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Of new muscle cars and old songs

02 Dec 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

My son, Chris, busted through the front door Sunday all but out of breath.

"Dad, there's a new Challenger parked at the end of our street!"

The boy, 19 and strapping-big as an ox (and probably capable of actually busting the door open in a literal sense), is kind of a late bloomer when it comes to hot rods, having spent his formative early teens with his nose to his computer monitor playing Counter Strike and Battlefield 1942 and fragging bad guys instead of under his hood and cussing at rounded-off header bolts. But, deep in his genes, he obviously has his dad's muscle-car-loving DNA.

Unfortunately, like a ghost, the new Challenger was gone by the time I raced up the street, camera in hand, and I couldn't help but wonder if back in 1970 other sons couldn’t wait to tell their dads they had seen Plymouth's original answer to the Mustang and Camaro. (And you can bet kids in those days were probably raving more abour ram air than Bluetooth connectivity.)

The boy's a Mustang freak who sat through Speed TV's recent one-hour introduction of the '10 Mustang; ever since he discovered girls, you usually can't keep him in front of the tube that long unless it involves hockey or video vixen Tila Tequila. In case you missed that Mustang special, it was quite soul-warming in this economy and with the financial concerns of the Big Three to see Ford throw a party for its newest colt, complete with NHRA Ford stars John and Ashley Force and Bob Tasca III, plus Carroll Shelby and a host of other Ford heroes and Mustang drift ace Vaughn Gittin Jr. meticulously (and carefully) throwing down donuts and figure eights between the various models parked on the stage.

With gas prices still dropping, it gives an old muscle-car lover like me another reason to get up every day. The sexy new Challenger sports a 425-horsepower engine – probably no small coincidence that that's the same horsepower that the 426 Hemi-equipped versions produced – and the eagerly awaited '10 Camaro will make 422 horsepower, and both met with rave reviews at last week's Los Angeles Auto Show. (Heck, even South Korean automaker Hyundai is building its first rear-driver, the 310-horsepower V-6 Genesis, next year!) The best car I ever had was an '05 Pontiac GTO that boiled out 400 horsepower to the ground and hugged the curves like a long-lost relative, so the new Pontiac G8, with its 415-horsepower 6.2-liter engine and track-tuned suspension, will definitely be worth a look.

Anyway, a combination of all of this muscle-car talk and the sudden proliferation of Christmas-music-only radio stations caused me to dig up an old mix CD I made a few years ago of nothing but vintage hot rod songs, and for a gearhead like me, it's still a thrill to hear the mechanical detail put into these songs.

Who could forget Ronny and the Daytonas telling you their GTO sports three deuces and a four-speed and 389? Or that the Beach Boys' 409 had dual quads, a four-speed, and a posi rear end? (Actually, the song was not penned by the Boys but by prolific Beach Boys songwriter Gary Usher, who "only" owned a car with the W series 409's predecessor, the 348, which is actually the engine heard on the track … sorry to rain on your parade.)

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Still, the Beach Boys had a ton of car-themed music to share the stage with their big-wave fantasies. Their famed Little Deuce Coupe with a flathead mill had cylinder heads that had been ported and relieved and the engine stroked and bored. The photo of the five-window '32 Ford coupe pictured on the album of the same name came from Hot Rod magazine and was owned by the late Clarence Catallo. That album contains a series of great car-themed songs, including the Brian Wilson/Mike Love-penned not-so-hot-rod tune "Custom Machine."

Well she's metalflake blue with a Corvette mill
And they say it looks better when she's standin' still

And "No-Go Showboat."

Whitewall slicks with racing mags
She's just for looks, man, not for drags

The album also included "Car Crazy Cutie" and what undoubtedly would have been Barbara Parks' favorite tune, "Our Car Club."

I've been cruisin' 'round the town now
with the guys for quite a while
We been thinkin' 'bout starting up a club
that shows some class and style;
And we'll get the finest cars.
We got a Deuce Coupe, a Stingray, a rail job and an XKE
We'll be the fastest at the drags, man, we'll really cut some low E.T.s.

There's also "Cherry, Cherry Coupe" ("Chrome reversed rims with whitewall slicks, and it turns a quarter-mile in 106") and the classic drag race song "Shutdown," a blow-by-blow description of a battle between the writer's fuel-injected '63 Corvette Stingray and a 413-powered '62 Super Stock Dodge Dart ("To get the traction I'm ridin' the clutch; my pressure plate's burnin', my machine's too much.").

And speaking of races … man, what about Charlie Ryan's "Hot Rod Lincoln" (most people think that either Johnny Bond or Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen wrote this because they had bigger hits with it, but it originally was written by Ryan in 1955 as an answer to George Wilson's groundbreaking "Hot Rod Race") with rich detail?

It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up,
That Model A body makes it look like a pup;
It's got eight cylinders, uses them all,
It's got overdrive, just won't stall.
With a 4-barrel carb and a dual exhaust,
With 4.11 gears you can really get lost,
It's got safety tubes, but I ain't scared,
the brakes are good, tires fair.

Or "Maybelline," where Chuck Berry's V-8 Ford takes on ol' Maybelline's Coupe de Ville (and don't forget about Berry's "You Can't Catch Me"), or Jan and Dean's iconic "Deadman's Curve" between a Corvette (obviously the dream car of '60s youth) and a Jaguar XKE or Jan and Dean's "Drag City" ("Burn up that quarter-mile …") or The Rip Chords' "Hey Little Cobra," which was written by a woman, Carol Conner, who had just purchased one of the 427-powered pocket-rockets.

Jan Berry, the driver in "Dead Man's Curve," also wrote "Hot Stocker."

 

She's six years old, but don't you knock her,
'cause at the drags she's the hottest stocker;
looks pretty square at first inspection,
but she really scrams with fuel injection.
She places every week number one in her class
with a 283 that runs on gas;
when the flag is dropped you know she always squeals
those Racemaster slicks on big mag wheels

Berry also wrote his own ode to the Goat, called "Mighty GTO."

If you're looking for speed you can get your kicks,
yeah and wind her up to 60 now in 4.6;
the Stingrays and the Cobras never even show,
'cause none of them can catch me in my mighty GTO.

Smack-talking about other brands and the highway whupping they were gonna get was commonplace, even up through Sammy Hagar's "Trans Am (Highway Wonderland)," in which he brags about his 6.6-liter Pontiac ("My six point six gets a little too heavy for a big-block Ford or a 350 Chevy").

 

My rock hero, Bruce Springsteen, used cars in 45 tracks in his first seven albums and had some memorable car-guy talk on The River's "Ramrod "("Well she's a hot-stepping Hemi with a four-on-the-floor, he's a Road Runner engine in a '32 Ford") and the moody "Racing in the Streets" from Darkness of the Edge of Town ("I got a '69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads (!) and a Hurst on the floor") and, of course, "Born to Run" ("chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and steppin' out over the line."). There's also this gem, "Open All Night," from Nebraska.

I had the carburetor, baby, cleaned and checked,
with her line blown out she's hummin' like a turbojet;
propped her up in the backyard on two concrete blocks,
for a new clutch plate and a new set of shocks;
took her down to the car wash, checked the plugs and points,
well I'm goin' out tonight I'm gonna rock that joint.

And what on-the-road CD wouldn't be complete without Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild"? Or Deep Purple's "Highway Star"? Or Dave Edmunds' "Crawlin' from the Wreckage"? Or David Lindley's "Mercury Blues"? Or … well, you get the picture.

Rock on.

What's on your ultimate hot rod CD? Send me your suggestions!