It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Or..something like that. As a young car lover, I, like so many others, grew up hearing the resounding chorus of weathered, hard worked old men raising ire to God above over their hard won, tragically lost, and ill fated automotive landscape.
Of course we all, or most of us at least, know how the old story goes. The allies won the war, our heroes came home to America, Britain and the like, and we set to work rebuilding. In America, this was seemingly a golden age-not just for the Automobile, but for industry, family ethics and, they say, everything else in-between. As a young twenty something-I was raised with a head filled with storied past. A better time where everyone went to church, you could buy a home on a handshake, keep your shotguns in the locker at school and buy the best automobiles in the world, right here in the good ol' U.S of A.
For most of my life, I consequently viewed the world through rose tinted spectacles. I mourned with every passing Impala, Grand Prix, and Galaxy 500..Oh wait no, it was the 90's.. Ford Taurus. It worsened when GM stopped producing the Camaro, leaving the lone Mustang in its rather bulbous, foxbodied form, to carry the last remaining muscle car torch. However, at around 200hp in most of its iterations, it was not much muscle.
So, embittered that 8 seconds was a fast 0-60 sprint, that every car was a beige, plastic four door that only an accountant could love, and that, aside from perhaps the rare anomaly, there was little to anything "beautiful" about modern cars, I longed for the days I had not known, yet heard so much about-resenting the generation I was brought up in.
That brings us to the 1957 Chevy Belair in question. A shining example of automotive design, a car that captures the very essence of the "rocket age" in America. With her booming economy, cheap gas and love of anything baby blue or spaceship shaped, the Belair is the epitome of the 1950's American ideal. But how good was it really? I had heard so much about the "good old days," but it wasn't until I became an adult did I ever properly have the chance to drive any cars from their storied legend. Most of those experiences, though charming and adventurous, left me poorer with every fuel up, with ripped up hands from the constant maintenance, and terrified every time I hit the freeway.
You see, there was an unfortunate transition in-between my childhood and adulthood. I fell into the postmodern nihilistic cynicism that our current culture seems so enraptured by. "The good old days were just as bad as they were now, " I thought. "Cars looked better, but were built to be replaced every few years, not last. A crooked money-lust game." Perhaps I was right, but sitting in the seat of the Belair, something in me stirred. Something awoke.
The engine rumbled to life, the heater quickly enveloped the car in a warm blanketed welcome, and the automatic transmission, over assisted steering, spongy throttle and squeaking brakes set me off into motion as I drove down my country lane. Side window air vents just so, the soft rumble of an inline six, and suspension I am pretty sure built out of pillows, I roared off through the cold December South Dakota landscape.
It wasn't immediate that I noticed it-but with my hands gripping the wheel, an articulately crafted and beautiful, sun drenched cockpit surrounding me, and the billowing softness of a car made ages ago, I began to fall in love. Not only that, several miles in I had to stop myself from grinning like a child. This wasn't at all like the stories grandpa Fredrickson told. It was better.
The drive around my now frozen lake was over and done with sooner than I wished but, with this Belair not being my own, I didn't wish to overextend an already generous gift. Yet, after I backed the car back into the garage just so, shut the engine off and sat in its still sun drenched hull, I ran my hands along her beautiful curves, her subtle details and admired every last bit of her. She was spectacular. More than I ever imagined.
So that leaves us to conclude any lessons learned. Were things better in the good ol days? Well, In some ways, absolutely. But as the show Mad Men so aptly points out, the darkness still lurked. It seems as if, like our friend Don Draper, humanity is often the antihero. Perhaps that is what the automotive industry is like as well. Yet, midst the grey areas, the poor choices and a world bent on questioning if anything really matters-we have the Belair to remind us that something beautiful, something good..something beyond our dreams still exists. In fact, though the mired grey remains, the horsepower wars are back, we have the Ford GT, a rumored mid engined Corvette, and cars that won't kill you whenever you crash.
All that is left to say here is rather simple, I suppose. While things can most certainly be bleak, passion may seem to be lost, we mustn't forget that somewhere out there, a Belair sits in wait-eager to be driven and to remind you..us, anyone that sees it, that goodness still exists in the world, that dreams are still worth having and that maybe just maybe, things really aren't quite as bad as we make them out to be.