I HAD a great evening recently when one of my friends invited me to drive their pale green and white 1957 Buick sedan in the Covered In Chrome Saturday-night cruise in Mackay. This was the first CIC event Iíd cruised in Ė and the first time Iíd ever driven a left-hand-drive car in Australia, which took a little bit of getting used to. It was also like travelling back in time to the 70s, when I had two í57 Chevs Ė one a 396 big-block A/ MP drag car and the other a 235-cube Blue Flame-six tow car.
The first thing I had to get used to was starting the engine. Turning the ignition on is the same as many cars, but then you have to push your foot all the way down on the accelerator. When your foot gets near the floor it hits the start solenoid button and cranks the motor. Iíve never been in a car that starts this way. And even though this Buick had power-assisted drum brakes that were done up, theyíre not like modern disc brakes. They reminded me of my í57 Chevís drum brakes, which could stop the big-block shoebox safely from 126mph at the end of the quarter every pass, but there was never any danger of flat-spotting the front tyres Ė and you have to drive in traffic accordingly.
Another thing was the radio. It worked perfectly, but took time to warm up. And there were no seatbelts. Weíre so conditioned to putting our seatbelts on that it was noticeable not wearing them. Seatbelts do save lives, but it felt good sitting comfortably on the big bench seat unrestrained.
The all-original V8/two-speed Buick cruised along the highway so smoothly. It mightnít have cruise control, but you could effortlessly drive this car from Mackay to Melbourne and back again.
The late-afternoon meeting place was the Mackay TAFE carpark in Wood Street, and just getting into the parking area had to be done delicately. The Buick had to be angled to stop the front bumper from scraping the ground going through the dip at the carpark entry. There were probably 20 cars there already, a couple of bikes and a coffee van.
Many more arrived later.
The best part about the event was meeting other likeminded people who love their cars.
A local chassis builder brought his Russian partner to the event; she was tickled to have her photo taken in the front seat of the Buick.
Another local racer was running low 11s at 125mph on radials in his XD Falcon.
Itís pulling the front wheels off the deck, but should be running 10s for the 125mph terminal speed. We bench-raced for a while, going over his combo. He had a 5000rpm stall converter sitting under a bench that he thought might be too much stall, but I suggested he try that next meeting. Itís such
a good feeling when you shave a couple of tenths off and jump into the next time bracket, like low 11s to high 10s.
After the sun went down, the group headed off to the main street of Mackay and did some laps. This should make a lot of you smile.
Anyone Ė young or old Ė who has owned a custom car, hot rod or street machine will have at one time or another driven up and down the main street of a town somewhere. Itís been at least 20 years since Iíve been in a group of cars doing laps; people at restaurants were cheering and waving as the procession went past and many had their mobile phones out taking pictures. The public were getting a free live car show. It was really cool. There was no anti-social behaviour, just a feel-good time.
After cruising up and down the main street several times, many cars headed out to Mackay Harbour and back again. It took me back to the 70s, when that was what we all did on a Saturday night. The only thing missing these days is a drive-in movie theatre. And where we used to go parking down at the harbour is now full of high-rise apartments, restaurants, takeaway shops and bars. The í57 Buick was like a time machine and flashed back to some great memories.
To top the night off, I got a phone call from a couple of friends who were having a few drinks at a local pub and needed a lift. They certainly werenít expecting a ride in a 60-yearold Buick! It was handy having a bench seat front and back that could cope with six adults.
The rest of the patrons at the pub all came to the door to watch us leave and wave.
There are a lot worse things you can do than love cars. Thereís a really good social scene associated with owning, maintaining and driving cars like the ones we feature in Street Machine. Life is short; get out there and enjoy it. s