Clutching To The Past
by "Animal Jim" Feurer
In the 50s and 60s, any hot rodder worth their salt had a car with a "straight stick". That means a manual transmission and a clutch.
In the mid-50s when I learned to drive, myself and most youngsters learned to drive a stick shift car. I learned in my dad's 50 Chevy straight stick panel truck he used for his bakery deliveries. However, when I got my license in the screwed up, busy, traffic control engineered streets of Ottawa, IL, I used my folks 54 Buick with a Dynoflow automatic. But sometimes, a little hypocrisy is the means to a satisfied end.
My hypocrisy got even worse. The same day, I got my license. My dad took me to the Buick dealer in LaSalle, IL where my folks bought their Buicks they loved and had me buy a used Calvin Grey 50 Buick 2 door sedan, straight 8, with a Dynoflow. $125---$147 with tax. (Notice the words ME! BUY!)
But that action instantly provided me with my own wheels. On that same day I got my Illinois driver's license and my own car. I got to take my 50 Buick out on the county road--alone--driving--for the first time, with no adult parents riding with me and responding with, "slow down! Watch for the stop sign! " etc.
For the first time I could drive over 55 MPH. I went out on that county road and ran the shit out of that Buick. WOW! 105 mph. Then I practiced "Neutral Drop" hole shots, I observed once from my friend "Buckets" showing me in his dad's new 57 Buick. Put trans in neutral - hold the brake--floor the throttle--and jam the selector in low--then let go of the brake. It worked pretty good when I tried it in my 50 Buick. Even got rubber.
Later that evening, I took my girl friend Rosemary for a ride. First time the two of us were alone in a car. As we go up Garfield Ave in LaSalle, I ended up drag racing Jasper Maggio in his souped up 52 Chevy, that had two Stromberg 2 barrel carbs and Smitty Exhaust. I won! The neutral drop is what got him. "Thanks, Buckets!"
So in one day. I got my first driver license, my first car, my first uninhibited solo driving experience, my first date with my girl in a car alone, and my first drag race, which I won.
See what honest hypocrisy can produce?
After the 50 Buick, which finally succumbed to too many neutral drops, the next myriad of my street cars were all straight sticks, with a clutch. For the record: All 7 of my race cars, during my drag racing career, had clutches. And the other three cars, I drove for other owners also had clutches.
Clutching to the Past---Part 2
After my first car, the 50 Buick with the Dynoflow automatic, I acquired a Green and White 53 Olds. With original "Starfire hubcaps. Two got stolen--in front of my house (later same happened to my 57 Merc convertible that had those gaudy, sought after Imperial Lancer hubcaps). The Olds was a four door, but was a standard shift on the wheel. "Three on the tree." It had been a constable's car from Oglesby, IL.
That Olds had a nasty habit of the gear shift handle popping out of the socket and clip that held it in the shifting collar. Not very good for speed shifting. When the handle came out, I could shift just the collar to 2nd, 3rd. and neutral. No low or REVERSE ! Until fixing the shifter, I only parked diagonal with friends with me, to push the Olds backwards.
When winter came, I discovered my 53 Olds heater did not work. No one could fix it. My high school friends and I would ride around in the cold with windows open drinking the local Peru, Il. Star Model beer. Then when we could not stand the freezing cold anymore, we would roll the windows up, and be warmer. One of my Polish named friends dubbed that exercise, our "Polish Heater." Before winter ended I traded for a nice little powder blue 53 Chevy, 3 on the tree, and the heater worked great.
After the 53 Chevy, I had a customized 51 Merc V8, 3 on the tree and over drive. Then a 53 Merc V8,3 on the tree, then a 57 Merc convertible, 312 V8 3 on the tree, then at the same time, a 57 Ford V8, 3 on the tree, then my fabled black 56 Chevy 210 with Vette 8V engine, and 3 on the tree and so on.
Sometime in 1961/62, came my 58 B&W Biscayne. With 283 Power Pack. Yes, it was 3 on the tree. Although Chevy did offer a 4 speed in 58. mine was only a 3 speed. I learned a lot about clutches, flywheels and shifters while I herded that 58 Chevy.
The orig. diaphragm clutch worked ok for a while, but the pedal got to sticking to the floor between high rpm shifts. A common problem back then. To cure it, I made a huge rubber band out of a 2" section of an old inner tube. Looped one part around the steering column and the then around the pedal. That worked great for a while. Many copied that idea.
That stock diaphragm clutch finally called it off. Now I was to buy my first high performance clutch and flywheel. I got a Schrieffer aluminum LW flywheel and street and strip clutch setup. Wow! What a change!
By late 1961, I was working and living in Rockford, Il. during the week with 3 of my co workers. I got tired of my 3 on the wheel shifting devise jamming on me. To correct, you had to pull over, open the hood and reach down and re-align the greasy shift levers. (Sound familiar?) It was another common stick shift problem.
Some gear head young mechanics at a gas station in Rockford, introduced me to a George Hurst shifter. With no where to work on my car, I hired them to put a Hurst shifter in my Biscayne. It worked great, but I had to lean forward to shift.
Later I learned my zealot hot rod mechanics in Rockford had installed the wrong shifter. A 55.56 and 57 application was different than a 58-64. Whether they knew that early application was wrong or not, I will never know. But it did work good. I just had to lean. LOL!!
Over the years, only with a few exceptions, I straight sticked, and clutched my self into sanctioned competition drag racing. I learned even more about clutches, flywheels, shifters---And Clutch linkage geometry.
After a few 1D Hot Rod Class trophies at Oswego, IL. in 69 and 70, with my Big Animal 57 Merc, in 71, I entered into a new class Called Run Tuff Eliminator. It was a form of bracket racing and it paid money. The rules were different than regular bracket racing. You still dialed a break out but all and any fouls eliminated the racer. If both break out--both are out. If both red light--both are out. One redlights and the other breaks out--both are out. One crossing the foul line and the other redlights or breaks out. both are out. Even a foul on a bi run was a disqualification.
One time-73 I think. Five of us are left. Coin flipping amazingly awards me the bi. Unknown to me all four cars went first and all four redlit or broke out. I pull up. Do a burn out---There was no chickens shit breaking a beam back then--on a bi-you had to run with in a reasonable % of your dial in. Just before I stage, Bub Thurlby, track manager and my friend, opens my door to tell me something. Hell I can't hear or understand. Then he points for me to stage. I make decent run. Coming down the return road I see fans cheering for me???? (Yes. Back then we had fans in the stands) Then I see the time slip girl up towards the tower, waving the winning gold ticket.
I had beat 4 cars in one run. I was the winner!
There were several times in finals my opponent and I would both foul. When that happened, the first and second place purse would be added and divided by two. Same with points. I recall doing it with Ted Borwoski in his 9 second Camaro and Brian Kobalinski in his Dollar After Dollar Nova.
Continued on next page...
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