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GOING THE DISTANCE
"CORVETTE: BIKERS' SECOND BEST FRIEND?"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
MY '72 CORVETTE: Bikers seem to have an affinity with Vettes.
BERT BAKER OF BAKER DRIVETRAIN:
"On a personal level, I am a Corvette man. I like my Corvettes....I will continue to buy....American made cars...."
SONNY BARGER, HAMC:
"....I was driving a modified blue-black Corvette.....Clark drove a remake of a Cord, I remembetr him wanting to trade cars 'cause he really liked my 'vette...."
NEW YORK CITY: APRIL 2, 2011 5:15 A.M.
It was perfect. I was following a dozen bright red tailights runnin' down Tenth Avenue, matching their speed and pace. It is amazing the speeds that one can achieve on a New York City street when the circumstances and timing are right. We were hittin' close to sixty at one point.
I'm tellin' ya man, it's all a matter of perception: Doing 60 mph on a New York City street, feels like 100 miles per hour on the highway.
At this time of the morning when most bikers were either sleeping off a hangover or gettin' home with one, when the streets and skies over New York City were still pitch black, my Corvette and I were out claiming ownership of the tarmac.
The sun won't be up for another couple of hours, because this is still daylight savings time.
My driver's side window was open and the 40 degree clean smelling air was hitting me in the face behind the wheel of my Righteous and Red '72 Corvette, making me feel on top of the world. There something bracing and uplifting about wind hitting one's face, whether one's on two wheels or four, that is indescribably delicious, just like the candy bar commercial sez. It is the taste of American Freedom that titillates the pores of the face, and sweetens one's tongue into an ecstatic state. You all know what I'm rappin' about, man.
In the wind! I love it. I leave the window open in my Vette when I drive, even in the winter. Wind is therapeutic, as it luftwaffes over your receptive skin.
There are times, whether one's on two wheels or four, when the sensation of riding or driving, heightened by the circumstances, makes you feel that the experience is just so right, and makes you realize how much you love the vehicle that you are involved with at the moment. You realize, not for the first time, that this vehicle and you were destined to be together. This Corvette named Mary, just like my ever-lovin' Stroker Shovel Mabel, are just meant to be mine, and mine alone. It was fated, forevermore.
I'll tell ya what I love. Call me an inveterate New Yorker (which I unrepentedly am), but patrolling the streets of New York City is one of the most satisfying rides I can think of, especially in the early morn when traffic is light and malleable, bending to whims of speed and acceleration, whether I'm in my Vette or my Harley 74. Prowling the streets of NYC, alone with my vehicle, with street lamps glistening like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and lesser vehicles making way for us, as they should, I feel like the Dominant Sheriff In Town. Any bike or car that can make you feel so victorious, so indomitable, so all-conquering---has to be fated to be yours, and yours alone.
I love being alone with either my bike or my car. I don't need other humans when riding or driving, just my mechanical companions. An indispensable ingredient of the mystqiue of loving a vehicle, is that it doesn't serve as a socializing prop.
It's just you and the vehicle, bonding.
Mary's burbling exhaust, so authoritative and just on this side of legal, make me swell with love, and appreciation of the fact that she is mine. There is a possessiveness inherent to this kind of relationship between man and machine that rivals a jealousy of one's woman, that renders machines human-like.
Going fast is overrated. All Harley riders know this.
The sensation of rightness as you drive or ride the vehicle you truly feel is yours, and should belong to you alone, is worth all the 3 second zero-to-60 times that an overpowering Japanese bike can give, and more. What's the point of having a impossibly fast bike, if you have no true affection for it, no feelings of love for the thing?
I met a motorcyclist a few months ago who owned a Ducati, and we started rappin' about our respective bikes. He puffed out his chest and said, "My bike is a Superbike!" thinking that I would be impressed. He must've equated being impressed with patient pity.
I could swear that his chest circumference increased by an additional inch with the enunciation of each syllable in "Su-Per-Bike."
To me, that kind of superficial appreciation doesn't mean squat. That type of appreciation is meant for public consumption only, nothing more.
Ya just know that this type of rider would trade for something labeled newer, better and faster than his current bike. This type of relationship is truly bereft of depth and meaning. It is status symbolism at its most infested.
Patrolling the streets in my righteous old Corvette with her loping small-block Chevy mill cutting holes in the clean air, is better than the newest Corvette with 640 supercharged and fuel-injected horses. It ain't about going the fastest. It's about getting the most out of it. Just give me my small-block with its Holley quad noisily and hungrily sucking in night air, and I'm happy.
Class and righteousness will always trump the cheap and transient thrill of owning the the newest, fastest or most exclusive. The latter is an empty experience.
The evidence is accumulating. Corvettes are meant to be bikers' second loves. Or are they? I've gotta say that I'm in pretty good company as you can see from those quotes from Bert Baker and Sonny Barger. But that's just us Corvette freaks displaying our Vettecentricity. I can't speak for the other two, but I've been a dyed-in-the wool Vette freak since the age of 13 when I started watching Route 66 on TV, and I'll never change my preference.
