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The other boys of summer

POSTED: June 17, 2009 4:00 a.m.

There is a connection between summer and cars that remains in my mind.


I never owned a fancy set of wheels, mostly hand-me-down Buicks and a Dodge Dart, a car that I have proven will run without oil or a battery.


It seems like most of the cool cars belonged to older guys, the kind you idolized.


When we lived in Atlanta, Eddie Fowler lived down the street. He had a Chevy II Nova Super Sport. The Chevy II was the answer to the old Ford Falcon. It came from the factory with a little engine that some called a “four-banger,” an in-line four-cylinder that was functional, but not very impressive.


Eddie had the one with a V8 and a four-barrel carburetor. It had a four-speed stick in the floor with a fancy shifter. A set of chrome mag wheels completed the look of the car.


I don’t know where Eddie Fowler is today, but he could have played any number of characters in “American Grafitti.”


My cousins were also cool car guys.


Ronnie was the ultimate cool. He had a sparkling white Corvette Stingray. It had both a hard and convertible top. He had matinee idol looks and drove the car to match. I never rode in his car, but it was always fun to just look inside and smell the new car aroma.


Another cousin, Mike, had a Plymouth Road Runner, with a big V8 engine and a horn that sounded like the namesake cartoon character. Mike and his wife, Marsha, took me and my cousin, Bill, to the opening day of Six Flags. I thought I was on top of the world.


Wayne, also a cousin, had a later model Corvette, which he still owns. He once let me drive it on a back road over near the railroad trestle in Newton County. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.


But the thing I miss the most is watching boys who couldn’t afford the fancy new wheels try to make a set of their own.


You didn’t have to look far to see some boys in a backyard garage or under a shade tree trying to bring life to an old Ford, Chevy or Dodge. This was a time when cars didn’t require computers and you might use the sandpaper from a book of matches to smooth off the points or the rotor.


Occasionally, somebody’s dad or uncle might join in to offer a little free advice. But it was these boys of summer who would work every free moment to turn a clunker into a roadworthy machine.


I don’t know if it was innovation, creativity or just dumb luck, but the cars would often fire up when bolted back together. It sometimes took a coathanger, some duct tape or a slight bit of modification to make something fit, but it came together.


I remember fellows who would smell the gas to make sure it was OK. They probably lost a few brain cells in the process.


I don’t know what teenage boys do today, but it doesn’t involve working around a shade tree or getting a little grease under their fingernails.


Those were the days.


E-mail Harris Blackwood at


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