Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Alan Arnell’s Classic Chevy-Classic Auto Biography

Alan Arnell’s

Classic Chevy-Classic Auto Biography

-Alan Arnell

1957 Chevy Bel Air 4-door hard-top painted in Canyon Coral & India Ivory

I became interested in Hot Rods as they were called and not old enough yet to be considered classic cars, because they were just cars in 1965. Classic Car at that time were cars made before World War II, such as the '40 Ford Coupe and the '32 Deuce Coupe.

I was 7 years old in 1965.  My mother had a wonderful 1957 Chevy Bel Air 4-door hard-top painted in Canyon Coral & India Ivory with an interior color of black and silver, that I just loved. I wanted my own car to hot rod since that time.  That ideas has been the forefront of my mind to this day.  This reoccurring theme stayed true my whole life despite the changes and personas a man has to live through during his life in Middle America.  

Interior Color of Black and Silver

I lived during my formative years in the late 60’s and late 70’s I lived the Mid-West, watered down version, of the 1950’s Greaser life in a suburb of Peoria, Illinois (called the Lanes) with a little flower power and anti establishment thrown into the mix and without the greasy hair.  Yes, we were always a little behind the times in the Lanes, than the the more trendy and influential parts of the USA. We more or less lived the '50s twice. (a reference to the movie Field of Dreams) Nevertheless, even in the Lanes we knew the wet head was dead!  

Me in 1976 with my 69 Chevelle

You might already know that Greasers are a working class youth subculture that was popularized in the late 1940s and 1950s by middle and lower class teenagers in the United States. Hot Rod Cars, Rock and roll music, and rockabilly, were major parts of the culture, and styles were influenced by singers like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, Vince Taylor and Ritchie Valens, but the two main figures of the look were Marlon Brando and James Dean. In the 1950s and 1960s, these youths were also known as "hoods," as in "hoodlums." This may be because the style was more popular in poor neighborhoods that had higher crime rates than upper-class neighborhoods.

James Dean in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”

In the 1950's, Hollywood film characters portrayed by actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean influenced American greaser culture. American youths were looking for entertainment and identity following the war-hero image of the World War II generation. The 1950's was a boring time for many of America's youths, and the greaser became an individualistic iconic image as a role model to escape boredom. The subculture also featured deviant social behavior influenced by the way films portrayed greasers.  Dean represented greaser culture in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, in which his character is an outcast trying to fit in with his peers while wearing a red windbreaker jacket. This reinforced the notion of individualism even within the social boundaries of greaser culture. Dean epitomized youths' search for identity during the 1950s. Dean's untimely and reckless death made the leather jacket that he frequently wore, even more symbolic of the rebellious greaser seeking adventure.

Individualism or hoodlumism?
The Tri-Five Chevy played a great roll in my emerging love of fast hot rod cars.  In 1965 you could buy a 55 for $200 and spend $50 a week made from you part time job, pumping gas for example, and with your buddies in your dad’s garage in a couple months time have a cool life changing car at your disposal.  For nearly all of the first century of automobile travel, getting your license meant liberation from parental control, a passport to the open road.  

Make it or Break it, Find it or Grind it, Fix your own crap man!

Cars of the late ‘50’s and early 60’s were not as reliable as autos of today.  Teens had to work on their cars and therefore had a intimate connection to the mechanics of the vehicle.  My friend Carl spent so much time bent over his 1962 Chevy II, I thought he would be permanently bent over that way for the rest of his life.  I tore out so many transmissions in my 1969 Malibu-Chevelle that my best friend Ron used to say,  “I believe we will find Alan a sleep under that car some morning.”

Too Cool for School!

Some-what like army buddies in a fox hole, working and maintaining hot rod was a bonding activity. Therefore, adversary and strife as well as over overcoming that hardships builds a pride and friendship that is rarely matched by less stressful experiences.  Thus, was the heap of crap most of us drove, at least where I grew up.  We did not buy a car for reliability and transportation.  No, we bought a car for the potential of making a self customized-hot rod that was an expression of your own personal character that was eagerly perceived by others in your age group.

Rich kids-Bogus-Bad Vibes.

Oh! We had rich kids who’s parents bought them the brand new Thunderbird.  Yet, they were looked down upon by their peers as not as cool, because they did not build their personal chariot by themselves. If you could build an engine that was faster than the next guy, or paint a custom paint job in your garage you were looked upon as a man among men.  

I read an article in the Washington Post that quotes Matt Crawford, a political philosopher at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture who also fabricates components for custom motorcycles.  He said:

“Digital enticements are displacing the pleasures of driving,  So that whole sense of getting in the car and finding out what’s beyond the next town is less powerful.”

Crawford, 49, fell in love with cars back when drivers often had to deal with mechanical problems. His first few cars were “real beaters” that broke down frequently, requiring him to bang on a stranger’s door and beg for help. “You’d end up interacting with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” he says. And knowing your car paid dividends. Braking was a skill. Parking did not involve cameras or computers.

Now, he says, “cars have become virtual reality boxes,” infantilizing the driver. BMW even pipes phony engine noises through its cars’ sound systems to make drivers feel like they’re in charge of a machine that mostly runs itself. Driving these days, Crawford writes, “would seem to promote a kind of regression — back into the womb.”

