“You want to take it for a drive?” This was my neighbor, Mike, walking down his front lawn toward me as I admired his car. “Seriously?” I replied. I’d only lived here a couple years, and this fellow and I had spoken exactly twice, and here he was pressing his keys into my hand. “Well, sure!” So in I climbed, and off I went.
I drove it around our large suburban neighborhood. A wide, two-mile-long road rings this subdivision, and it was empty on this evening. So I put my foot in it a little, just to get a feel. She was solid – she accelerated briskly, the front end didn’t float up, she stayed flat around the curve, steering was light but direct and sure. It was very cool to drive a car again where I can see the front corners. I’d forgotten what that was like.
The car had some obvious modifications, starting with a small steering wheel and a bunch of extra gauges. Mike had also swapped in some racing-style seats. I found them to be uncomfortable, but it’s not like I was taking a cross-country road trip.
The floor shifter tripped me up for a minute – I pressed the button and pulled, expecting it to slide all the way to D, but it stopped at R. I did it again and got as far as N. Oh! A ratcheting shifter. The bump on the steering column says that this car didn’t start its life with one.
The back seat looks original and gives a sense that before the mods this car was pretty on the outside but basic on the inside. At least the floors are carpeted. Mike told me he bought this Tempest from a family he’d known all his life, and they bought it new. It would have been a nice car for mom back in the day – roomy enough for family duty if the family wasn’t too large, fun and stylish, but not in any way ostentatious.
The biggest modification was a recent replacement of the original but tired Pontiac 326 with a crate 350. Looks like there’s also a beefier radiator there, and some other go-faster parts.
Mike’s left the exterior largely alone, except for the black stripes and the chrome wheels. I like that. When I see him tooling around in it, it looks for all the world like we just stepped back into the late 60s. It’s a pleasant feeling. World events made no more sense then than they do now, but nostalgia sure makes them feel like they did.
This is by no means a show car. Rather, it’s a fun car with good bones for a man who likes to tinker. Mike has plans for other go-fast parts, but except for having just replaced the windshield he has no real plans to restore the exterior. Maybe a fresh paint job one day, Mike allowed. Maybe rechrome the bumpers.
I made these photos in front of the mail station at the center of our subdivision, and then returned the car to Mike. I was gone all of thirty minutes. “Back so soon?” he called out as I exited his Tempest. “I thought maybe you’d want to take it up the highway and see what it could do, or run ‘er into town and hit the Dairy Queen.”
“Oh, Mike, thanks, I didn’t want to push it too far. You’re very generous giving me this chance to take her for a spin.”
“Hey, now, just let me know if you’d like to take your wife out on a date in it!”
We all need neighbors like Mike.