Conversations with a Chevrolet Driver

The ’48 Chev with a straight six had curves where most cars don’t even have places.

The body work was immaculate. Even the domed chromed hubcaps with the red Chevrolet lightning bolt and plain black print was perfect. The car had been on blocks having been tied up in some old lady’s estate. It had 16 000 miles on the clock and the first set of Goodyears was still good.

The dark green leather interior offset the lighter green body, an altogether more pleasant combination that any colour interior and foreboding black paint. The dashboard housed the first built in radio for a car in metallic faux wood panel.

The ivory steering wheel gave my father a warm feeling when he saw the Chev the first time. Warm, like when the radio valves warmed up for a few seconds before the rich sound filled the car.

Two years before this car was manufactured by the Americans, Winston Churchill made his “Iron Curtain” speech on acceptance of an honorary degree from Westminster College in Missouri:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here and now, clear and shining for both our countries. To reject it or ignore it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches of the after-time. It is necessary that the constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall rule and guide the conduct of the English-speaking peoples in peace as they did in war. We must, and I believe we shall, prove ourselves equal to this severe requirement.”

My father stopped the driver of the Chev, in the late 70’s, 30 years after it had passed through the American Dream, and wanted that car. He did not covet material things beyond those items that had sentimental value to him. This car was a reminder of the “old days”, of his father establishing himself in South Africa, of families sticking together. Of the good times, hard times that forged a man’s character. He asked the driver of the Chev to name his price, went up to the office and collected the cheque for R 5 000 and drove off in his dream car.

My father had another car that he had bought in the early 70’s. A 1928 Model A Ford. A car that had a gravity feed fuel system, could be cranked up to start and that served as a bridal car for more brides than “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. The double declutch required forced a jar as you changed gears into the years of the Great Depression.

America was the only country during the Second World War to grow its economy, increase employment and reduce the number of people living away from the breadline.

That Chev was made by a country at the pinnacle of world power.

All that has changed.

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