Friday, December 21, 2012

Engine Specs and Emotional Strings Included

Because my husband, Hank, is too modest to toot his own horn, I shall toot it for him.  Or rather...I will toss aside the cheap, little, tooty horn that says, "Hey, look what I can do," and grab my 1937 sax which in my mind embodies the sultry, sexy years of smoky, nightclub, jazz band playing that regrettably eluded my youth and honk out some ear-splitting, God-awful noises like you've never heard before.  It's been many years since I've played, but I'll embarrass myself in front of the world just because it needs to be done.  I love my husband.  I love his car.  And here's her story.

Chapter One:
Original 216 Straight Six with 3-Speed Transmission on the Column

Hank bought the 1950 Chevy in our second year of dating during college.  It was the classic story of Boy seeing Car lost among the hedgerows of the farmer's field.  By combining his tax return that year with a little savings from his Ramen and hotdog grocery budget, Hank was able to save up the $500.  The farmer towed the car out of the mire.  Hank put on *new* tires, freed up the brakes, and we drove it 100 miles across the state, literally.  It made the trip without incident.

Chapter Two:
305 V8 Small Block Chevy with Turbo 350 Automatic Transmission

In those first few months of ownership, Hank yanked the engine and upgraded to a small block Chevy.  Because of this habit of his, I automatically assume most Greasemonkeys replace the original engines of their hot rods as a matter of course, but I've learned over the years that this is not necessarily the case.  Nevertheless, Hank and I were happy to tool around our college campus in the Chevy, mostly still stock except for the engine. At times this was the only car that Hank had running, driving it well into December one year until funds were available to patch together his '86 Blazer.  But we were proud to use the Chevy when we married just after graduation.

Chapter Three:
350 V8 Small Block Chevy with Turbo 350 Automatic Transmission

During those early years of marriage, we lived in an apartment near my parents' home.  Hank stored the Chevy in my dad's barn and there swapped in yet another engine.  This time a slightly larger small block.  It was also in that 100 year old dairy barn which had been converted into a auto garage that Hank finally turned his attention to the rest of the car, most notably the exterior.  Or rather I should say it was outside of that barn where the exterior saw its first paint job.  Dad didn't want paint on his new concrete floor so Hank stripped the chrome, masked and papered and learned to use a spray gun outside, picking a day when the breeze was at its lightest and the bugs at their least energetic.  At last the Chevy was sloughing off those years of cornfield dirt and really feeling like a kid again.

Chapter Four:
350 V8 Small Block Chevy with Turbo 350 Automatic Transmission
and Twin Turbochargers

Twin turbochargers?  I understand very little of this new upgrade, but know only than it had never been done before in Pasturelands.   It was a brilliant manipulation of pvc and shoehorning; a sheer wonderment to anyone who dared opened the hood out of disbelief.  The Chevy was stretching her legs, breathing fire through those turbos, and she was much faster.

Chapter Five:
350 V8 Small Block Chevy with Twin Turbochargers
 and 700R4 Overdrive Transmission
with Multi-point Fuel Injection

In amongst those years we spent becoming adults, finding real jobs and carving out our roles in society, Hank continued to upgrade, to tweak, to dare.  I think the official reason for the overdrive trans was to improve the fuel economy.  But more likely someone told Hank he couldn't do it.  With that upgrade, the Chevy was now even faster, and we could admit with a smile that our unassuming, Grandpa car was a 'sleeper.'

Chapter Six:
Gen III 5.3 liter Chevy with Twin Turbochargers
 and 700R4 Overdrive Transmission
 with Multi-point Fuel Injection

And this next progression is evidence that when a young couple does not have children, money flows into all sorts of ridiculous avenues.  What are we up to here?  The fourth engine and the sixth configuration?  The Chevy was scarey fast now, and Hank spent a lot of time in the garage tuning it all in.  But as for me, I was disillusioned with my 9-to-5 and decided that it was time to (A) buy a house and (B) start a family. 

Chapter Seven:
350 Small Block Chevy with 5 speed Manual Transmission

 At last the Chevy settled down out of its own riotous youth and became the car that our children have lovingly referred to these past years as "the Big Red Car."  Today, with her small block and 5-speed, she's finally come into her own and embodies that quiet confidence that only comes after years of self-exploration.  But do not make the mistake of thinking that she allows those barn cats to walk over her hood from lack of pride.  It is now, more than ever, that she has secured her place in the garage.  


