Baby boomers came of age when muscle cars and in-your-face styling were cool. Manufacturers now sell copycat machines that allow boomers to recapture their childhood, but more often than not, it’s difficult to tell one make from another.
People drive cars that look like toasters. If it weren’t for the hamsters behind the wheel, would any of us be able to tell the difference between a Scion xB and a Kia Soul?
When boomers were teenagers, a favorite pastime for some was perching on the railing of the front porch and challenging their buddies or kid brother to name the make, model and year of passing vehicles.
Today, those same guys and gals wish they still had the cars of their youth, cherry wheels that are now worth a small fortune. Some are pleased just to own something that goes fast, conjuring up memories of a time when street racing, right or wrong, was a sport.
“From the time I was 16 until I went into the Army at about 19½, everybody I knew had a muscle car. Of course, the cars were all too fast for our driving skills, but we thought we were invincible,” said Bob Christman. “At the Varsity [a Barberton drive-in], it was nothing on a Friday or Saturday night to have a hundred cars in there. Ninety-nine percent were muscle cars,” flashy, high-performance automobiles that were usually, if not always, American built.
Sitting in their Barberton home, Bob and his wife, Sally, reminisced. To Sally’s chagrin, the images of her days as a teenager are a little too in-her-face. On one wall of the living room is a floor-to-ceiling display case filled with 230 die-cast car models, which Bob routinely washes and waxes.
“They’re like boll weevils … they’ll never leave,” she joked.
Bob explained that guys were always looking for a race while cruising their favorite spots.
“But the girls thought you were looking for us,” Sally chimed in.
“You knew from experience who had the fast cars. There was a pecking order. Sometimes there might be a guy who would come down from Lujan’s [restaurant] and he had the hottest car,” recalled Bob, who is laid up for a while after he was struck by a motorist while bicycling. “And even before they arrived, you knew they were coming.”
It was a time before cell hones. But one guy talking to another, talking to another, talking to another spread the word.
A car that Bob wishes he still had is his ’67 Chevy Nova Super Sport.
“The biggest mistake I made when I went into the Army was selling it for $1,300. Now they sell them at the Barrett-Jackson [collector car auction] for $30,000 to $40,000.”
But the 62-year-old stops short of saying he wants another old muscle car, settling instead for his 1989 Corvette.
“Most muscle cars don’t have air-conditioning and you have to work on them all of the time,” Bob said. “And the Corvette that I have now corners faster than I have nerve to drive.”
Another car guy, Bob Bonto of Springfield Township, was able to hold onto the Buick Riviera GS that he bought new in 1971. Today, the odometer reads just 19,270 miles, about what the average driver puts on a car in 15 months.
Bonto, who has judged the Stan Hywet Father’s Day car show for the past 18 years, bought the car for $5,200 after being discharged from the Army in 1971.
For years he has done well in car shows with the immaculate, boat-size vehicle — and has the trophies to prove it.
Like others, he is frustrated by the designs of this generation.
“The car companies are making cars today with no personality. They are mass-produced cookie-cutter cars,” Bonto lamented. “As baby boomers, we had some of the most bold, daring designs that ever came out. They were innovative. You are never going to see those designs again.”
Cars of their youth
We recently asked some baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to tell us about cherished cars they had when they were kids:
“I saw the car [a ’55 Buick Special] sitting on the corner of the street in Akron. It would not go in reverse, so test driving was a real trick. But I have worked for several car dealerships and I knew a good-looking car when I saw it.”
The car cost $300. The man who owned it said he wanted to sell it before getting a divorce, so his wife wouldn’t acquire the Nile-green car with a steering wheel as big as a semi-truck.
She sold the car in the early ’90s, with only 59,000 miles on it.
“I would not drive it in the rain or snow. … It was time to let someone else have fun with it.”
— Audrey L. Humphrey,
“In the ’70s, I had a Fiat 124 Spyder, the top-down roadster that I cherished, but it was legendarily unreliable … so I sold it.
“Never stopped missing that top-down feeling of driving a sports car, so when the opportunity came up … I bought a Mazda Miata. A 1999 with only 1,500 miles on it.”
All the fun of a Spyder, “none of the unreliability, and Japanese durability in one slick little driving machine.”
— Joel Collins,
“My first new car was a 1969 Chevelle SS 396. I paid $3,850 for it, out the door. It was champagne green, with a dark green vinyl top.
“I put Cragar, one-piece aluminum wheels all around, with 10-inch Goodyears on the back. I also had Mickey Thompson headers installed, as well as a Hurst Competition Plus, 4-speed shifter …
“No one smoked in my car. I was known on North Hill for my Chevelle. My mechanic said he loved to work on my car, ’cause he didn’t get dirty.
“I shoulda kept that car. I still think that I have it stored somewhere, and I still have dreams about it.
“I think boomers liked their cars so much … because that was the time of the original muscle cars. All the auto companies were trying to outdo each other in making a car with the most horsepower, and catchy names — and us kids were eating it up.”
— Joseph Cassiday Jr.
“I have a ’65 Mustang, which I’ve owned for 10 years. It’s not a show-perfect car, but what’s called a daily driver.
“I like to tell the ladies, ‘I kissed my wife for the first time in that car,’ though it’s stretching the truth a bit. I enjoy watching their faces.
“Every spring it comes out of the garage and I’m suddenly 17 years old again. Listening to Beach Boys … and dreaming about the good old days…”
— Richard Schweitzer