February 25, 2024

Automotive Breakdown by Denny Mandeville


If anyone has visited my shop these past few months they have seen the red 1962 Thunderbird convertible that has resided therein as I have been performing a series of repairs to this car. I have been disturbed to find out I remember far more about this car than I ought to, considering how many years it has been since I actually owned, or worked on, 1960’s cars.

As I was doing an initial interview, with the customer, he noted the chrome acorn nuts on the visible head bolts, asking whether this was factory, or add-on? I made the comment “someone has made the trip to Western Auto (Parts Store) for those”.  My two 30-something mechanics gave a blank, somewhat quizzical look, at the Western Auto comment. I added, for their edification, “you know, steering wheel spinners, and gear shift knobs with a photo of the bikini clad girl in the center and such”. Now the looks became skeptical, along with the question “just what is a steering wheel  spinner”?  And with this I realized whole generations had no knowledge of JC Whitney or Western Auto Parts Stores.

There was no teenage boy worth his salt who did not salivate over the offerings from the local Western Auto. Where else could you get a gear shift knob featuring a nameless, bikini clad, woman with that “come hither look” perched on the end of our 3 speed floor shift lever?  And a different woman staring back at you from the center of the steering wheel spinner that allowed us to make those cool, fancy, turns in the school parking lots, or cruising down the road one handed? 

Rumor had it, more risqué girls were available from under the counter- but bikini clad was pretty wild for the average 17 year old in the early 1960’s. Chrome acorn nuts to dress up exposed bolts or lug nuts on the flat- black painted rims of your ride. And, the ultimate- a TACHOMETER mounted on the steering column. Whooee! Instant racer out of a grocery getter. Walter MItty- stand aside.

As teenage boys, in a much simpler time, joy was possession of a car and a JC Whitney catalog. Who can forget (obviously I didn’t- note the address is still located in the recesses of my otherwise vacant brain) the iconic JC Whitney, 1917-1919 Archer Ave, Chicago Illinois, catalog with its pages of tantalizing automotive products such as exhaust cut outs (closed for residential driving, wide open for the country- increase your power and  mileage!). I actually purchased one of these cutouts and, upon arrival, found it beyond the skill and capability of my 17 year old driveway mechanical operations.

It was euphoric bliss to flip the pages of so many accessories; fender skirts, moon wheel covers (sorry, not going to attempt to describe what moons were- either you know, or you’re ignorant-forever), headlight shields (so you could run high beams all the time) hood ornaments that lit up! Engine dress up kits for my ’41 Ford flathead; all that chrome highlighting an incredible 85 horsepower engine topped off with a chrome “pot” air filter. Baby moons for my ’59 Ford and the grill lights to make my car unique.

JC Whitney supplied me with parts, from far away Chicago all the way to my rural New York home, to rebuild my first engine (ran just fine, thank you for asking) being installed in my ’61 Falcon Futura, along with the clear plastic seat covers.

I haven’t seen a Western Auto in years, and JC Whitney, while still around, has lost its allure, and siren call, to teenage boys. But all those memories came flooding back with one comment about chrome acorn bolt covers on a customer’s newly acquired ’62 ‘Bird.

Our shop is one of 55 ASA-AZ shops that are listed as “Green” by Arizona Department of  Environmental Quality. We control our waste stream; we re-claim and re-cycle antifreeze, waste oil, refrigerant, plastics, paper, and most metals. Our floors are not washed into the sewer system, and we control our drain water quality through the use of hydro-carbon socks. We have installed low energy fluorescent lighting and use low energy computer systems. Our outdoor lighting, for night time security, is low density and meets dark sky recommendations. Additionally, we purchase products in bulk (eliminating plastic bottles) wherever practical. Our chemicals are chlorine free. Being green is not always cheap, or easy- but it is the right thing to do, and good for Sedona.

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