Volume II, Issue 1, Page 8


The recent Christmas season reminded me of buying things. There were presents everywhere, both for family and friends. How often did you buy a car part as a Christmas present for a family member or a buddy building a car? You knew that they needed a set of chrome valve covers, or a chrome air cleaner so they could finish their ride but just did not have the cash. I am not as old as some of the other writers here so I can only relate to buying parts as far back as the 1970s. It was even kind of interesting then. You just got in your car and drove over to the local speed shop and picked out what you wanted. Back then there were actually speed shops that you could go to and buy high performance parts over the counter, take them home that day and install them that weekend. So-Cal Speed Shop in California was probably the first genuine speed shop. They stocked parts and could get parts that were on the market for your car. Again, I say this from hearsay, as I was definitely not around during those formative years. I wish I was. Nothing against the mail-order businesses of today, but this was definitely the fastest way to get your parts and was considered the norm back then since the mail-order businesses really had not become a major source yet.

Speed shops were a very special place, kind of holy ground for the local racers. A lot of bench racing went on at the local speed shops as well. Everybody knew the hot setup for their cars, and what everybody else was doing wrong. If you ever needed to know something you could always go to the local speed shop to get an answer. You had to be careful, however, as everybody there would have advice for you. The only problem was that everybody’s advice was different so you had to really think about what they told you and if it made sense. Usually it was better to go there when it was not crowded so you got fewer different answers.

A good speed shop always had a large stock of the most popular parts that were being used then. Even so, buying something was kind of intimidating. There were headers and flywheels and distributors and all the new, coolest parts hanging on the pegboards behind the counter. Since you frequented those stores often, you probably had a fair idea as to what they had in stock. Again, the best part about going to buy your parts there was you could usually get them right then, usually Saturday morning, and put them on your car that afternoon. Often you waited all week just for Saturday morning so you could get your parts. Sometimes you thought they had something and you could just pick it up, but the counter guy would look at you and say, “We have to order that. It will be two weeks”. That was always a painful answer, as you always wanted it for the weekend and even if it were to show up on Monday, it might as well have been two weeks.

     The very act of buying parts from a speed shop was sometimes interesting itself. Just walking into the shop was an experience, as all the guys standing waiting at the counter looked at you to kind of size you up and see whom you were. If you were a regular, you probably got to know the counter guys, especially if you spent a lot of money there. You could just walk right up to the counter and buy what you wanted. If you had a really fast car, or fast reputation, the other guys would kind of watch what you bought and you could hear them talking as you walked out the door. That was usually a very expensive kind of relationship. If you did not buy much, however, it was often very intimidating. You knew, or at least thought you knew, exactly what you wanted, or thought you needed. You read all about some new part in one of the magazines or heard about it from your buddies that it would give you a bunch of horsepower or performance, so you had to have one for your car. You ask the counter guy for it and he gives you this weird kind of look. If you were humble enough you would ask him what he thought of using it on your car. Maybe he was kind enough to politely tell you that the part would not fit your motor, or it was not compatible with something else you already had on your motor. You immediately realized that you should have known that too, so you casually agreed with him, then raced home to reread the article or called your buddy to understand exactly what this part was and how it was really supposed to improve the performance of your motor. Or maybe you were just proud (or stubborn) enough to buy it anyway, thinking, “I don’t want them to think I am a dork and don’t know what I am doing.” So you’d buy it and immediately realize when you got home what that counter guy was talking about, that it really wasn’t for your motor. Or maybe you could install it, then while test-driving your car you’d realize that it was not doing anything for your motor at all, or maybe it actually ran worse. The only problem at point was that since you had installed it, you couldn’t return it. Then all your buddies come over since they heard that you bought one of those new parts, and they wanted to see how it worked. You tell them how absolutely great it is and the car really put you in the seat, but now the timing is just a little off on the motor so the performance is not totally up to par. After all, your reputation as a knowledgeable wrench was at stake. You may ask your most trusted buddy if he knows any one else who used one of those parts and how it worked for him. Or maybe you would even tell him that you thought it was not doing anything and the motor is running worse and does he have any ideas. That is really hard to do. He probably was good enough of a friend to try to help you figure out how to get all this stuff to work together.

     The worst part about this whole deal is the money. When you told him how much you spent for these parts, he just stops breathing for about two seconds, then bends down under the hood to try to get it to run right. If you had just asked him, he would have told you that this was a waste of money for your car. Then usually the next step was to take the parts off your car and try to sell them to someone else who really needed them, or at least thought he really needed them. If you could do that, then you would have fully recovered from a near miss in the hot rodding world. You could tell your buddies that it really did not do virtually anything for your car, but that the parts were really the hot set-up for the guy that you sold them to. You’d take a really deep breath and stroll back to your friend’s garage and just listen for a while to find out really what was the cool part.

     The moral to this story is that the next time you buy something for your car pretend in your mind that you are buying it from a speed shop. It will help you really enjoy part of what this hobby is all about. Many a great race has been won or lost at the parts counter of the local speed shop. Hope it was you, if you won! 


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