by Greg McConiga
… And the Saga Continues
“The older we get the faster our cars were.”
As promised, the tale of the little Torino that could and the Ciera that couldn’t continues — please bear in mind that a lot of time and miles have passed since the events described herein, and some facts may be lost to the sands of time. The story, however, is as true as I can render it after forty years.
When we last left our hero — that would be me — he was stationed on the west coast near San Francisco at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, bringing the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln back from the dead. A complete refit of a nuclear powered fleet ballistic submarine takes several months, often stretching into a couple of years, and during that time I had earned enough leave to allow a road trip home to Indiana and back.
Reasonable and Proper
On my way out of California on I-80, I crossed over the California-Nevada border into the land of “Resume Reasonable and Proper Speed.” This was pre-oil embargo Nevada, with the space — and the state’s permission — to “let her fly” in the wide and vast western high desert. It was cold as hell that day, perfect for serious driving, and somewhere east of Sparks the road fell away from the high country and stretched out into a long ribbon of downhill, nearly new, straight-as-an-arrow asphalt.
I’d paid off the car and already started doing a few modifications to it, so naturally I thought I’d let it run out a touch, just to see what it would do.
As the needle passed right on by the end of the miles per hour marking on the speedometer it started bouncing off the trip odometer reset button, and shortly after that the tach needle was buried as well. The engine was way past redline and was making a rather unnerving howl, while the car was meandering all over the road.
I was just about to lift — when a Nevada trooper passed me going in the other direction. No problem! Reasonable and proper, right?
That phrase, as it turned out, was subject to interpretation.
I was way down the road, slowed to about 110 when I saw the lights coming up behind me like I was tied to a post. Holy crap, what kind of rocket-powered supercars do they drive out here? Now, being from Indiana, I’m thinking I’m about to spend a few nights in the Graybar Hotel — back home if you’re running something north of 120 and they pull you over, there is a real possibility you’ll spend an evening or two getting to know the local law-breaking citizenry on a somewhat intimate level.
Instead, I got a chance to live a little longer, get a little smarter, and encounter the coolest police cruiser I’d ever seen in my life, up close and personal. Let me explain.
First, the lecture. The trooper was as professional as he could be — at first. Asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, and I voluntarily handed him my military ID. You know, just for luck. And then he pulled me out of the car.
I’m trying to get a better look at his car. I can hear it idling and it sounds like it’s running something a lot bigger than stock. It’s a full-sized Plymouth or Dodge, like a Fury or Coronet, with one hell of a cam in it. Inside lights, no light bar, the grill is pushed forward, the bumper looks like it’s been widened and frenched in, and the whole car is sitting low, like down on the road low. It’s also got some serious looking possum-mashers on it, front and rear, no hubcaps, painted steel wheels, and the exhaust note was pitch-perfect — deep, throaty with more than a little chop in it.
I’m trying to get back to look at his car as he starts in on me. He begins by telling me how stupid I am. I can see right away that we’re going to be friends, because at this particular point in my life “stupid” wasn’t so much the occasional lapse of reason as it was a lifestyle. He talks – yells — at me about animals, road conditions, cross winds, blowing sand, tire design, and about how a 1972 Torino isn’t designed to go that fast. Then we talked a bit about my sanity, or more correctly, my lack thereof.
No Mention of Heritage
I did not point out that I volunteered to serve on a ship designed to sink, powered by a whole-body ionizing radiation source. I thought it would not help make my case at this point. He never got around to my heritage, but I think he was working his way up to it.
He made me feel my tires, which were surprisingly hot given the fact that I was freezing my ass off, and finished up with the fact that I was getting a ticket, because 138 miles per hour was not reasonable and proper for a Ford Torino!
Well, hell, who knew?
Dreading the answer, I asked how much the ticket would be and was stunned to learn that all speeding tickets in Nevada at that time were $10, regardless of speed. Just mail it back in the convenient envelope. Okay, I can do $10, and didn’t mention that I would have paid ten bucks just to see what this guy was driving, this unknown race car with radar that made a U-turn on a car running as fast as I was and then ran me down like a cheetah on a Chihuahua.
Specially Built, with Race-Prepped Big Block
Turns out it was a specially-built car, one of two or three that the Nevada patrol used to catch the rich punks with the European exotics coming out of California to test their top speed on the highways of neighboring Nevada. The car had a roll cage in it, a whole front seat full of VASCAR or whatever timing system might have pre-dated VASCAR, front and rear radar, and some kind of race-prepped Chrysler big block in it. The speedometer went to 220. I asked if it would make 220, and he kind of smirked and said, “Not quite.”
I did get him to tell me that he hit 165 coming after me! No wonder I was taken aback by the closing speed. By now he had calmed down and we were just two car guys checking out his ride — and that ride was one highly modified, seriously fast squad car. I even asked for a ride in it, but doing that required that I “be restrained,” and I just don’t look that good in handcuffs, so I respectfully declined.
Would’ve been fun though, wouldn’t it?
Next month, a tale of married with two children, no money, and the most unlikely SCCA Solo II parking lot racer ever. Until then, make power and have fun.