My teenage years were a decade past the death of the muscle car era. I lived within driving distance of a handful of racetracks, one of them, Daytona International Speedway. It didn’t matter if it were cars or motorcycles; where I grew up racing was a part of life. The sound of a high-powered high-performance engine has always caught my attention. I dreamed of having a car like a 1969 Pontiac, a 1968 Charger or any year Chevelle—but never did because of the expense. My draw to these high-powered machines is still present.
The first time I rode on the back of a bike I was about 8 years old. The experience was, at that time, the scariest and the most thrilling of my life. My next real automotive thrill came when I was 14. My step-dad had just finished rebuilding his AMC AMX. We had gone into town and on our way back he pulled off the side of the road and made me get into the driver’s seat. I was thrilled and scared as he went over the basic things that I should always check before pulling out on the road. The mirrors, my seatbelt, verifying the car was indeed in park.
He had me pull out on the road, which was at least a ten-mile straightaway, and I tried to drive like a young person who is trying to show responsibility and maturity— driving very slowly. However, that was not the scenario I found myself in. Instead, I think he wanted me to experience the power of a strong engine and also see how I would react to it. He instructed me to gas it. I gave it a little gas, exceeding the speed limit by about ten mph.
“No!” he said, “Put the pedal to the floor.”
When I didn’t respond quick enough, he reached over and pushed my knee until the pedal did indeed hit the floor. Holding on to the wheel with both hands in a death grip, I was thrown hard against the seat, shock tingling through my body. I glanced down at the speedometer as it crested 90 mph. And instantly, the ride was over. He made me pull over as we entered the 25 mph zone and switched places with me again. He never explained to me why we did that. I thought it was some sort of test concerning my license but there was never talk of that.
With that brief few moments behind the wheel, my love of engines and muscle cars grew but I kept myself at a distance. Girls didn’t drive them or work on them. I was allowed to hand tools over and ask questions, but with the impression that I wouldn’t understand these things anyway. And even if I did, they would do me no good.
I had one car that was barely considered a muscle car and that was my orange Datsun 280Z. God, I loved that car. The two-seater coupe was fast. Ridiculously fast. But the engine wasn’t modified for it to go fast for long and I repeatedly blew the radiator doing over a hundred leaving radiator fluid all over my windshield and having to pull over until the engine cooled. I had to have the block fixed once from when I cracked it. It needed a dual over-head cam to keep it from overheating (or just me to not push it anymore). Over time I couldn’t justify the expense and that car was always costing me something (everything from car parts to speeding tickets).
The world of cars is still a mans world and most likely will always be. But there are girls out there who dream of pushing the limits—not just of society but of big V8 motors. There are those of us who love the smells of the racetrack and garages. There are those of us who turn our heads to the sound of a beefy engine or do a double-take when we see a truly beautiful car. There are those of us who love to drive fast but hold back because it’s unladylike. We are closet gear-heads who have learned to love from a safe distance. I recently started writing a novel in which my main character is a teenage female mechanic back in the 1980’s. Her setting is different than mine as she is allowed and encouraged by her father to pursue her love of engines, fast cars, and racing. She gets to live my dream.