Preface: This is part two of at least six parts about racing on public streets and highways – narrow roads that were void of white edge lines and reflective warning signs - the days just prior to the Interstate expressway system. The cars, during this era (1958-1961), were sans radial tires, disk brakes or power steering.
It was a rainy Thursday night in the spring of 1960 as I tried doing my Trig homework, but I couldn't figure it out. This was near the end of my senior year of high school and in this class, I was hopelessly behind. I got into my 2-week old birthday present, a new 1960 Corvette, and drove to Roselawn, a Cincinnati suburb, hoping to find a shoulder to cry on. Jimmy's Vette was in the lot at the Center Pharmacy, so I stopped in to join him at the soda fountain. The Zap was also there and Hard came by a few minutes later, making it a foursome to commiserate. Without any previous conscious thought I said, "The weather’s miserable, Donna tossed me for another cat, my grades aren't what you'd call cherry, and my parents are going to take my Vette away as soon as they get back from vacation. I think I'll go to Florida. Anybody want to come along?"
Figure 1: 1960 Showroom Literature
Figure 2: Original Window Sticker
"You mean Florida, where the sun always shines and it's not so damn cold?" Hard asked.
"That's the place."
"Sounds good to me. When do we leave?"
"Can you be ready in half an hour?"
"No sweat," Howard answered, as both our spirits began to soar. Howard was nick-named Hard, because that’s how the Kentuckians he worked with pronounced his name.
"Now listen, man. I'm serious. I want to go there and not come back. I figure we can get our grades transferred to a high school down there and get jobs and just live there. I don't want to . . . wait make that, I can't come back if I leave, ya dig."
"I'm hep. That's the only way I could go too. If I leave I'll never be able to come back either," Howard solemnly stated.
“How much bread you got? I've got about a hundred at home," I said.
"I have at least that much. How 'bout you guys coming up with a little scratch, say maybe a sawbuck each. It ought to be worth that much just to be rid of us," Hard said, in a joking way, but the Zap and Jimmy forked it over.
"Okay, everything's set. Cohen, if you'll take Hard home to pack, I'll get my stuff and meet you guys at the Cities Service station in half an hour.”
It was nine-thirty when we pulled onto Reading Road for what was sure to be the last time. We hadn't even talked about a final destination because we didn't want anyone to know. But once in the privacy of the tiny cockpit of the Vette, I suggested, "How's Tampa-St. Pete sound?" And without waiting for an answer, I continued. "I checked the atlas at home and it looks like we can follow U.S. 27 all the way to Atlanta and then pick up U.S. 41 which is direct to the Gulf Coast and . . . beaches, sunshine and babes. I don't think we should go to Miami because that's where my parents are vacationing and that's the first place they look for run-a-ways. What do you think?"
"Any place in Florida is alright with me, just wake me when we're there, ol’ buddy," Hard sighed, as he snuggled into his coat-turned-pillow.
"Ol’ buddy, my ass! You're going to have to do your share of the driving, too.
This basic sports car was equipped with the standard 283 V-8 with four-barrel carburetor and a 3-speed close-ratio transmission. Though 2nd and 3rd gears were synchronized, first gear, like most cars of the era, was not. In order to shift into 1st, without grinding the gears (and possibly damaging them), you either had to come to a complete stop or double clutch – a technique not familiar to many. The trick is to bring the shift lever into neutral, let the clutch out, and rev the engine to match the RPM the engine would be running at that road speed. In other words, if , say 40 MPH = 4000 RPM in 1st gear, then, with the clutch out and the transmission in neutral, run the engine up to 4000, shove the clutch in again and pull the shift lever into 1st gear. Practice and a ‘good ear/feel,’ it is quite fast and can even be done without a tachometer or even using the clutch.
Once through Newport, the traffic thinned out and I could really let the Corvette roll down the short straights and around the countless turns through the semi-mountainous hills of Kentucky. The almost walking speed limit of sixty, which we had to adhere to when behind some old fogy, was frustrating and agonizing. Hell, the Vette could almost do that in first gear! But to me, every car I passed and every curve I entered was a challenge, a challenge to drive to the limit. I loved it. I loved feeling the brakes hauling the beast to a safe speed, the double-clutching down into first for tight bends and then the surge of raw power as I opened her up coming out of the corners. I relished the exhilaration of passing a string of cars at red line in second gear. I felt the machine and I were one, and at times I was so intent on the task at hand I was totally unaware of anything, including my passenger. It wasn't until we were deep into the Bible belt that I began to slack off. The quad head lamps had no trouble finding the small, old and rusty signs peering out of the brush from between Burma-Shave jingles and Mail Pouch sided barns: "PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER". It's not that I'm not a religious person, but those ominous signs had a very sobering effect. At least for a few miles, anyway.
Continued on next page...
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