Gearhead Philosophy 101
with some ideas for my next car...

So, how did hotrodding get started?
 Well, A few creative guys in the fifties (and a little earlier) started modifying their cars, making statements with them of personal tastes and dreams. Cars had only really been commonplace for about twenty years, and after the war a little light seemed to go on-

 'hey, these aren't like horses...I can take 'em apart and put 'em back together...any way I want...'

So, suffice to say, big motors went into small cars. Twenty- and thirty-something workaday burnout sedans got updated to modern powerplants with all the available power trimmings of the day. What seems nostalgic today was in fact state-of-the-art back at the time- multiple carbs! milled heads! lake pipes!
The guys building these cars started with what was around, but often went to great lengths to get that last horse to the rear wheels. It's a pretty simple and effective outlook- use the best you can find (and afford) and you'll go the fastest. It still works today, although current technology is lifetimes ahead of a Stromberg 97...
 My current project is in the same spirit- a thirty-something car getting taken apart and updated, adding in some personal touches along the way. It's a 1964 Lincoln Continental. It's not exactly an A-bone, but with today's engine & suspension technology, it'll be faster & safer. Plus, well, I think it's just plain cool to start with. It won an award from the American Institute of Design, a rare honor for a lowly automobile. It has a timeless grace, with its flat sides creating the illusion of enormity... it's the last car JFK ever rode in. Well, more accurately, it's the last car the top of his head rode in... Check THIS out for another wild 1964 Lincoln.
 What hasn't changed, for a few gearheads, is the spirit of making a car your own. Thankfully, a few people around the country (and the world) are still willing to cut a car to pieces, and weld/lead/stitch/bondo the thing back together their way. Lights are still getting grafted & frenched, handles shaved, tops chopped, all the things that the pioneers figured out for us. Nothing has changed except that it's easier for us than it was for them.
These days, MIG welders and plasma cutters can make us into passable body sculptors after a few weekends of practice. You can even buy french-cups, louver panels, and flush filler-covers premade. Just cut a hole and weld 'em in. A lot of older fabricators seem bitter about these developments, but to me, the easy way is just as cool as the hard way, as long as the result is sound. I'm most interested in the spirit of hotrodding and customizing, not the actual parts & techniques. So, yes, I'll shave & french, hide the headlights, and so on, but not with a hacksaw and a torch!
 And you bet your ass I'll go fast, with the biggest motor I can stuff into my ride- a 7-liter, fuel-injected, overhead-cam V-10 from a late-model Ford truck. It won't have Strombergs or lake pipes or a dual-point distributor, though, because those aren't the best we can do anymore.
 After twenty years of evolution, electronic engine management has come of age- just ask F1, Indy, and even NASCAR race teams. I can program my fuel curve with a laptop. I don't need a feeler gauge, a box of jets, and a week of tuning to get it right. I have the seat of my pants, and pyrometer/oxygen sensor feedback to tell me how my mixture is burning at any instant. Reading spark plugs? What? I'll be reading a graph on my monitor.
 I can even bolt on a centrifugal blower, run 5-7 psi boost through the thing, and change the cams a little, and the management system will still manage to manage. Try supercharging a stock flathead Ford and see what happens (get life insurance first)! Shift-kit installation for the 4-speed automatic? Please. I can program shift points, converter lockup, and shift firmness from the passenger seat. I'm not taking that thing apart unless it breaks. Synthetic lube and a big cooler will help prevent that.
 It's also not interesting to have leaf springs over a solid rear axle anymore, and there's no excuse for drum brakes anywhere on a fast car. The Lincoln will be getting a transplanted late-model T-Bird independent rearend, and I'll hang huge disc brakes on the front end to complement the T-Bird rear discs. Mickey Thompson cheater slicks? Skinny-ass front tires? Give me a break. How about P255/40Z-17s all the way around? They'll fit perfectly in the wheelwells, where the old F78-14 bias-ply models used to go. Seems a little more modern, not to mention safe.
 The point where everyone seems to stray from the 'authenticity' party line, is the stereo. I don't see too many hand-built customs motoring around with an AM radio playing through one 4-inch paper-cone speaker, or an under-dash flip-down turntable that plays 45s...hey, where's that same nostalgia that has you running a Powerglide? A lot of fine CD and mini-disc systems are installed in cars powered by 40 year old technology. That's OK, but the mismatch doesn't make any sense. I wish more people moved more technology under the hood. Why a modern stereo and an ancient drivetrain?
 Guys back then put flames on their cars as icons of manly aggression, a fearless plunge into the unknown, the emerging jet age, and dreams of space travel (who hasn't described a car as a rocketship?), which were all relevant to the era. Campy horror movies in the fifties were about space aliens from unknown worlds.
 For the most part, the unknown worlds that captivate and frighten us these days are different. Today's future dreams (and nightmares) revolve around biotechnology and information transfer. Consider 'The Net', 'Lawnmower Man', 'Outbreak', and 'GATTACA' if you think I'm off base here. So, no more flames. My car will be finished in a subtle 'Windows Desktop' color scheme, with a DNA double-helix pinstriped down the side. Flames aren't manly or exciting or even funny enough anymore.
 If Chuck Yeager had flunked out of pilot training, he may well have been tweaking his carbs and hauling ass around Southern California with Dean Moon and Carroll Shelby. He had the right balls-out attitude, and his bravado helped shape the space age. Who, in this day and age, would be a gearhead if their current career hadn't panned out? I hate to say it, but maybe Bill Gates, or Ted Turner. For better or worse, these are guys who convinced the world to get out of their way for a while, so they could do their thing. Their bravado helped shape the information age. Yeager's attitude got him in a lot of brawls, but he never wound up in front of the Supreme Court like this new breed of aggressors. Sounds like gearhead behavior on an incredible scale to me.
 If I built a hiboy with a flathead and a quick-change and baby moons, it would be kinda cool, but I'd be re-inventing the wheel (pun intended). As an analogy, I think those old chrome toasters are cool, but the new one in my kitchen actually works. Leave the Strombergs, and the worm-gear steering, and the buggy spring front-ends, for the collectors, the Jay Lenos and the Reggie Jacksons. They're remade pieces of history, but they're still history.
 Don't get me wrong about rods and customs- I love seeing any kind of car that was built well. I just get more satisfaction if I make the best use of what's around. It is an incredible time to be building a cool car. Use the tech of the times to get the job done.

Check out my next gearhead philosophy lecture, part of my other garage project, Project:Bomber.

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