Monday, September 13, 2010

Bow Waves on the Road to Happiness. Our Honeymoon Barge.

Our little baby Toro coupe was alive and well and living in Florida

                Width was good.

                Length was even better.

                Yes, once upon a time size mattered in America and whoppers ruled the road.  In 1969 Easy Rider was at the drive-in, and Neil Armstrong was on the moon. ‘69 was Woodstock, LBJ’s last hurrah and Nixon’s inauguration. 1969 was the year  my 4,505 lb, 455 cu in, 375 hp. 510 lbs of torque, honeymoon barge was born.

1936 Cord
             The first generation Oldsmobile Toronado was the car of the year in ‘66.  Won Pikes Peak in ‘68 & ‘70. It was a technological breakthrough, a gentleman’s hot rod, a muscle car in a dinner jacket. It was the  first American, full-sized, front wheel drive car since the 1936 Cord. Indeed, its long nose, slotted wheels and disappearing headlights all pay homage to the Cord.

               “You bought a what?”   

                Well, it was late Friday night. I was just fooling around and, OK, things got out of control.  I threw a low ball bid on eBay and Sunday, when I came home from the weekend, the little two ton Toro was mine. 

              One wee snag. The car was retired and living in Miami.  Never mind we’ll have it trucked  to California in time to drive to Montana for the wedding and back.  It’ll be huge.

             Really huge. After decades of downsizing, it’s difficult to appreciate the  hugeness of American  cars when they had the roads to themselves.  A ‘69 Cadillac 75 sedan was over 20 ft long.  The Toro is 18 ft. long, a mere 4 inches short of a Suburban.  And the Toro is a coupe. A coupe  as huge as Asia. A coupe so heavy you can see a bow wave in the concrete as you roll down the highway.
               And look darling, there’s no hump on the floor, no lump in the middle for a transmission, no center console to prevent front seat canoodling.  Just wide open, immoral spaces.  According to the  FBI, center consoles were invented by hostile puritanical alien nations to bomb our birth rate and snuff out American teenage romance.  Yes, there’s  room to stretch out. Fool around. And the gear shift is on the steering column.  So four-on-the-floor would be consenting adults.  Plenty of room.  Oh, yes, Virginia size matters.

                 The day the car arrives, we snuggle in the back seat surrounded by an acre of blue vinyl.  Kathryn bursts into giggles.  “It’s like being a kid again.”

                 On our way to Montana for our wedding, we play a game when we come up on cars of lesser hulk.  When our front bumpers were even, a Ford Galaxie would come to the end the door.    (The doors are longer than most barns.) Lesser BMWs only reach the door lock button which is about half way down the door.  (‘66 & ‘67 Toros had two inside handles on the door.  One for back seat passengers, and one for folks up front.) Buckled in the front seat, a passenger  with less than Orangutang arms cannot reach the driver’s door handle.  Just too far away, my little rutabaga.

               We cruise the Nevada desert in our own baby blue living room. For all it size, it’s a peach to drive.  A setting sun outlines the car’s silhouette on the sand alongside the road.  We are two tiny heads inside a giant toy car rushing painlessly through cactus and mesquite.

             Now lets talk about hood length.  The Toro’s hood is longer than yours.  Longer than a Duesenberg’s.  The whole design flows back from the massive front end to emphasize the power up front. Oldsmobile designed and built their own engines, back then, with a high nickel content iron.  They pre-stretched the drive chain that transfers the power to the Hydramatic snuggled along-side the engine.  And built the car on it’s own assembly line.  The engineers wanted to be sure that there were no weak points in their revolutionary design.  Their aim was an American GT that would equal the best from Europe.  But on a larger, more American scale.  It was a time, as Joe Rusz wrote in Road & Track, “when every American felt he had the right to drive fast, kick ass and waste gas.”

               We swoop past a tiny Mercedes Fuel Cell Vehicle on a cross country run. A scientist and 4 journalists sit bolt upright inside, shoulder to shoulder.  They are the future: we are long gone.

              We reach Kathryn’s ranch in Montana (where she grew up on the river that runs through the movie) in one long zoom with a few hundred stops for gas plus one for a motel. Her old buddies tell me she was so wild and wooly climbing up and down the buffalo jump that she was 12 before they could tell her from the sheep.  It is also revealed, two days before the wedding, that ball joints would be required. 

             So the Toro missed the wedding.  Never mind.  Its role was to bring us home via a grand cruise through the mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.  And when the day came, the Toro was ready to roll.

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