Car Fiction by Gary D. Smith
The rush hour commute downtown could be worse—I’m usually ahead of the main stampede. With all of the construction it still can take nearly an hour. If I’m not in my car and backing out of the garage by 6:00 it could take an extra 30 minutes. But compared to the rest of my systematized life, the commute to work had become the high point of my day.
The stuff dreams are made of.
My commute started to become an obsession. A good trip in would make my day. But it could be ruined by getting stuck in traffic on the best part of the course. I mean trip. The best part was a long sweeper interrupted by a short straight and a tunnel as it changes directions to merge up with the other freeway. I drove to work. Everybody else was commuting.
I’m not talking about dangerous speed on the edge of control, or anything. But many cars today already perform reasonably well, and a decent handling car can be made better with a set of big sway bars, lowering springs, and some ZR’s. That along with an attitude are all it takes to make the most out of the trip in.
Now freeways have a life of their own. The cars seem to move in groups, and the gaps between them can prove to be, well, an opportunity to get ahead of the pack, or to hang back and pace yourself to get set up for the interchange ramp.
Most of the time the traffic moves pretty good, and I enjoy the drive. Rush hour is great because everybody is driving too fast as it is, and for the most part, people up that early are pretty well behaved and predictable out there. It’s not NASCAR or anything, but not bad. Sometime you see a DPS cruiser, but not too often. It seems as if they gave up on rush hour.
Once in a while I come across a kindred spirit who helps make the trip in a better. You know; an enthusiast who’s pushing it a bit and still driving by the rules. No tailgating or weaving, but knows how to take a line through the fast ramps or when to double clutch in a tunnel to make the most of the exhaust echo. There are some days where you seem to pair up, and it makes the trip pretty cool, maybe even exciting for a few brief moments. You never actually acknowledge this commuting competitor. It’s just understood that somehow you’re hooked up.
I got to the point that I looked forward to driving to work. I started to live for that properly timed, but totally unnecessary, double clutch downshift and the simultaneous exhaust bark just coming into that big sweeper. When I was a kid I thought Autotopia at Disneyland was the ultimate rush. The freeways are Autopia enlarged to super scale built with zillions of taxpayer dollars solely for my personal entertainment. Is this great or what?
The commute to work is usually a solitary experience. Unless it’s unbearably hot, I roll down the windows and leave the air off. My favorite radio station is WOFF because I’d rather hear the exhaust, monitor mechanicals, and be alone with my thoughts. I’m into this driving thing.
But as the months rolled by I found myself becoming anxious on two fronts. One source of frustrations was my car. As I pushed my car harder, its modest underpinnings would either frustrate or sometimes even scare me. I added what modifications I could afford and those things that were available, but I was limited as to how much was practically possible. Then the other problem was traffic. It was always there. At first I was thrilled to get a clear shot at a good corner once a week, but I wanted more, and began to try to plan a considerable amount of timing in an attempt to find myself at the right place at the right moment. But it seemed like there was always some big dumb sedan or a truck that ruined everything.
Now I like cars, and like to really keep my eyes pealed in traffic. I can’t afford to not know what’s around me. So I often see some beautiful machinery out there. Most of the time a guy in a really potent machine is just tooling down the freeway with a phone stuck in his ear, just not paying much attention. Sometimes I wonder why on earth someone would buy a such a machine and not drive the thing. But like I said before, once in a while you come across a kindred spirit. And that’s where this story gets interesting.
This particular day was not the best. I misjudged a light, and found my self in the middle of a pack that I couldn’t get through, so I never got properly set up for the big interchange ramp with the two big sweepers and a short tunnel. Oh, there is one off ramp I know of where there is a stretch of single lane, with no access, that must be nearly a half mile long before you eventually come to another ramp, or up to the surface street. Why, I’ve had it up to…but I digress.
Anyway, I spot in front of the pack of traffic I’m stuck in this white ’66 Mustang Fastback. I’ve never seen it before. I can see he almost catches the pack ahead of me, but then takes the interchange ramp to the east. Going pretty good, too. I have to take the ramp to the west.
