When I was a kid growing up in New York in the late 50’s, it was a really cool time. The airwaves were full of doo-wop, the street corners had singing groups practicing their sweet harmonies, the neighborhoods were full of friendly people and shopkeepers who knew you by name and the streets were full of cars destined to become classics. How cool is that? And so my love affair with the automobile had begun.
I can remember playing dodge ball one day right after the ’57 Chevy’s were introduced. Well, one of those beauties came by in bright red with a white top and me and my friends thought, “Wow, look at those fins!” Little did we know what we were in store for in 1959 when Cadillac came out with the hugest fins ever! We sure were careful not to fall into one of those while playing stick ball in the street. Ouch!
Tail fins and 1950’s cars just go hand in hand. Just about everybody seemed to have them. Chevy’s and Cadillacs like I already mentioned. Fords had a small one but it was still there. Plymouth, and Chrysler Imperials had them. In 1959 we saw Chevy come out with that big bat wing, which was squared off a bit for ’60 and by ’61 the era of fins was gone. While it lasted though, we sure had some fabulous designs out of Detroit. Giant fins and lots of shiny chrome. A combination still sought after today.
So back in the old neighborhood, I remember a guy around the block from me who had a ’57 Ford retractible hardtop. Me and the gang stood around wide-eyed as the hardtop slid smoothly into the trunk. Amazing! One minute a hardtop and the next minute a convertible.
During our frequent and intense stickball games or a good game of “flies up” (remember that one? Take a Spaulding “pinkie” and slam it to the ground right in front of the wall to a neighbor’s house letting it hit against the wall and pop into the air where a bunch of guys were eagerly waiting to catch it and record the out), we’d watch with envy as the older teens, the kids we thought were already “men” cruise by with cars from the “40’s and early 50’s all souped up and burning rubber to impress us children – and the girls of course. And I gotta tell ya, impressed we were. We envied those guys in the cars with the cruiser skirts, continental kits, lake pipes and Cherry Bomb mufflers. Those lucky guys behind the wheel of a Chevy Belair or a Ford Crestliner or if you were really lucky – a flamed and custom Merc. I couldn’t drive one so I built plastic models from Revell and Monogram of all the cars I loved and continued to dream about. I even wanted to do my hair in a DA and pompadour but my Mom didn’t like the look. And now there’s just not enough hair left to achieve the look even if I still wanted it.
Yep, those sure were the days. You could buy a Model A for a couple of hundred bucks or less – and not a total beater either. Heck, some were still being used as daily drivers. And cars from the late 30’s and 40’s, well they were all over the place. A lot still running and functioning as the family car and you could buy one for, by today’s standard, what would amount to grand theft auto – a real steal!
In my mind’s eye I can still go back in time and look out the front window of our apartment. Hey look, up the street is my classmate’s Grandfather’s ’40 Ford maroon coupe parked there. And look across the street – there’s another neighbor’s ’48 Buick, all black and shiny. Down the street I can see a two toned ’55 Dodge and two houses up from where I lived, my friend’s father had a ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Biaritz – a beautiful blue with a brushed metallic roof.
Up and down the street they came – the Fords, Chevy’s, Buicks, Pontiacs, De Soto’s, Chryslers, Plymouths, Mercs and more. A car show every day. And now, those beautiful works of art have given way to just the memories along with the Toyotas and Nissans and Hondas now cruising the streets. Fortunately, we’ve got a great and thriving car show culture keeping things alive and I attend as many as I can along with beautiful diecast models to display, admire and dream about. Even my son became a car nut owning a ’57 Chevy, a ’67 Camaro and a ’51 Ford pick-up. I guess I brought him up right. My collection of diecast is at 35 plus and growing making it possible to own all the cars I could never afford, helping to keep those childhood dreams alive.
But if I could hop in a time machine, I know right where I’d go. It would be back to those days of tail fins and chrome, pompadours and drive-ins, drug store soda fountains, Peggy Sue, American Bandstand and my new transistor radio playing “In The Still of the Night”. What a great time to be alive. Ike was our President and the world was good – at least for us kids. Well, let me grab that comb out of my back pocket, dab on a little Brylcreem and work on that DA, put the top down on my Chevy and go pick up my best girl Rosie and head to the drive-in. See ya there.
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