The Death of the Age of Heroes

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill

Once upon a time we were allowed to have heroes. Men and women capable of performing extra-ordinary feats. Discover new lands or new peoples, new science, new art, stand up to tyranny. Many in the past have risen to legendary status. But in the process of creating a hero we neglect the simple fact that ALL these individuals are, at heart, still only people. As ordinary people they are subject to all the same faults, sins of omission and commission, that the rest of us are. Nobody is perfect, nobody is without sin. We hold that as a basic truth and you reading this certainly know that if you look within yourself with honesty that this observation is true.

During the 20th Century the man pictured in this blog, Sir Winston Churchill, was considered one of the most influential and powerful heroes of the age. He is generally credited with keeping the United Kingdom in the war when all else was lost to the NAZIs. His patience and steadfastness kept that island nation in things long enough for the US to enter into the conflict and bring an end to plans for global domination by an implacable enemy. Yet he was just a man, he smoked and drank, was a mediocre student and had to wear special dentures to correct a lateral lisp. He was, and remains, the most important Briton by public acclimation. When histories of great men are written we eliminate or gloss over the negatives and highlight and emphasize the positives.

The Rev. Martin Luther King was a known womanizer but is honored today with a holiday, speeches of remembrance and has even been on US postage stamps. About heroes of the past even less is known of their negative aspects . . . if any are known at all.

Now the era of the internet allows us to create history, even rewrite history on the run. I watch as heroes are taken to task via Twitter and Facebook even as thugs are turned into heroes by whitewash and outright lies in order to further a political agenda. It is now, for some reason that I am incapable of understanding, permissible to allow a person or persons to accuse someone publicly for a crime that happened so long in the past that no evidence of wrongdoing can ever be presented beyond the word of the accuser. However, since the accused is a public figure we must accept that these accusations MUST be true. We are now allowed, even coerced, into making judgments about past heroes based on values of today or, even worse, science of today that didn’t exist at the time. We are expected to overlook the sins of the loser while enhancing the sin of the winner. In this environment is it any wonder that few are any longer willing to stick their neck out for others? Being a hero today is almost a sure ticket to public humiliation just as being a hero of yesterday has turned the dead into a viable target incapable of even the most basic of self-defenses.

Yes, once upon a time we had heroes. People so special that they became more fictional representations of themselves. But these people were used to teach and educate the current generations about what could be and was good about being human. By taking away the hero we are left with a legacy of bitterness at just how awful being a human truly is. We are a cancer upon our world and it would be so much better if we would simply die out and leave the world in blessed peace. Somehow I don’t actually think that is the case.

In the interim we still have Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and all the other incorruptible fictional heroes . . . or do we? Last time I checked it is now fashionable to create negative back stories for the purely fictional too.

The “Age of Heroes” is past. How sad.

To All the Cars I’ve Loved Before: Part 3a

Terribly sorry about the significant delay in getting this finished. I actually started this article in November. Holidays and a death in the family in addition to the very first total loss claim in my automotive history (I wasn’t driving and nobody was hurt thank God) rather put a roadblock to the creative juices needed to make the story interesting reading so I took a long hiatus.  So let’s get back to work.

This part of the story may be the longest, it will, oddly, be the only one that talks about a single car so I am going to split it into sections marked with a letter.

1967 Olds 442 side view

You may remember that at the end of Part 3 my father had ordered me to get rid of the “death machine”. A heavily modified Peerless GT that, if I am honest, had no business being on the road. It was a race car. My friend Kenny and I took off to look for a replacement. I had invested all I had in the Peerless and, at the time, only had a minimal income from working as an apprentice mechanic and a dishwasher at a local graduate school. I had been accepted into a military academy so my life was starting to change directions very quickly during this time period and so I knew it would need to be a car that I could literally trade for, or keep the dollars to a minimum. Kenny had contacts in the industry and one of them was a man named Don Hood who, at the time, owned one of the largest Toyota dealerships in the state. It was 1973 and the gas crisis was in full-blown development. Toyota was taking the country by storm and Kenny pointed out that Mr. Hood had a huge selection of great muscle cars that could be had for a ‘song’. We sold the Peerless and pocketed the cash once we realized no dealer would touch the machine.

Mr. Hood walked us around and we found a almost cherry 1967 Oldsmobile 442 that was actually $300 below our budget. The car looked so good we had to ask, “Mr. Hood, why is it so cheap?”

“The car was traded in by an IBM salesman,” he replied. “It is only 6 years old and looks great but it has a lot of miles on it and there is some problem with it under full throttle.”

