Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sledding Land Yacht Hoods - What's the Next Frontier of Automotive Nostalgia?

Back when I was a teenager, we would re-purpose land yacht hoods into five-person bobsleds.  Come the first weekend that we had any serious accumulation of snow, we'd head out to the junkyard in search of the biggest, flattest, least rusty hood we could find.  One particular year, we used both the trunk and engine lid from a '72 Olds 98, which I remember was gold and covered in pro-life and 720 AM Cubs radio bumper stickers.  

lid acreage - 1972 Oldsmobile 98

My friend Jon's dad had shown him how to weld, kind of, the previous summer, so Jon and a few of us crudely bent the leading, previously hinged edge of each panel to an approximate fit - for this delicate task we used a few pipe wrenches wrapped in duct tape, a bowling pin and a framing hammer.  Jon then welded, kind of, the edges together and then bolted a couple of two-by-fours through on either side for added structural rigidity and to double as hand rails.  While driving to dinner later that day I mentioned the project to my dad in passing, and he didn't seem to take too much interest, but within minutes of getting home he thrust a large, nearly-full can of silicone spray into my hands and instructed me to use the whole thing on the underside of our nearly 10' long, 200 lb., rusty-edged, improvised and shoddily made slab of potential childhood tragedy.  This, he told me excitedly, would make it 'go really fast'.

We sprayed the shit out of that giant-ass sled, loaded up on Goldschläger and E&J stolen from our parent's liquor cabinets, strapped that motherfucker to the roof of my buddy Eric's 1978 LTD wagon and headed out to the biggest, baddest hill in the Chicagoland area - a nearly 150' tall, 40 degree slope called Church Hill.  We were eight kids packed into that LTD, soon to be eight kids sledding down that hill on our king mattress-sized sled.  With a combined weight of well over half a ton, I distinctly remember praying no one got in our way or that we wouldn't flip or hit an unseen root or tree stump.  The snow was packed and icy from a light sprinkling of freezing rain the night before, and we just tore down that hill with the momentum of a fully-fueled Geo Metro, at what felt like said car's freeway cruising speed.  It took a lot of effort to tow it back up the hill, but we did all night, well past the point when I could no longer feel my hands and feet.  Good times.

Chicago, circa 1985

Those humongous old Detroit barges were everywhere when I was growing up in the 90's, but have all since disappeared, long ago succumbing to road salt rot.  Even here in the desert climate of Southern California, there's simply no trace of the 8 MPG dinosaurs that once roamed North American interstates far and wide.  As a kid I took these cars for granted, their imminent extinction was never given any thought.  They had wide, buttoned, burgundy or pea green or navy blue vinyl bench seats, tacky 'wood' dash appliques, frame-less windows and pillarless roofs, faux landau tops, hula-hoop steering wheels, and bumpers each with a bowling ball's weight of chrome plating.  They rumbled down the road with a marshmallow float to the tune of a lean-running big block choked with primitive emissions controls, leaving that distinctive and intoxicating smell of leaded gas and carburetors... all of it now a fading memory, occasionally, momentarily, brought back into sharp focus at a car show or by the rare, chance encounter in a parking lot.

J-tin - already arrived

What's the next automotive woolly mammoth?  What type of car do we currently ignore as an unremarkable part of the landscape of daily life that we will soon come to miss?  One could say that J-tin is next in line, but with a strong and growing subculture of enthusiasts, it's a scene that's already reached the big time of the rose-tinted sentiment game, at least here in Southern California.  So what does that leave us with?  The organic futurism of early-to-mid 90's Pontiac and Oldmobile?  The pastel space capsules of Mazda and Ford from the same period?  Transverse-mounted 5 cylinder Volvos?  What's the next frontier of automotive nostalgia?

1 comment:

  1. I think the next imminent extinctions will be Northstar V8-powered cars (flawed head-gasket execution and oil starvation), Malaise Era to present Lincoln Town Cars (demolition derbies and street rod & Mustang engine donors), Ford Taurus SHOs (parts drying up and engines needing special care) and Toyota Cressidas (parts drying up and engines being pulled for Supra restorations)