Of horsepower and testosterone

Published 12:47 pm Thursday, March 23, 2023

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I’m from another era far away in the rearview mirror, but my heart skipped a beat when I read this week that the fastest, most powerful muscle car ever mass-produced in the U.S. is on its way.


It’s also the last one that will be made, so it marks the end of an era of gas-powered cars that rumble, burn rubber and pin you to the seatback.

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Electric is charging up the road at us as we begin a long goodbye to gas-powered cars. I’m all-in on electric, but I have to admit that leaving these hunks of testosterone on wheels is bittersweet.


Anyone my age can easily flip the nostalgia switch and return to the days of yesteryear when cars blub-blub-blubbed their way along Main Street USA in syncopated rhythms of a siren song hoping to entice the opposite sex and create envy in the minds of those not-so-fortunate.


It was a time, of course, of cheap gas. Think 25 cents per gallon. No one, not even preachers who back then lived on pennies, talked about miles per gallon.


Even poor country boys like me could dream.


As a teenager growing up in poverty on a hardscrabble farm in Arkansas, I knew a car could transport me to a world beyond the beans, potatoes and cornbread supper on Saturday night to the main drag, where there were rules of the road for a boy’s four-wheeled strut.


So with money I had saved from working three jobs, I bought a 1954 Ford Coupe, a no-frills car to say the least. Precious little chrome adorned it, but it was fire-engine red, and that was a good start.


My mechanical skills were merely in the budding stage, but a gentleman who lived just down the road let out an admiring laugh when I pulled into his yard. I remember him saying something like, “Boy, that’s gonna get you in trouble.” It did.


His name was A. B. Robertson. I never heard him called anything but A. B. or Mr. A. B. This 40-ish man probably could have been a NASCAR mechanic, but Charlotte was nearly 700 miles and a lifetime away. I asked him if he could help me make a few modifications.


“Better ask your Daddy first,” he said.


Together, which means mostly him, we added power by boring out the little 239 cubic inch V8 engine, slapping on a four-barrel carburetor and shoe-horning in a pair of twin glass-packed mufflers for the blub-blub-blub as I did a first-gear idle roll down Main Street.


It was nothing like the 2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 with its 1,025 horsepower, the last of the muscle cars to be manufactured. It will cost about $100,000. My little Ford might have had 140 horsepower, and cost me about $450.


Alas, I sold it when I began college for $550 because I needed the money. I made a small profit, but like so many who find themselves looking in the rearview nowadays, I wish I could somehow have kept it.


Blub, blub, blub.


Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com