Honoring Their Histories
By:  Ray T. Bohacz

Feature Article from Hemmings Muscle Machines
September, 2008 - Ray Bohacz

It was 1974 and a time of flux in my life. The speed limit was lowered to 55 mph due to the energy crisis, gasoline was in short supply, the country was in a recession and it was the last year for a production car with dual exhausts, as 1975 would bring the advent of the catalytic converter and, at best, only twin tailpipes.

I was almost three years away from getting my driver's license and it appeared that I had missed the boat. The world that I was so anxious to become a part of had changed dramatically, and not for the better. Then, one day, while riding my bicycle with a little transistor radio attached to the handlebars and tuned to 77 WABC, I heard a song come through the speaker. That melody changed everything. I fell in love for the first time.


The tune was, "Have You Never Been Mellow," by Olivia Newton-John. I was smitten by the potpourri of the melody, words and femininity of her voice. Then I saw her picture. I was a goner. The blonde hair, small build and professional makeup and photography were more than this 15-year-old could handle. I was convinced that, though 11 years her junior, in short order she would be my wife. I saved my money and bought every LP that she had out at the time. One album had a song titled, "Every Face Tells a Story," and I connected with it, because even at that young age I would always try to search out the story behind the obvious.

That's what makes cars special for me. The mechanicals are great, the thrill of driving is unmatched, but the stories behind the surface gleam are what counts. The muscle car hobby has done an excellent job of preserving a part of our history that would have otherwise been lost forever. We are very weak in recognizing, exploring and then documenting the people behind the high-horsepower ride. Sadly, we focus on the production options, color, engine and number of miles accumulated and only give a passing thought to the human side of the car. It is my hope this editorial changes that for someone.

Looking at the years from 1964 to 1974 as the true muscle car era, it is interesting to note that those years are the beginning and end of Pontiac GTO production--a coincidence or a prophecy? You decide. During that decade, diametrically opposed forces were tugging at the country. It was the best of times and the worst of them. President and Senator Kennedy were assassinated, along with Dr. Martin Luther King. The war in Vietnam was in full swing and the anti-establishment movement that became known as the hippies was gaining traction.

In contrast, the economy was booming, technological advancements were ours, America put a man on the moon and the muscle car became the prized possession of almost anyone that had the desire. Bank and captive financing meant that a young man could go down to the dealership and drive out with a brand new factory-built hot rod. The roads were empty, the suburbs hardly existed, and drag strips and street racing were as common as flies at a summer picnic.

When I see an older car, I cannot help but wonder how the events of the day played out in the creation and purchase of that dream machine. I am sure in many instances it went something like this:

Someone not much older than a boy with a pretty young bride wonders how his new family will make ends meet and achieve the American dream now that the thrill of the honeymoon is over. He tells her not to worry, because tomorrow morning he is going down to the GM, Ford, Chrysler or AMC plant and putting in an application to work on the line. He gently kisses her good night and she falls asleep feeling safe and secure about tomorrow.

A kid on the family farm is helping to bring in the harvest on a sunny autumn day. Off in the distance, out on the two-lane road, he spots a car carrier going toward town. It is loaded with brand-new Mustangs of every color. As his brain processes what his eye just saw, he quickly presses in the clutch on the tractor and the corn picker stops. For a moment, he just stares at the beautiful new Fords and pictures himself behind the wheel with the throbbing 390 V-8 under the hood. He lets the clutch out, the engine governor accepts the load with a blip in rpm, and he continues to cut corn, but with a new gleam in his eye and a promise to himself that, one day, he will own a car like that.

Barely able to grow a thick enough beard to dull a razor, a soldier sits as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. He thinks of happier times and the Road Runner that he left covered up at home in the barn, not even a year old. How he prays that one day he can see his family again. At the same moment, after supper, his dad sneaks in to see the car and lifts the tarp off the fender. He touches it gently, as if it were his son. Halfway around the world at that exact second, the young warrior feels a moment of peace.

It's stories like these that make muscle cars special--the people responsible for their creation, the dreams they inspired, the lives they touched. Muscle cars aren't just hunks of high-performance steel; they're living entities with histories and personalities of their own.

Now I would like to share part of a letter a friend sent me. His name is Bob Reed.

"Todd's 1973 Vega GT is still in storage for when you are able to get it. Remember, there is no charge and no one else can have it. When you are ready, I will sign the title over to you. April 8 marked the 24th anniversary of Todd's death and it is hard to believe that, if he were alive, he would be 39 years old. I think he will always be a 15-year-old to us. He was a passenger in a car carrying four teenagers when he was killed. It was alcohol-related. If you ever fix up the Vega, you can say that. Maybe it will spare another family the pain we suffered."

One day I will get that Vega. It is the people that make a car more than iron and steel. Please never forget that.

This article originally appeared in the September, 2008 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.  Click on link below for article as published:


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