Last weekend, at a classic car “cruise-in” I attended in Jefferson City, an older gentleman approached me and posed a question as I sat beside my black and white, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
“So what do you think about people who bring new cars to these types of events?”
I thought for a moment, not knowing whether the man asking owned a classic or a newer vehicle, then answered honestly. “I think that for an informal gathering like this, where cars are not judged, people should be allowed to show up in whatever makes them happy.”
The man nodded in agreement and waited for me to elaborate. “Events like this are just about meeting new people, talking about cars, and having fun,” I continued. “Now for shows where trophies are awarded, on the other hand, it’s easy to buy a brand new car in perfect condition and enter it, but getting a 60 year-old vehicle with mechanical, electrical, and cooling issues to make it to an event is an art form. And I think that should be rewarded.”
It’s a crapshoot every time I drive my car. I never know if I’ll make it to my destination or not. Take what happened the previous weekend for example. A cruise-in was taking place in Columbia at the Mugs-Up drive-in on Business Loop 70. I hopped in my Bel Air and hit the road, eager to meet some fellow car enthusiasts and check out their cool rides.
Even as the daylight turned to dusk, the heat index that evening hovered in the triple digits. By the time I pulled onto the Loop, my car started coughing and sputtering. Finally, just about a block away from Mugs-Up, the motor stalled, and I was forced to pull off the road and coast into a nearby parking lot across from the Chevy dealership.
This has happened enough times that I believe I have finally diagnosed the problem. My car does not possess its original 283 cubic inch engine that it was born with. Instead, a previous owner installed a bigger, more powerful 350 cubic inch V8 that produces over 300 horsepower and a tremendous amount of heat. Unfortunately, the car still has its original radiator, which is too small and frankly too outdated to effectively cool the upgraded engine. On particularly warm days, the engine gets so hot that the gas in the fuel line and carburetor vaporizes which then stops the flow of fuel and causes the engine to stall.
I explained all of this to the nice salesman from Bob McCosh Chevrolet who stopped to check on me as he was leaving work. As luck would have it, the kind stranger turned out to be Hartsburg resident Jason Sedillo, father of several children I have had the pleasure of teaching at the SoBoCo primary school.
Jason and I had a great visit while we waited for my car to cool down. He’s a sucker for classic cars and trucks, too. We took turns sharing pictures saved on our smartphones of our other vehicles, just like fathers used to do with pictures in their wallets of their kids. After a while, I asked Jason if he could wait a minute more to see if my car would start. I tried several times to get it to fire, with no luck. Finally, I primed the carb (kids, don’t try this at home) with a little gas from a portable container I keep in my trunk for just such emergencies, and after a few tries, the engine eventually roared back to life.
I thanked Jason for his company, bid him farewell, and limped the car back to Ashland. Luckily, the highway speeds forced plenty of air through the old radiator and kept the car cool enough to make it home.
On the day of the Jeff City gathering, the weather was about 20 degrees cooler, and the ‘57 drove beautifully. While talking to the friendly gentleman who had approached me, I asked what kind of car he drove. “2017 Ford Mustang,” he answered almost sheepishly.
I replayed our conversation in my mind, hoping I hadn’t said anything to offend him. Then I told him about the Bel Air’s overheating issue and said that he was smart to own a car that he could just get in and enjoy without worrying whether it would leave him stranded on the side of the road. And as for judged car shows, they have different classes for older and newer vehicles, so they don’t really compete head-to-head. “Apples and oranges,” I said. “They’re both pretty sweet.”
My new friend seemed to be satisfied by this and bid me good-day. A wiser man than me, I am certain he has worked on more old cars over his lifetime than I ever will. And good for him for buying himself a brand new hot rod after a lifetime of labor. He deserves to be happy.
I think I deserve to be happy, too. And I am.
But a new radiator would make me even happier.