FLEETING MOMENTS FUEL OUR IMAGINATION.
DateSUNDAY, MAY 5, 2019 AT 04:52PM
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. If you’ve arrived at a certain point in your life you realize that even the special moments are fleeting – they come and go when you want to hang on to them and make them last forever, but that’s not the way it works, unfortunately. Yet those living color memories stick with us and last for a lifetime. It’s our life currency, in fact. No, they’re not all we have to go on, of course, but they’re certainly the most enduring, and they continue to fuel our dreams to this day.
Having led a charmed car life from an early age, my fleeting moments are indelible and, in some respects, almost unbelievable, but they’re as fresh and vivid as if it all happened yesterday.
To say I had the opportunity to experience an incredible automotive life growing up is an understatement. Our father, Tony, was leader of GM Public Relations in the company's heyday, from 1957 to 1979, so many of the GM legends you've only read about – Ed Cole, Bunkie Knudsen, Zora Duntov and Bill Mitchell – just to name a very few, weren't just historical figures, but were living, breathing, larger-than-life figures who played a role in the cadence of our automotive lives. (You can read one of Peter's most-requested columns, about Bill Mitchell, here - WG)
By the time my brother Tony got the automotive bug (he is eight years my senior), our household was crawling with the latest and fastest cars GM made. Bunkie Knudsen sent over a hot Pontiac for my mom to drive every summer, usually a red Bonneville or Catalina convertible with the highest horsepower drivetrain Pontiac offered at the time (at first 389s with 3x2s, then a series of 421s). Bill Mitchell customized a '63 Corvair for us that had the Turbo engine in it before it was even offered to the public (we, of course, took it down to the Detroit Dragway to see what it would do). And then there were the Corvettes. My, oh my. There were so many I'm not sure I can recall them all, but suffice to say, it was beyond special.
We swapped and borrowed cars and got to experience many of the legendary machines in period, which I can tell you resonates even more when I think about what's happening today. Even Shelby Cobras. (You can read more about Peter’s car life well lived in “The Glory Days” Part I and Part II -WG.)
Again, fleeting moments. The where and the when, the what and the who, and the hot machines, always the hot machines. I have recounted many of these experiences before but not all of them. Not even close. Here are a few more.
Running up and down Woodward in Ed Cole’s personal company car – a 1961 409 Chevrolet 4-speed – which we had borrowed for the weekend. The only other 409 in existence at that time was in Dyno Don Nicholson’s drag car at the U.S. Nationals. Needless to say, it made a lasting impression with the car freaks on Woodward.
Watching on a Friday afternoon in the summer as a horsepower train made up of the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, the Corvette Mako Shark, the Corvette XP700 “bubble top” and the Corvair Super Spyder rumbled through the neighborhood on the way to be dropped off at Bill Mitchell’s house, who lived on the next block over from us. He liked to have driving options on the weekends and drove all of them.
Riding up to the corner drug store with Bill Mitchell in the original Sting Ray racer, the Corvette Mako Shark I, the Corvair Sebring Spyder and Super Spyder, and the Corvette XP700 “bubble top” concept. It sounds beyond comprehension, but it happened and I lived it. And loved it.
And just for good measure there was the little known but memorable Pontiac XP400 concept equipped with a blown Mickey Thompson-built 421. We were told to check the oil at every gas stop – which was often over that weekend we borrowed it – because according to the guys who dropped it off, Thompson had "put drag racing piston rings in it." The mighty XP400 used 21 quarts of oil in two-and-one-half days.