Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Slotted Spoons and Spatulas

Today I almost succumbed to a primordial guy urge — purchasing one of those little diecast metal model cars to remind fading pathetic men like myself of our misspent youth. My Sweetie and I were in Estes Park with her Mom, looking at t-shirts with slogans like "Got Oxygen?" and "Try Yummie Moose Duds!" when I went past a store consisting entirely of toy metal cars and planes. It triggered some sort of bizarre genetic urge and I found myself helpless not to go inside.

On the first shelf, I found a model 1968 Mercury Cougar XR-7...sigh...I suppose now the sordid story can be told; at least, the statute of limitations has run out. I spent my senior year of high school as sort of a semi-professional street racer, in possession of one of the now-legendary Ford factory racers, a '68 Cougar witha 390 cubic-inch fire-breather with two (count 'em) four-barrel carburators coupled to a progressive linkage; every horsepower accessory known to man on earth (right at 400 happy ponies!); a beefed-up custom suspension that gave the Cougar the handling of a Shelby Cobra and one of the then-new special automatic transmissions with heavy-duty overdrive. Best of all, the custom high performance exhaust was routed up into the rear wheel wells, with only slightly larger pipes exiting out the stock exhaust cutouts in the back of the car....the car was TOTALLY STEALTH...special order British Racing Green with a discrete "GT" emblem on the front quarter panel...nearly impossible to tell from a stock wimpy-ass Cougar.

I came by this moster thanks to a huge dollop of parental guilt and a charter subscription to Car & Driver magazine. My father was making a lot of money, bopping the nice lady down the street, and feeling extra special guilty. One day he announces that he's buyiung my mother a new car, and that it has to be green and have an automatic transmission. Other than that, he says, knock yourself out. So I went to the Ford/Mercury dealership with a handful of Car & Drivers with articles on how Ford would build you a race car if you knew what to ask. The greasy salesguy walked me back to the chief mechanic, who started grinning as soon as I pulled out the Car & Drivers. We agonized for a whole afternoon, pouring over specs while my father talked deals to the salesman. When we finished, the car cost exactly double a new Cougar with virtually no "appearance group" crap — not even special wheels. My father shrugged and did the deal.

When it was delivered, it just set there in the driveway and rumbled like a big vicious cat. "Is there something wrong with it?" my mother asked. No, I said, it's just perfect.

I started out at $5 off the line and $5 at the end of the quarter and pretty much tore through the local poseurs. With the backbreaking acceleration of almost 400 horsepower, I quickly moved up to the local Pony cars and GTOs — Goats, in the vernacular — and upped it to $20 off the line and $20 at the end of the quarter. Nobody could believe that Mr. Nerd Boy (yes, moi!) in the nondescript green "luxury" car was in possession of a Ford factory racer.

The cops waved when they drove past, and I could make a couple of hundred on a good night...

It was like living in the chorus of a Bruce Springsteen song.

Yeah well, I went away to college, bought a crapped out Porsche 356B made out of bondo and faith and motorcrossed the hell out of it. My father, no doubt busily working his way down the block, couldn't be bothered with maintaining the Beast Cougar — as you might imagine, it was touchy. I came home from college one day and it was gone...a blown transmission; he paid $175 to have it hauled off, swear to God. I told him he promised to sell it to me, and he said, "So what?"

Worth maybe $250,000 — there were never many of the factory racers made — now...I like to believe it's in the hands of some collector who appreciates the kind of lunatic specifications an 18-year-old might make.

I pulled back from the abyss and didn't get the model. There being no gun store handy, I went next door and bought two slotted kitchen spoons, a new spatula and a pastry baster.

"Tonight tonight the strip's just right
Out of my way, mister, you best keep..."


Anonymous said...

It just bugs you, wondering if someone resurrected your old car, or if it got parted out.
Sold my '71 Mustang about '81, and the guy put it into the center guardrail on the Bay Bridge when it spun up the rear tires shifting into high (70k+miles!). Didn't know how rare the car was with the auto trans. I've only seen one reference to the version in the various Mustang books I've looked in since.
Was originally ordered by a kid who only had one arm. Was a 429 SCJ, with the factory supplied Fairbanks? modified C6 auto trans. Had Ram Air, Holley, 411 Detroit Locker rear, rated by Ford at 370hp. NHRA said pifh, 475hp. Got 5 mpg idling around town, 10 mpg freeway. With CA privacy laws, DMV wont give any info about it. Oh, well.

Not Available said...

In 1966 (I was 16), my first car was a 1959 Chevy Biscayne 6cyl 3-speed on the column.


Anonymous said...

I loved that story!--most of it. I am sure some of the parts are/were less pleasant to remember than for me to read, though.