Most of the cars that showed up on those nights were cool. A car had to have a look, a sound, a stance, something that announced it as badass. If you were cool, no way did you have to explain your car. Did Van Gogh explain his passion? If you had it, you had it. If you didn't, no amount of explanation would help. That's still how it goes today at club events. However, everyone's rides back then were as diverse as rock'n'roll. They could be street rods, muscle cars, sports cars or drag cars. They just had to be modified from the way they rolled out of the factory and they had to be mean.
Anyway, once I got parked I would place my order then climb out, walking around the cars sizing up the competition, sharing observations with the other guys, but always avoiding to answer questions about the engine in my Porsche. I still do...so don't ask, not cool. By the time I got back my order was sitting on a plastic tray, hooked to the side of my door. A big cheese burger, fries and a chocolate shake, the usual. I gently opened the door so not to upset the shake, and slid down into the drivers seat clicking the door closed behind me.
There was a black Shelby Cobra 427 parked next to me and as I ate, I soaked up every detail. The chrome rollbar had a fire extinguisher strapped to the support bar running diagonally down into the cockpit. A tach I could read from where I was sitting had it's face tilted so 8,000 RPM was at twelve o'clock. Eight grand from a big block...nasty. This was no ordinary Cobra, it was an 'SC'...really nasty!
Something was happinin'. The driver buckled his lap belt, reached to the dash and flipped a switch. The electric fuel pump went to work ticking away. He cracked the butterflies open on the Webers and cranked it once. The beast instantly barked to life, belching raw fuel out the side exhaust pipes.
The deep throaty, resonating howl filled the drive-in like the hammering beat of a Janis Joplin tune. My half-empty shake jittered across the plastic tray and my rear view mirror was just a blur. Every head in the place had swiveled around instantly to see what had come to life.
The driver paid no attention to the onlookers. His eyes were riveted on the gauges. He punched the Webers full open, a deafening concussion reverberated up from the floorboad to my feet, through my butt and danced off my hands onto a vibrating wood steering wheel. My mouth opened and I let out a loud yell at the shock and poetry of the noise, but no sound came from my mouth. In that instant, all other sounds in the world were eliminated.
A second later the noise level dropped to just a ringing sound in everyone's ears. The piercing blast was replaced by a seemly impossible, radical lope of a full-race engine. You could hear the explosions in each cylinder, almost dying between breaths. It was paradise!
The driver goosed it once more, just a little, to clear the snakes throat, and slipped it into reverse. As he looked around to back out, he noticed me staring and lifted his chin slightly in my direction, the universal sign when your cool. I gave him a thumbs up, my seal of approval on his ride. He gave me a grin...yeah, he was cool. As he pulled out of the parking lot, all heads in parked cars were craning for a peek at the taillights of that glossy black demon.
I suddenly realized that I could hear my 8 track again as I dug through my Levis for burger money, and then I heard what could only be the Cobra. A thundering blast of a screaming big block and squealing tires erupting from El Cajon Boulevard as he was burning rubber with a white-hot cloud looming up.
The sweet burning perfume of Goodyear Blue Streaks wafted through Oscars.
Yeah, it was a quarter past nine, just another night at the drive-in. What a wonderful time to grow up.
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The inspiration to write about this came from a story I read some time ago by Jack Dolan.