Flashback Friday with Editor-in-Chief D. Randy Riggs – 68 Is The New 40

Future Classic? By D. Randy Riggs from VM issue 2005.1 – Jan/Feb 2005

Seems as though each day there are reminders that I am growing older faster than I’d like, and recently the realization set in that I am on the front row of the “Baby boomer” generation, those of us born during the years 1946 to 1964.

The latest reminder came in the form of an invitation to my 50th high school reunion— and my first thoughts were “how is this possible?” It didn’t seem that long ago that I attended my 25th where, predictably, like a GoodGuys car show, many rock n’ roll songs were played, enough so that from that point on when I heard a Brian Hyland song, I broke out in hives.

Graduation year 1963/64 was pretty damn exciting if you were a car guy, since Detroit’s horsepower race was at maximum revs with full-page ads in the enthusiast magazines sporting headlines that bragged about muscle stuffed into engine bays—1964 perhaps the turning point in the evolution of the high-performance passenger car in America. It was the year of the Goat, Pontiac’s GTO a surprise success in every respect for image and sales, and anyone who owned one had a new image as well.

The Mustang too, was a huge hit, although for brute performance it wasn’t really in the chase while Chevy’s new intermediate-sized Chevelle was certainly a step in the right direction from the huge boats Detroit typically churned out. Dodge and Plymouth wowed em’ with a new competition engine in 1964: the famous 426 Hemi. Not offered for the street—only in lightweight drag cars and steel- bodied NASCAR cars—it was an overnight legend on the heels of the awesome 413 and 426 Max-Wedge V8s that won on street, strip and track from coast to coast. They were ugly but they sure could cook, as Jimmy Soul might sing.

Besides American iron my graduating class could choose from many affordable sports cars or imports—MGs, Healeys, Triumphs— especially in the pre-owned category.

Unfortunately, as a high school senior lacking a reasonable wad of green stuff, none of these cars were going to replace my well-worn MGTF, but it was still a valuable use of my time to visit local dealers and come home with colorful new car brochures, on which I would circle the colors and options I’d choose on my favorite models and dream… .

This too, was motor racing’s “golden age,” although we didn’t know it then. Each race season was more interesting and exciting than the last with Cobras at Sebring and Le Mans, and rear-engined cars battling Offy roadsters at Indianapolis. Plus, we had Dan Gurney and Jimmy Clark in Formula 1!

Even before Beatlemania, launched on February 9, 1964 when Ed Sullivan hosted the group on his tv show, car songs blasted out of tiny speakers and barreled down highways and bopped along dusty country roads from familiar rock n’ rollers: Little Deuce Coupe, Shut Down, 409, and Fun, Fun, Fun by the Beach Boys; GTO by Ronny and the Daytonas; Hey Little Cobra by the Rip Chords; and Jan and Dean did Drag City, Dead Man’s Curve, Little Old Lady (from Pasadena), all perfectly timed for us “boomers” who were just getting our licenses. The lyrics made me want to call Bekins, get the heck out of New Jersey and head for California, because that’s where all the hot cars were and sun-tanned blondes, too.

My mind does much cheering when I remember the car excitement in that ragged patch of time. Modern cars are so much better in every respect yet the overstimulation from so many newer, faster models pale in comparison to what was taking place automotively speaking, the year I graduated.

Maybe that’s why today fellow boomers will pay stupid prices for cars that aren’t that fast, can’t stop and don’t handle. Had I not owned a few of those muscle cars back then perhaps I’d be doing the same, but fortunately, got them out of my system.

However, the race cars that were pictured on the pages of Sports Car Graphic in 1963-’64 still pump me blind with endorphins. Would I have ever in my wildest dreams imagined that 50 years in the future I’d be racing some of those same cars? No way.

Because back then, there was no such thing as 68 being the new 40.