 After years of concentrating on only the mechanics of the Chevy, it was finally time to spruce up the exterior again.  So this time, in his own barn, spraying paint on his own floor, Hank masked and papered and laid out black scallops across the front clip, on the rear fenders and roof line.

 The Chevy continues to make the rounds to all the Midwest car shows and provides a snazzy backdrop whenever I decide to play the pin-up.  Indeed, the Chevy is recognized more quickly than Hank himself, as happens when you frequent the show circuit.  At these events, drivers remain anonymous while their hot rods are fondly remembered for their sleek lines, sumptuous interiors or, in our case, the fact that many spectators saw this very same Chevy on a grocery run at Piggly Wiggly just last week.

And even with that mild 350 small block, she held her own, pulling a 15.042 second quarter-mile at 92 mph down at Union Grove last summer. You should have seen her driving back home from the track, prouder than all getout. 

In fact she's so secure in herself that she occasionally brings home our new projects.  No rivalry.  No jealousy when our heads are turned by new hot rod prospects.  Here she's towing home our 1930 Model A sedan from Illinois.  And Hank would like me to point out the fact that, yet again, a Chevy is pulling a Ford.  Loyalties run deep around here.

 On other weekends the Chevy's content to pull our '68 Scotty for family camping trips.  We haven't ventured much outside of Wisconsin, but the Grand Canyon is calling. 

In fact we've put car seats in her since the kids were tiny.  They love riding in the back because basically it's like sitting on the couch, and the view out all that expansive glass is much better than in our other cars.  Only on the rare occasion when Hank decides to leave a little rubber on the road, and the cabin fills with smoke to the point that you can't see who's sitting next to you, do the children complain a bit.  But then on the other hand, I've been asked more than once why my car can't go as fast as Dad's.

 Really we treat her like a workhorse on some days, whether it's hauling the canoe to the beach...

 ...hauling the grill to the picnic...

 ...hauling the Christmas tree home...

 ...or hauling nearly 3000 pounds of unprepped, heavy metal in a 1000 pound trailer to the scrapyard.  Only once, in all the sixteen years that we've owned her, has she broken down and had to be towed.  I didn't take a picture that day.  It almost made me cry.  

Our other hot rods have come and gone.  We traded that Model A for my Ford Shoebox, and I have to admit that I'm more attached to the Chevy simply because of the emotional investment over all these years.  Once in a while, Hank reminds me that when the Chevy was pulled from that farmer's field, he wasn't looking for long-term commitment.  The Chevy wasn't his idea of the perfect hot rod; it was just an opportunity.  But even so, we've never considered trading her.  She's stood the test of time; she's become a member of the family.  I told Hank years ago that selling her is simply not an option anymore.  I'd rather park her in the barnyard and let the kids play in her. 

But knowing Hank, as only a lucky few do, the Chevy will be reincarnated, engine after engine, paint job after paint job, new frame, new interior, whatever it takes.  Hank has been the only one to work on her all these years, proudly doing every inch of the mechanics, electrical and bodywork.  Sometimes he was learning as he went, but being the protective parent, he never passed her off to someone else's care.  After all, she has yet to drive Route 66.  She's yet to run at Bonneville.  Yet to put all those pompous limos to shame at our son's prom.  Yet to park outside the church at our daughter's wedding.  So watch for her at the car shows or heading West across the Plains because the Chevy ain't done yet.


  1. Awww...Thanks for sharing! <3 <3

  2. My husband is sitting here drooling over your car. Guess I had better go get him a tissue. Have a good night.

  3. What a handsome car. Your hubby certainly is talented. And patient.

  4. I grew up in a family of mechanics and with an uncle who has lovingly upgraded, tweaked, played around with, and driven the heck out of his own hotrod. It's funny after all of these years people still brag if they have gotten to ride in it (my mom is the only other one I know who actually got to drive it). Thanks for sharing this wonderful array of photos and well-deserved braggery. :)

    (I found a pic of my uncle with his car here in case you run into him at any of the car shows lol)

  5. Love the car, love the commitment! Though my ride is not classic, I still have a '91 S10 that was a four cylinder no frills work truck at my first full time job that I bought off the company cheap when it fell on hard times in 1995, I did a V8 auto swap, and that truck has been through a paint job, three transmissions, and engine swap, head swap, several stereos, three tire/wheel combos, a divorce, two kids and countless road trips (though fewer as I have newer rides) and it's still ticking. :)


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