Drivin’ hard or cruisin’ slow
Grab that shift lever
And never let ‘er go
Flatheads are forever
“Two-hundred-forty-nine bucks for a ’49 is a bargain you shouldn’t let pass. I knew the matronly lady who bought it new and always had it serviced. Where else can you find such a deal for two-forty-nine for a really clean, and I mean a no rust Ford convertible - it’s got . . . .”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” Chris interrupted the non-stop monologue of the used car salesman. You don’t have to sell me, as soon as I raise the money, this is the car I want. How ‘bout if I give you fifty now and you hold it for me until I can earn the rest?”
Hyped up for his first car, seventeen year old Chris was oblivious to the engine miss and sounds of brake shoe metal on metal during the obligatory test drive. He had yearned for a Ford convertible since his uncle had taken him for a ride in just such a car in 1949 when Chris was only ten years old. Now, five years later, Chris had his dream car.
With his elbow on the door sill and hand on the cozy wing post, top flopped, ducktails swirling in the backdraft and sporting a set of aviator style shades, Chris Waterbaker was the epitome of cool. The first stop, after a cruise-by, was the Bun Boy on Dixie Highway. Pulling into one of the car-hop slots, Timmy Verdun, his best buddy, shuffling in his engineer boots, sauntered over from his ’51 Chevy that had been nosed and decked.
“Hey man, I see ya finally got that forty-niner. What are you gonna do to it?”
“First I’m going to build the engine so it will dust off a Caddy or two. Then, maybe pull a few trophies at the strip, then . . . .”
“Hop up the engine? You don’t know Jack Shit . . . ,” Timmy exclaimed.
Looking playfully hurt, Chris said, “Come on man, I do so know Jack. I’ve known him for years.”
Catching the drift of the joking, Timmy challenged, “If you know Jack Shit, what kind of car does he drive?”
“He’s runnin’ an Eighty-eight Olds,” Chris played along.
“Naw, man. See, I told you, you don’t know him. Jack wouldn’t be caught dead in an Olds,” Timmy said as he playfully punched his buddy in the arm.
The two young men had grown up on the same street and played, roughhoused and matured together while always tinkering with mechanical things. At twelve, they built a jitney using baby buggy springs and wheels and scrap wood scrounged from wherever they found it. Though it wasn’t exactly a ‘custom’ or a ‘hot-rod’ Timmy exhibited his bodywork talents in shaping a streamlined cover for the used lawnmower engine traded for by raking leaves for a neighbor who had purchased a replacement mower.
Chris was the engineer who not only disassembled and successfully reassembled the one-lunger, but milled the flat-head with a hand file to increase the compression ration. Wanting more power, he decided he needed a full-race cam. Having read about hi-lift cams in various car magazines, Chris, using a grinding wheel on a quarter-inch electric drill, ground down the base of each lobe on the cam and had a local welding shop weld a little metal onto the ends of each valve which he then ground to the correct clearance. Not realizing he needed to fly-cut the head to compensate for the mill job and higher lift of the valves, the aluminum head cracked the first time he yanked on the starter rope.
Upon reaching driving age and securing a part time job at Buops Texaco, Timmy was first to buy a set of wheels, a 1951 two-door Chevrolet. He removed the hood and trunk chrome and, using the station’s torch, leaded in the holes.
Chris had hired on for an after-school job with the local box factory, bailing scrap corrugated paperboard. As soon as he accumulated the funds, it was back to the used car lot where he claimed the ’49. Using his parents attached garage the first day of summer vacation, Chris, with Timmy’s help, removed the Miami Cream colored hood to make work on the engine easier. Next to come off was the Ford-Holly ‘94’ carburetor and then the distributor, plug wires and anything else that was going to get in the way of pulling the heads. To make it easy, Chris loosened all the bolts holding the head, and then used the starting motor to turn the engine over to create pressure in the combustion chambers. With the loose head bolts, the heads popped free. A trick he read about in Car Craft magazine.
Wrist pin connected to the piston
Connecting rod connected to the wrist pin
Crank shaft connected to the connecting rod
All connect for a pleasing din
Chris was big for a high school junior, not tall, or bulky, just big as in muscular and strong. He’d only been in one real fight, but that battle established him as tough, even though he was scared – not of being hurt, but of not actually engaging in the fight and thus being labeled chicken. The incident began when a senior, who was at least as big as Chris, called him a girly because of his wavy chicken-yellow hair. The kid taunted him until Chris got into the senior’s face, and not knowing what to do, snarled. He growled like a dog and bared his teeth. There were a bunch of other kids standing around the lunchroom water fountain who went silent at this confrontation.
Chris sensed that if the senior backed down, he, Chris, might be forever called chicken-yellow or worse. In only an instant, the senior twisted quick and hard jamming his shoulder into Chris’ chest perhaps in an attempt to get out of a fight. And then the dukes sailed, whizzed, flew and connected. Neither boy had had any fisticuff training, thus they flailed at each other until both had bloody noses and sore knuckles. The winner was the gym teacher when he separated the two who were then made to shake hands. The senior was also his rival for Kathleen, the pert sophomore cheerleader with a coy smile – a downcast, eyes up look she used when coming on to guys she liked. She witnessed the fight, but stormed out of the lunchroom when the gym teacher jumped in.
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