I had a job after school at Eagle Cleaners (no we didn't clean Eagles) and had saved a total of $90 over the previous six months. It seemed like a fortune in those days of $.28 cent gas. After the car's purchase, $40 remained most of which I used to buy a used, late 40's GMC truck engine at the junkyard. The car's engine had 217 cubic inches and produced around 80 horsepower. The truck engine was larger, 235 cubic inches with 90 horsepower. I imagined that the made over Chevy would be a hotrod.
My friend Bill Jenkins' father offered to let us use an old garage in back of their house for the work. Bill's father letting use that garage was a godsend, as my parents had no space and weren't too keen on the whole idea.
Bill, Wynn, and later George Jr. pitched in and we started work sometime in late October of 1957. We worked on it through Christmas and into February of 1958. We pulled the old Chevy motor and dropped in the larger GMC. That sounds a lot easier than it was. Bill wrote a note in my high school annual about it. Here are his exact words as he reminded me of the experience:
"'Hey man, watch out for that #!*%*+#! firewall' (puttin' the jimmy in the chevy). 'Be careful with that motor. Hurry up and let it down. The garage is falling down on top of us!"I loved cars. But I was no mechanic. I liked to draw them and model them, but other than knowing a little of the hotrod lingo (two four barrels, three deuces, Isky cams, Hurst shifters, etc.), I knew nothing about actually doing what I was trying to do. I could do the grunt work but I had to have someone tell me what needed to be done. Luckily, Wynn, and later George Jr. handled that chore.
We labored on through that winter, scraping our knuckles and learning a new vocabulary of curse words, some of which we invented on the spot. At some point in the Fall, I bought a couple of cans of grey primer and brush painted the Chevy. That's me when it comes to cars. I've always liked style over substance. You'll see that tendency crop up in another later unfortunate car I bought. But, at the time, I saw lots of rods running around East Nashville in just a primer coat. It was the style Daddy-o. With it's new primer coat, the Chevy looked like it was ready to join the upper echelon of the hot rod ranks.
The main problem we encountered sometime in January was in trying to hook up the transmission to the engine. As Johnny Cash says in that famous "one piece at a time" tune about the Cadillac, we didn't have no adapter plate. My money was gone and my frustration was building. But fate intervened. Another guy at school, Gary, a hotrodder himself, heard about what I was doing. He said he'd trade cars with me if I could get the Chevy/Jimmy to run. That's when I called in George Junior who lived up the street from me. Junior said, "have no fear, I'll get the damn thing running."
If I remember correctly, George Junior's Dad had a stock car at the Nashville Speedway, and Junior had grown up around motors. He knew how they worked. He came over one weekend and within a day, we had the thing cranked up and running. Without an adapter plate, he had somehow managed to get the thing connected so that it was continuously in second gear. No low. No high. No reverse. With exhaust coming straight out of the manifold the thing sounded like a Monster.
We towed it over to Double Drive around midnight that night and tried it out. Gary came along to see if he wanted to complete the trade. He liked what he saw. Correction, liked what he heard. The people in the houses along that section of Double Drive didn't though. A couple came out on the porches and waved their finger at us. I forgot which finger. Figuring the cops were coming, we only made one run. But that was enough for Gary. He liked the Chevy/Jimmy Monster and the next weekend we traded cars.
Gary, got the Monster and I got his 48 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan. It was a damn good trade. Gary got the Monster running. He had the mechanical knowledge and the cash to make it what I'd planned to. I heard he raced it at the drags and did pretty well. As for my side of the trade, the Aero actually ran and I could drive it to school, to work, and use it for dates. I found out later that it had been Chevy's most popular model that year; over 210,000 were produced.
I'll tell more about it in another post at a later date. But here's a pic. Wrong colors though. Mine was solid black and had side pipes that came just in front of the rear wheels.
(BTW, my friend Bill Jenkins, who was a DJ on a Nashville radio station in his last semester of high school went on to become a local TV personality in the 60's and 70's. I saw him once at Christmas during my first year in college. What we did for fun that night is a story in itself, which I'll maybe do a post about sometime. After that I didn't run into him much. But I heard about his successes. He even got in a movie once. I remember going to the big theater at Hundred Oaks Mall to see Altman's Nashville and at some point in the script a country music character arrives at the airport. There on the giant screen to interview the character was my old friend Bill. He had a part in an Altman movie. Cool. I lost track of him until a couple of years ago. I learned he had passed away. I'm really sorry I didn't get to reconnect with him. We had so much fun in those glory days.)