There are other bikers who swear by other four-wheelers as their ancillary Motorvatin-Loves-Of-Their-Lives. Take Snow for example, who lusted after an early year Chevelle even as he rode his Wide Glide Rebelene, and later, his F.U. Chop. He eventually got his small-block powered Chevelle. Here's the point about cars:
It's gotta be American, man.
It doesn't have to be a Vette, of course, as long as the biker feels that bond with the car.
Just like Bert Baker says, just buy American, and love yer car. There's just one area where I disagree with Baker: I will never give up my righteous and rugged Harley four-speed transmission. It rules! We doan need no stinkin' six speeds. If God had meant my '71 Super Glide to have a six speed tranny, then he would've had The Firm equip Mabel with it.
Succumbing to lesser brands like foreign cars and motorcycles, dilutes the strain in our subculture. Just buy American, and we all benefit: American workers, our economy and our American Pride. Have pride in our stuff, man! Check out what Moonshine had to say at the Seedy X-Bar, about a previous column I had written:
"That was a great Column! Your not alone with your beliefs... only those beliefs are becoming less and less. Whatever... sheep will always be in the pasture. I laughed out loud when I read about trading your Harley for a Kawaski chopper because I know someone who did JUST THAT! I was stunned, I didn't even know what to say. But then he is the kind of person that always owns 4 bikes, always paints them colors to keep re-sale potential up. He doesn't love his bike. He doesn't think of it as part of his family, as part of him. What can you say to someone like that...."
It was noteworthy that Moonshine said that his friend who traded his Harley for a Japanese motorcycle, "....doesn't love his bike." I will never understand bikers who don't become attached to their Harleys as if they've become irrevocably a part of their blood families. Blood is thicker than water, and Harley 60 weight is even thicker than that.
I truly feel that my Harley and my Vette are the only bike and car fated to be with me. I feel this so strongly that I talk to 'em. I told my Corvette as I was tucking her into her parking space this morning, "You're a good girl, Mary." This is always accompanied by a pat on her right fender. She is my Fiberglass Queen.
The feeling of love I feel for her, as my feelings toward my Harley, climb to new heights every time I take 'em out on the road.
Most of you know my history, that I was into Corvettes and was a car racing freak way before I fell into the tender trap of Harley-Davidsons in 1968. My love for cars and car racing has never abated, even as I became a hardcore biker. Formula One, Indycars, drag racing, NASCAR, sports car racing, the 24 hours of Le Mans, the 12 hours of Sebring, IMSA, I loved it all. When Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500, this represented a time when there was crossing over from one discipline to another. Mario was a Forumla One champ who raced and won in NASCAR. That doesn't happen today. Today, there is a factory Vette team that races in the ALMS series.
When Jimmy Clark won the Indy 500 with his spindly little Lotus F1 car, it might've been a highlight of the melding of my love for the different racing series. Jimmy Clark was my favorite driver of all time, who came to Indy to slay the mighty front-engined cars from another era, with his tiny-by-comparison rear-engined F1 car, which was laughed at initially by the Indy vets. Nobody laughed after Jimmy ran away with the race.
Predictably, most entries the next year were rear-engined, just like Clark's invading Formula One car.
When Zora Arkus-Duntov (the chief Corvette engineer at Chevrolet) surreptitiuosly built the lightweight Corvettes known as the Grand Sports in the 1960s, I was elated. GM had a non-racing edict then, so Arkus-Duntov was blatantly bucking company policy. General Motors could not claim these cars as factory race cars. In fact, at one point, the suits ordered the Grand Sports demolished, but Arkus-Duntov disobeyed.
These cars weeighed 2,000 pounds man, more than a grand lighter than a stock Vette. If GM hadn't gone chicken and rejected racing as dangerous, these cars would've done even better.
As it was, these Grand Sports were secretly lent to privateers from the wide open back doors of Chevrolet, and later sold to private owners. There were only five of these lightweight Vettes built, and I believe that only three survived to this day. I believe that one of them sold for a whoppin' four million bucks at auction a few years ago.
When Chevy built the "Mystery Motor" that Smokey Yunick made such a sensation in NASCAR, and this mill was developed into the 396 big block used in 60s street Chevies, I was so proud. As a lifelong Chevy fan, that was a brand highlight I'll never forget, when the 396 Chevelles and Corvettes were introduced.
Most of you also know that I've only owned two bikes in my life, both Harleys, and only two cars in my life, both Vettes. The feeling with my first bike and car, the '68 XLCH and the '64 Sting Ray, were not the same as with Mabel and Mary. It didn't feel as if the Sportster and the '64 Vette and I were meant to be. The all-pervasive feeling that we were fated to be together, was missing with the earlier vehicles. I believe in compatibility between man and machine, and if the chemistry isn't right, then the union probably won't last too long. A man and his machine is like a man and his spouse. Spouses aren't disposable, and neither are cars or bikes if you love 'em, and treat 'em with the respect that they deserve.
I hope that some of you can relate to what I rappin' about, because if ya don't---then I feel sorry for you. If you don't love your bike and car, then there is a deficiency in you. Later.