Here’s a story for those under 40 – of what it was like to be seventeen 40 years ago.
We got our licenses at sixteen. Not a restricted license. A license just the same as the ones our parents had. We could drive anywhere we liked, just like they could. As far away as we liked – and at night, if we liked. With as many of our same-age friends as we liked.
Naturally, we liked to drive.
One of my high school amigos drove a 1971 Plymouth GTX with a big block 440 “Super Commando” V8 engine and 375 horsepower. In the early ’80s, this car was just a used car. A car that a seventeen-year-old could afford to buy.
Today it is a car that few 57-year-olds can afford to buy.
Seventeen-year-olds worked at fast food joints in those days, to earn the money needed to buy a car like a used ’71 GTX. These days, adults work at fast food joints to earn the money they need to be able to eat there.
Another high school friend of mine had a solar gold ’78 Trans-Am with T-tops. It, too, was just a used car by 1983 and not beyond the means of a high school kid working an after-school/weekend fast food job.
We used to hang out at the fast-food joint on Friday and Saturday nights, the hoods of our cars open so as to show off the new manifold or set of headers we’d installed. Impromptu street races began here, too. We’d head out to the then-empty (now jam-packed) Dulles Toll Road, which led from the periphery of civilization to what was then way out in the sticks, where the only thing around besides the chiggers in the bushes was the lonesome edifice of Dulles International Airport, lit up like Speer’s Cathedral of Light.
You could drive right up to terminal and just park – no Hut! Hut! Hut! You could walk along the periphery to within sight of the main runway – and watch the Concorde arrive or (much better) depart, its four afterburners glowing as the great bird took to the sky.
One night, we were cruising around in the GTX. This is what seventeen-year-old boys did in those days, in order to meet seventeen-year-old girls, just maybe. Who might be interested in riding with us, in the mighty ’71 Plymouth. We didn’t find any girls that night. But we did find an older guy (to us, at the time – the guy was probably 30) driving a brand-new 1984 Corvette. This was pretty much the hottest new car available that year and the first year for the C4 bodystyle – which succeeded the iconic “shark” bodied C3s that dated back to the same era in which the GTX was born.
The C4 was radically different – the first modern Corvette. It had huge (and directional) Goodyear tires, VR-rated to 150 MPH, a digital dash and a Crossfire Injected V8. But was it a match for the ’71 GTX?
Nose-to-nose and side-by-side at the light. The ‘Vette lost us at first, having the advantage of those huge Goodyears to put down the 205 horses he had available. The GTX’s 375 horses mostly went up in smoke on account of the fourteen-inch wheels, but that was what made cars like it so much fun. We were tail-out, headed sideways as the ‘Vette’s four round tail-lights receded into the distance. But then the GTX got its footing and those 375 horses began to gain on the ‘Vette’s 205.
We caught up as the needle swung past 120, the 440 bellowing like a berserker through its four barrel carb and uncatalytically converted dual exhaust. This was right about the time the front end of the Plymouth began to get light; you could feel it beginning to rotate through the overboosted power steering. Connection to the pavement was being lost. The 440 was about to make the GTX do a short-lived imitation of the Concorde on its take-off roll.
There was no “advanced driver assistance technology” back in ’83. And that was also part of the fun of cars like this. The only remedy was to ease back on the throttle, bleed some speed and let the GTX settle itself. Which it did, after a few long seconds that seemed like minutes. The ‘Vette’s driver won that race, but we won a memory of the time.
This probably explains our generational nostalgia for those times. Not so much because we were seventeen, then. But because seventeen-year-olds were able to experience such things, then.
It was a time of adulthood beginning at sixteen, the world opening up before us. We may not have been able to text one another.
But we had something much better.
. . .
If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos.
PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)
My eBook about car buying (new and used) is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here. If that fails, email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy directly!