Watching the movie “Harry and Tonto,” starring Art Carney and cat, Tonto, my wife, Peggy, asked what kind of car it was that Harry was driving.
I don't know about you, but if you were anything like me, as soon as the new car models came out you oohed and aahed until you were exhausted. Since he was driving a mid 1950 model, the era in which I came of age, I replied without a smidgen of hesitation, “A 1955 Chevy two door sedan, strip down model with black wall tires. Probably has a straight six under the hood.”
“Yeah?” she questioned after thinking about it for a moment or two. “Doesn't look like a '55 Chevy. It was only on the screen for a split second. I think you're dreaming! ”
Dreaming?!? It was the golden age of automobiles. I couldn't wait until the new models arrived. They were at the top of every guy's “I can't wait” list. Well, maybe not all the way. At that age, a record setting rainbow trout was notched deeply at the top. Signing a Major League Baseball contract was second and knowing the years, makes and models of cars was third.
Down the line, somewhere behind having a faithful dog, sailing the seven seas and playing Notre Dame football, girls worked their way into that “I can't wait” list. But not to worry. As time progressed, so did the female's ascension to the top until all that remained were the iconic cars of the '50s and '60s and a lady's undying love; not necessarily in that order.
That golden age started about the mid 1950s, teasing us with the 1955 and '56 Fords, Chevys and Plymouths. Then the year of all years arrived. In the early fall of 1956, we were subjected to “The Forward Look” as Chrysler Corporation called its big tail finned Plymouths. And what a look it was.
Beside Plymouth's image setting 1957 Forward Look, Chevy's sharp tail fins and distinctive clean lines, and Ford's rear angled tail fins with a redesigned front grill, these cars couldn't help but make an indelible mark on your memory. Cruise around in any one of them and the top of your “I can't wait” list would disintegrate, being replaced with pony tailed girls wearing short shorts.
At the top of the car model lines Ford had the Galaxy 500, Chevy's was the Impala and Plymouth gave us the Sports Fury. But two of those three built cars strictly for driving fun. Chevy's was the 1953 Corvette, and two years later Ford presented the Thunderbird. Both were two seaters.
So many hearts palpitated when their eyes first saw the small, classic Corvette. But my keen eyes rested gently as my automotive heart melted at the sight of Ford's T-bird. And then when they introduced the 1957 model, with the rear angular tail fins jutting outward at a 45 degree angle, my jaw dropped for such a time one might have suspected I was afflicted with lockjaw. It was, by far, the most impressive car I had ever envisioned.
The big three continued to wet our whistles with sleek looking models year after year, but with the exception of Ford's 1964½ to '70 Mustangs, Chevy's Camaros and Plymouth’s Barracudas from that same era, nothing they've produced since then could hold a candle to the 1957 models.
“Now where are you headed?” the wife asked after the movie, Harry and Tonto was finished.
“I'm going out to look for a 1957 T-Bird,” I jokingly answered.
“Don't you go buying any such car,” she ordered. “They're too expensive. They no longer cost $2,900. Besides, there would be no room for the grand-kids.”
I thought about that for a moment as I looked into the mirror and realized my slimmer look of 1957 was history. There also would be no room for me.
Guess I'll just continue living those golden years in my memory.
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