A couple of days later I’m surprised to see him again. This time he comes out of nowhere and is carefully but methodically moving through traffic, not really speeding so you’d notice. As I catch a glimpse of this Mustang that found a hole and is pulling away, it’s unmistakably a Shelby. Wow. Don’t see those too often. Not a car you’d do a commute in. By the time I get through the pack of cars myself, the Shelby is too far ahead to consider catching, but I managed to gain a little ground on him, enough to stay with him as there were no cars between us. So he’s maybe 25 car lengths ahead, and clearly planning to take the east bound exchange just like the other day. I start to back off and change lanes to get to the west bound ramp, but then decide just to stick with him through the ramp, just to see if I can gain ground through a great left hand sweeper that goes that way. I might be a few minutes late to work, but if I catch the lights right, maybe no more than five minutes.
So I took the ramp a bit faster than I usually do. My heart’s pounding. “This is stupid,“ I said to myself, but keep up the pace anyway. I lost sight of him as he gets past the apex of the sweeper and disappears behind the concrete support. Just before I hit the apex, I’m on the binders and downshift to scrub off enough speed to keep myself between the lines going through the turn. Then emerging from the turn I’m back on the gas hard, and have a clear view of the remainder of the ramp, and the eastbound fast lane ahead of me. But as I crested the ramp and enter the freeway itself, the Shelby is nowhere in sight. It’s like it vanished; I couldn’t imagine where it could have gone—there just are no opportunities between the merging ramp and the nearest exit almost 1/4 mile a way to get off. I was quite puzzled as I took that exit to turn around and head to work.
A week went by and I saw no sign of the Shelby, so I gave up hoping. Meanwhile, the driving gloves came that I’d ordered, along with a new set of Bilsteins. The shocks gave me a little more control through that big sweeper, and the gloves just made me feel more like a professional. A professional what, I’m not sure.
That following Thursday the Shelby appeared from my right blind spot and startled me with a horrendous roar as he sailed by. I was surprised by the fact that I never saw him come up from behind, but even more surprised to realize that the car had open pipes. Open pipes! There was definitely a pipe appearing from just in front of the left rear tire, with no doubt a matching one on the other side. How in the world could he get away with that? I was able to change lanes and get behind him as we broke free of the pack. I could see a full roll bar in the car, and then it dawned on me that the back window was curved in at the top with an opening to let air escape from the interior. Only the race cars had plexiglas windows like that! But I didn’t have time to think about it too long.
Except for a few stragglers, we were about 1/8 mile from the next big pack of cars when I detect a puff of smoke as he downshifts and pulls away. I don’t know what’s going on, but this is great. Then the same thing happens as before. He takes the east interchange ramp and disappears as I emerge from the ramp. Well, not quite the same thing. This time I nearly plowed off the ramp going through the fast left hand sweeper.
I had a hard day at work that day. Several meetings, and they didn’t go too well. I just couldn’t focus; I kept thinking about that Shelby. I got home and parked the car in my garage. As I walked into the house, I tried to put the pieces together, but nothing made any sense. One thing for sure, though. My daily ride would never be a match for that Shelby. I stopped pondering how there could be a full race Shelby Mustang out on the public highways at all.
The next morning I was half asleep when I walked into my garage through the side door. The first thing that hit me was the color blue. My car isn’t blue, but faded silver. I could see the top of a medium blue metallic coupe. As I walked around some boxes that blocked the full view of the car, what was in my garage was a older Corvette coupe. ’60s something. I looked inside the open driver’s window into a dark interior and saw the opener where I’d left it, except that it was in the wrong car. I pushed the opener and walked to the back. This car had my plate on it. It also had a row of holes between the twin tail lights. This was one of Duntov’s five Grand Sport Corvettes. It’s worth a fortune, and it’s sitting in my garage with my plate on it.
There are times for trying to get to the bottom of things and figure out the why’s. This wasn’t one of them. I had no idea how the car came to be in my garage, or the possible consequences to what I was about to do, but I opened the door and climbed in. There was a key in the ignition and a row of switches in the center of the instrument panel. Ignition, fuel pump, oil cooler, roof number light, and engine fan. I turned on the ignition, then switched on the fuel pump. It came to life. Zounds. I pumped the gas once, and turned the key. It didn’t start right off, and I had to fool with it a bit, but I didn’t flood it. When it started, I thought the garage was going to explode. I buckled up the harness, and as I looked around a bit, there were some ear plugs on the passenger seat. How thoughtful.
I found reverse, and backed the car out of the garage, making enough noise if not to raise the dead, surely at least to rouse my meddlesome, nearly dead next door neighbor. She’s has eleven cats and is really into opera. But she never emerged from her house as I backed the car into the street. I hit the garage door remote.
This is unbelievable. What am I doing? I don’t know how to drive a race car.
