DRIVER'S SIDE DIATRIBE
By Al Vinikour email@example.com
If you can figure out how, pop the hood of your car and behold the wonders found within. Hong Kong at rush hour isn’t as crowded as that space you’re looking at. With all the electronics, safety equipment, fuel injection and everything else you won’t understand there’s barely enough room for a mechanic to get his hands on things.
I say “mechanic” because you have a better chance of performing successful open heart surgery on yourself than figuring out how to do something to the engine or any other part that lives in there.
Decades ago when I was a young lad and I’d find a girlfriend, club her on the head and take her back to my cave, we also worked on our own cars. There was a difference, however. When the hood was raised there was a surface clearly visible underneath the engine. If you dropped a hard-earned dime with the raised hood you’d have a 100% chance of retrieving said dime by either crawling under the car, waiting until the car was moved or better yet, telling your little brother to get his ass under the car and get your dime back for you.
You could even promise to buy him a candy bar or ice cream bar. Not that you’d ever have to make good on that promise, you understand. If he whined about “you promised” then all you have to do is threaten his life and chances are 9 out of 10 that he’d chalk it up to another experience where he was flummoxed by his older sibling.
I know what you’re thinking: powertrains weren’t as sophisticated in those days so there wasn’t the necessity of filling up every inch with some new device. True, but on the other hand, you won’t find any 427 cubic inch V-8s or a 426 cubic inch Hemi with dual-quads in your new car.
The muscle car era was a time when men were men and engines were men too. You could work on your own car and most tuned their engines up themselves. However, those tune-ups included plugs, condensers, rotors, points and distributor caps. You may have some idea what a spark plug is but you probably have no clue as to what points and rotors are.
The majority of engines in today’s vehicles are either inline four-cylinder or a V-6. And many are transverse-mounted, which means they’re put in sideways (“catawampus” for those who are from Ohio). So why should they take up so much room? Have you ever seen one of those engines standing by itself, outside the car? Most of them are really little and are about the size of Tattoo, that creepy little guy who used to be Mr. Roark’s “assistant” on Fantasy Island. (Who are they trying to kid, anyway?) Stand them next to a 348 cubic inch Chevy V-8 with Tri-Power and it’s like standing a Jack Russell Terrier next to an elephant.
But yet with the Chevy V-8 was under the hood of a 1960 Impala there was room in that engine stall for a town hall meeting. Look underneath the hood of a four-cylinder 2013 Dodge Dart and you’re already feeling like you’re water-boarded and can’t breathe.
I like to say I’m not a conspiracist (I’d LIKE to say that but it wouldn’t be true) because if I was I would think that engine and under-hood positioning has become so complex that ONLY a trained mechanic at a dealership would be able to work on those motors and their accompanying electronics.
Granted, most of anything that could go wrong is usually covered by a fairly extensive warranty — in the case of Korean vehicles upwards of 100,000 miles or 10 years, whichever comes first. But warranties do not last forever so at some point there’s going to have to be out-of-pocket payment done to repair a vehicle’s engine. Thus, unless the owner of this kind of elderly car or truck has the repair skills of Mr. Wizard, “Say hello to my little Mechanic.”
There's a lot of horsepower under the hood of a 1957 Thunderbird, but plenty of room for hands and tools.
Usually when new technology is developed it coincides with miniaturization. New things become more powerful yet are considerably smaller. But obviously not in the case of car engines. Sure, the engines themselves are smaller and more powerful, but the “support staff” takes up whatever room might be gained because of the lesser dimensions of the engine block itself.
The summertime brings out more than poison ivy, deer ticks and rabid wolverines; it sprouts a weekly collection of car meets, a phenomenon where people will drive their old vehicles – generally high-performance muscle cars — to parking lots of all the basic food groups of the country, like Big Boys, IHOPs and Pizza Huts.
They’ll open the hoods and then proceed to sit on lawn chairs for hours, talking about the good old days when they were the prom king or high school star quarterback like Al Bundy. They do this at different locations 4-7 evenings per week. (They probably spend their winters watching reruns of Bill Dance, Babe Winkleman and Roland Martin fishing shows.)
If you get a chance, stop by one of them and walk around. Believe me, they won’t be talking to you. They’re way-too-self-absorbed to do that. So look around at some of their vehicles and look at how much room there is under the hoods and also the ground and pavement seen underneath.
That scenery isn’t Photoshopped — it’s the real thing. In those days there WAS room at the inn.