Kenny recommended a test drive and I concurred. We started the car and were immediately impressed with the rumble from the dual-exhaust being pumped through a factory installed Offenhauser header system that was matched to the Offenhauser intake manifold with three huge dual-throat carburetors. The power was transmitted through a T-10 Borg-Warner 4-speed nicknamed the Rock Crusher by aficionados. So we took it out on the street. After a bit of slow cruising while the engine came up to temperature we started getting on the throttle and that is when it happened! The whole car felt like it had simply run out of gas. The power dropped and when the throttle was removed and you tried to accelerate it would backfire. I stated the obvious, this car is “crap”! Kenny asked me to hold on just a moment and jumped out and popped the hood. I heard him tapping something, the hood came back down and he returned to the seat. I asked what was wrong and he simply replied, “Take us back to the dealer, don’t put the throttle down more than halfway, this is your car…trust me.”  I took Kenny at his word and returned to the dealership and traded $900 for the car.

We drove it home, slowly, and once there Kenny got out and together we looked at the engine under the hood. He pulled the air cleaner off the engine and showed me that the linkage to the two secondary carburetors was sticking when the throttles opened wide. Once open they stayed open and he car was getting far too much air at part throttle. He made a few adjustments and retightened the center section of the primary carb to the base plate. Once these adjustments were made the car ran like a top. So, of course, we simply had to take it out.

Back in the early 70s Camelback Road running west from 75th Avenue was a desolate landscape of open farmland that ran all the way to Litchfield Park Rd where it T-boned in front of the runways for Luke AFB. So we took the Olds onto that road and floored it. We dropped into a dry riverbed and up the other side with the car going so fast you couldn’t hear the motor and all there seemed to be was this bass vibration coming up through the seats. As we climbed up the other side I saw flashing red lights behind me! I looked at the speedometer and it was completely off the clock! I had no idea how fast we were going all I knew was that at that speed a ticket would be the least of our problems. So we kept the throttle down all the way to Litchfield Rd and the red lights got smaller and dimmer as the distance between us increased. By now we were also getting low on fuel, at this speed the best the Olds could do was about 2 miles to a gallon of fuel! I knew there was a petrol station 2 miles north on Litchfield Park Rd so I got on the brake and drifted the car through the turn and headed north. By now I couldn’t even see the lights anymore and hoped the police officer had given up the chase. I pulled into the gas station and began filling the car. Kenny put the top up as it was getting cold now that night had fallen and then went into the market to get us a couple drinks while paying for the fuel (yes, we pumped first and paid after back then). As he walked out of the market a police car pulled in behind me, lights on, siren blaring and tires squealing. The door of the police cruiser opened and he looked around. We were the only car there and I could distinctly hear the motor ticking as it cooled from its run.

“Were you driving this car a few minutes ago on Camelback Rd?” the officer asked.

I simply looked at him, not sure what to say and shrugged my shoulders. Kenny, being a bit more experienced than I in such situations added, “Might have been him, might have been me, are you sure it was this car? I am not sure what the name of the road we were on was.”

This actually got a chuckle out of the officer and he seemed to visibly relax.

“You know, I am not sure this IS the car, I don’t remember it having a white roof.” he then added, “I clocked the mother at 146 MPH in a 45 MPH zone.”

I looked him in the eye and said, “I am not sure this car could get up to that speed, only just got it.”

At that the officer simply said, “Please drive safe and keep it under control. Have a good night.” He got back into the cruiser and drove off.

We did keep it under the limit on the drive home down Glendale Avenue.

I spent the next couple weeks doing things like detailing the engine, restoring the logos, polishing up the factory original Viking Blue paint. I even pulled the fake wire-wheel style hubcaps and polished each spoke and remounted them although we did invest in some high quality rubber and custom wheels for “race day” events. We even installed my first CB radio in order that we could interface with long-haul truckers in order to keep a weather eye on the local yokels in order to prevent future “flashing light” events such as the previous.

That summer we drove the car to Big Surf for a small party and get together for Kenny as he had joined the Army and was getting ready to start his training. As we were leaving at the end of the day we found two really attractive women standing by the Olds, they wanted a ride. They were college gals: I had just finished High School so was duly impressed. I hit the road leaving Tempe with these two women sitting together in the backseat. The oddity of the seating arrangement became clear once I was on the freeway with the top down. Cars would come up alongside and toot, guys were pumping their fists in the air. “What the Hell” I am thinking. I glance into my rearview only to see a bared breast and nipple staring at me! I turn and gape into the backseat and the gals are perched on the flat plate area above the rear seat wearing nothing up top! I yell at them to get back inside before a cop pulls us over. Fun over they ask to be dropped off at the next exit to which I complied. The influence this event had upon me will become apparent in a future post.

Kenny left for training and was posted to Korea later, he never came back. I was told that he perished in a traffic accident when the open vehicle he was driving flipped over while on patrol. God rest you Kenny, everything that ever involved vehicles and my future was all due to your influence and patience.