Maybe car culture is waning, he suggests, because “parents are less authoritarian and want to be your friend.” In other words, the need to rebel isn’t what it used to be."

~A Strong web 1.jpg
Candy the Apple 1957 Chevy-AKA The Hell Bitch
I shall now segway into my Hot Rod autobiography.  Instead of rewriting the same thing over again, I wish to use what I wrote when my Hod Rodded, candy apple red, with painted flames, 1957 Chevy 150 2-door sedan was featured on  www.dallasclassicchevy.com the Dallas Area Classic Chevy’s home Web Page.

I, like many other car enthusiasts, have always remembered which cars made us excited and car crazy during childhood.  As you can guess, the start of my obsession with cars began with a 1957 Chevy.  I grew up in a coral pink, 4 door hardtop 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air that my parents had from 1958 to 1972.

I can remember being 5 years old and saying “Put it into passing gear, Mama!”  She would floor it and kick in the 4-barrel.  To make it even better, we lived in Illinois where rust is a real problem, especially with the exhaust system.  My Dad, a product of growing up during the Depression-era, would buy the least expensive mufflers, which were called, in those days, “Glasspacks”, which made the 283’s roar a very pleasing tune to my ears.  Sadly, even though there was no body rust and the car looked brand new, my father sold it when I was 14 for $150 to buy a truck camper.  Back then, in his view, it was just an old car.

When I became interested in cars in 1963, there were several kids that were 10 or more years older than me in the neighborhood that were Hot Rodding '57 Chevys. I used to watch them tearing around the neighborhood in their '57’s with reverse chrome wheels and no front bumper.  I was so enamored I even made a plastic model of what my '57 would look like if I had one.  Of course it had no front bumper, was painted yellow, with an off centered racing stripe and multiple “STP” and Moon stickers. Forty two years later, I still have that model.

My first car and hot rod I fixed up, a 1969 Chevelle-Malibu 

By the time I turned 16 in 1974, most of the Tri-Fives in Illinois were pretty much rusted hulks.  So I purchased a 1969 Chevelle.  I drove the Chevelle throughout high school and college.  When I was 25 in 1983, I went the Corvette route buying a 1978 pace car.  I owned the Vette until 1988 when my first child was born.

My 1978 Corvette Pace Car

Fast forward to 2000 and once again that strong desire to have a hot rod came over me.  I didn’t want to ride the same path again with a muscle car or a Vette so, I set my sights on my first car love and lust, a 1957 Chevy.  When I started looking for a '57, of course I wanted a Bel Air hardtop coupe.  I looked in magazines and the newspapers and had no success with that search.  As luck would have it, in The Colony, Texas where I live there is a classic auto dealer called Pat’s Auto Sales.  I had been going there for years just to look at the cars, as if it were my own little car show.  One night I found a dark blue 2 door Bel Air hardtop.  I thought about it for a couple of weeks and when I decided to buy the car it had a sold sign on it.  Well, I moped around for a day or so and called Pat and said, “If for some reason the sale on the blue '57 doesn’t go through, give me a call because I’m interested.”  Pat replied, “I am getting in a yellow and orange flamed candy apple red 57 today for a trade in so why don’t you come on down and have a look?”  Candy apple red, I thought, “I’ve always wanted a candy apple red car.”

1957 Chevy 150 2-door Sedan

I went down to have a look and when I arrived at the car lot I immediately liked the flames and the red paint, but it was a post sedan and then I blurted, “What is wrong with the side of that thing?”  Pat told me, “This car is a One-Fifty.  She doesn’t have the stainless diamonds on the side like the Bel Air or the painted diamonds like the 210.  The chrome trim on the side looks somewhat like a 55 Chevy 210.”

~~~small Hell bitch.jpg

I had never seen a car like that before and a One-Fifty was not what I wanted.  Even though I went for a test drive and even liked the look of the car’s paint, I passed on buying that day.  So, you could say it was not love at first sight.  I went home that night with the intention of continuing my search but I started thinking. I love the flames. I love the candy apple red paint. I love the price. And do I really need a Bel Air?  With that much needed spark and my wife’s two cents, “Oh, I like that red car much better than the blue one!” the car started growing on me more and more to the point that the next day I went back to Pat’s and plopped down my money and drove her home.

I didn’t do any restoration work on her for a year or more. I just wanted to enjoy driving her every chance I got.

Here is a link to my Dallas Classic Chevy Club Featured Car.

Now in July, 2016 my main thoughts have not really changed since was that toe-headed 7 year old boy in the Lanes in 1965.  Even after getting more educational degrees than a thermometer and more chins than a Chinese laundry establishment, 36 years of marriage, raising 2 children, 35 years working in public education, I still want the same basic things for my hobbies. Guitars and Hot Rod Cars!   To quote Billy Gibbons Rock of the famous rock band ZZ Top, “Everyone knows cars and guitars go together like tortilla chips and guacamole.”  I like chips and that green slime is sooo goooooood!

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My winning Peel Out at the 2011 Lone Star Classic Convention in Dallas

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