I carefully drove up to the first stop at the end of the street tying to make keep the engine speed to a minimum trying to keep a lid on the sound level, although I doubted it made much difference. I fully expected to see people in bathrobes running up to me from every surrounding house holding their hands over their ears and yelling as if I could hear them, but they never appeared. But I couldn’t think of that now. I had too much to deal with trying to keep the cold race car from stalling, wondering how I was ever going to get the brake pads hot enough so they’d realize what they were for, and deal with that clutch. I’ve driven heavier clutches, but this one was on the stiff side.
The on ramp was only a mile away, but I had to get through a couple of busy intersections to get there. I pulled up behind a car waiting at the light and had to keep blipping the throttle to keep it from stalling. The water temperature was coming up, so I switched on the fan. Fuel. Do I have fuel? Full tank. It’s a good thing. The nearest place I knew of to get racing gas was clear across town.
A car pulled up to right, windows up, and the driver was putting the finishing touches on her face while waiting for the light to change. She never looked over. Well, lots of drivers are totally indifferent to their surroundings, but I would have thought the noise this car was making would be enough to drown out any premium sound system no matter how thick the glass was. The plug wires were probably solid core and put out so much EM interference that every radio and cell phone within a couple hundred yards of me must be going berserk. But nobody seemed to be paying any attention.
The light changed and I eased away. As luck would have it, the next light is red, too. But to make matters worse, there is a city cop waiting to turn left. He’s going to have to pass right next to me when he gets the green arrow. I’m dead. His light changed, he completed his turn, but never looked my way. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m starting to feel invisible. I’m kinda liking this.
Finally I got to my on ramp, and lag a bit behind the guy in front of me so I can get on it just a little. I mean, I’ve got to get the feel of this car. Still in first, I gave it a little gas, and the car started to spool up like it’s going to launch, the rear tires started to spin, and the car started to go sideways. Whoa. Easy. Back off.
Once on the freeway, I found myself in the fast lane being tailgated by a Prelude just at the front of a pack, about thirty car lengths from the guy in front of me going about 75. The Corvette is just kind of laughing at the speed. This car is all business. And it feels great.
I’m in front of a pack of cars, with the Prelude still behind me. The next group of cars is way ahead, farther ahead than I’ve ever seen. There must be a half a mile of space ahead. This is so cool I can’t believe it.
And then there it was. The Shelby. He came up on my right side fast and changed into my lane right in front of me pulling away fast. This is it. I downshifted into second and eased on the throttle. The revs came up fast and I shifted into third. No power shifts; I don’t want to break the tires loose.
And then there it was. The Shelby.
The Shelby took the good line and used up all three lanes of freeway getting set up for the off ramp that was coming up fast. He had pulled ahead, but I was starting to hold the distance between us. I followed his lead and took the same line through the lanes. We were really moving.
He took the eastbound ramp just like before, but this time it would be different. He tapped the brakes and downshifted. I hit the ramp in fourth starting to feel comfortable in the car, then down shifted to scrub off some speed and get set up for the first jog in the interchange. It was apparent that I had gained on him.
He almost disappeared round the first sweeper leading up to the short straight, but not quite. I downshifted into second as I entered the first sweeper to get set up for the straight. I hit the apex and hit the throttle a little too hard. That mistake introduced a bit too much oversteer and the back end started to come around. I eased off a bit but kept the power coming to keep the car pointed in the right direction. I think they call that a power slide. Anyway, when I got into the short straight I was within sight of the Shelby and gaining ground.
The second left hand sweeper ended in a rise and onto the fast lane of the other freeway. I jabbed third gear and the Corvette responded instantly. Before the Mustang started to back off for the second turn, I had definitely gained considerably, and knew I could take him given the opportunity.
The Shelby downshifted as he entered into the sweeper. Then the ramp went uphill heading for the crest. I was in hot pursuit. I had never imagined going through this interchange at this speed. It was unbelievable. As he crested the ramp, he disappeared from view. A moment later going over the crest the freeway was spread out before me, but the Shelby was gone.
“George! What are you doing? You took the wrong ramp. We’re all going to be late for work. Again. What’s gotten into you? Maybe you should drive to work by yourself. This happens every time you drive.” The other two in the car murmured in disgust.
“Sorry. I’ll get off and turn around. I just wasn’t paying attention.”
I had a hard day at work that day. Several meetings, and they didn’t go too well. I just couldn’t focus; I kept thinking about that Shelby.
© 2009 Gary D. Smith