Pipes because in the early days of West Coast hot rodding out on the Bonneville Salt Flats most cars were driven there and were street legal (including exhaust), so to get extra power an exhaust cut out was used- Lake Pipes coming off before the muffler and exiting out the side of the car. The bolted on caps kept the exhaust quiet for the streets, and were taken off for racing purposes. No muffler to soften the sound, more power. When our lake pipes roared- it became a siren call to the police to head for the noise with their own sirens.

When I got out of the military in the summer of 1970 I headed for California attend college and (see the opening paragraph) the land of cars. The land where I could have a car that reflected more than transportation. I moved to the San Diego region, got over my cultural shock, ‘hopped up’ my car and joined the cruising crowd on El Cajon Blvd, the Pacific Hwy, along the beaches as we checked out each other’s ride, AND, coincidently, checking the California girls (as the girls checked us out as well).

California Dreaming and cars- what every twenty something male needed in the early ‘70’s. ‘Mag’ wheels, wide tires, Thrush mufflers (to get that deep burble/rumble and keep within noise constraints), mild to wild camshaft swaps, headers, a Hurst shifter to replace the stock shifter. Yes sir, I look back and marvel I survived it, both physically and fiscally.  In the process I got an education, a vocation (although not completely matching what the GI Bill paid for), and fond memories of California Dreamin’.


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