Love is blind – why else would I drive a 45 year-old pickup across America?
The emotions that evoke love are born in the chemicals of the brain; yet paradoxically love has no brains. Instead, we feel the effects in our hearts. The ache invades our chests and tears may soon follow; happy or sad. The cause? Take your pick – sappy songs, happy memories, sad lost opportunities, beautiful sights, or evocative smells.
It’s this last one that caused a lump to leap into my throat as I first sat in the 1971 Chevy Cheyenne pickup I’d just bought. The smell instantly transported me back to the days when as a 13-year-old I taught myself how to drive my Dad’s truck behind our Toronto, ON, machine shop. Frankly, having travelled all the way to Colorado to get this truck, it’s exactly what I wanted to feel; it was glorious to bath in that nostalgia. But, then the drive started and the warm and fuzzy gave way to the nasty and annoying.
It was May and I was embarking on a 3,000 km drive across the American Heartland from Colorado to Ontario in a pickup almost as old as me.
With three solid days of driving ahead of me I was excited – and while the euphoria of getting back into the truck of youth at the age of 54 was intoxicating some very real-world observations began to crowd that first flush of euphoria out of head as I headed across the Great Plains.
First off – I wasn’t 13 anymore – I’d forgotten how small the cabs were on these trucks and frankly I just fit. There is also no storage; the seat doesn’t fold forward (because the gas tank is right there) and what little space is available under the seat is consumed by the jack.
And that block foam bench seat?
Well the first hundred kilometers was OK but then I started to fidget. Why? The seat has no recline, no tilt, no lumber support, it doesn’t raise or lower and has no bolsters – it just does not adjust. Now I’d remembered these seats fondly because they were great for dates; but I had forgotten that when making a sharp turn you risked sliding across the truck. Speaking of tilt – the steering is fixed to. No up or down; no forward or back – I found I was constantly twisting in the seat and changing my grip because my hands, arms and shoulders got sore.
Then there is the HVAC on the truck. One defrost position, one heat position, no AC and three weak fan speeds; which when turned on blow dried leaves into the cab. Done, finished. Now AC was available in 1971 but it was a $500 dollar option. I say again, 500 bucks! on a truck that was already expensive at $3,150. Thankfully that’s changed today; every econo-box has AC standard.
Then I considered my power options. Power windows and power door locks, power steering and brakes. All standard today – of these I have two. For which I was thankful as the steering and brakes were options too (however they are nothing like what we have today). I do have front disc brakes (just introduced on the truck that year) but no ABS, or EBD, or traction control, or limited slip, or stability control, or backup sensors or lane departure warning, or blind spot indicators.
For safety I have a single lap belt; no shoulder belt, no pretensioners, no airbags, no rollover sensors or side-curtain protection, no crumple zones, no radar/sonar, impact preparation or collapsing steering column. No, in my ’71 Cheyenne I am the only real safety system and the softness of my old body the only cushioning.
As for the side windows, well that’s also the AC. It’s what we used to laughingly called 260-AC back then. (That’s 2-windows down – drive 60 km-h to get a breeze). My windows also have cute hand cranks, which are annoying to open and close dozens of times a day; (made me wish for winter).
Then there are the locks! I had completely forgotten what a pain manual locks were. Need to open the passenger side? – Well, just lay flat on the seat and stretch with your finger-tips while your wife makes faces through the window because you’re so slow. Want to lock the door once you’re in? Smack the button with your elbow. Want to get out? Well you can’t just reef on the handle; you have to pull that button up first. But – that’s not all – want to lock the truck? It has to be done from outside with the key. So you first lock the driver door, then walk around and lock the passenger door. Come out of the store after two minutes and repeat the circle to unlock. This was a head-slapping moment for me. Now I knew why no one used to lock their cars when I was a kid!
Today, it all happens with a flick of a remote – or do nothing at all if your car recognizes the keyfob in your pocket.
Now, I love the look of my truck, however after a day battling headwinds in Iowa I realized that the GM engineers who designed it didn’t spend much time testing in the wind tunnel. The study of aerodynamics, which plays a huge part in all modern vehicle design, is virtually absent from my truck. Driving the ’71 at 120 km/h is akin to pushing a sheet of plywood through peanut butter. And drag? When I’d pass a transport truck the Cheyenne would leap forward as it was sucked into the trailers’ vacuum. Once past the trucks speed was hammered and it was peanut butter time again.
What else? How about two-speed wipers (no intermittent) that barely scrap half the windshield. No cupholders – unless you count holding your coffee in your hand as one.
Infotainment? Yeah – right. That’s a five-push-button AM radio with one tinny speaker in the dash that traps dead flies; that turned out to be the entertainment system – watching those little mummified bodies bouncing on the speaker that is. There is no seek, no recall, no stereo. Want music? Start tuning manually, repeating every 15 minutes as you lose the station; ‘course at 120 km/h, with the windows wide open, its best to just turn it off as all the noise just mixes and gives you a headache. Speaking of noise – at 120 km/h the small block V8 is spinning at almost 3,000 rpm – Why? The tranny only has three speeds. Man, that engine whined! I spent hours willing it to upshift into fourth. A pipe dream of course, because it just didn’t have another gear. Today – ten speeds will shortly be the norm in trucks.
But what I probably missed the most was cruise control. I’d forgotten how sore your foot and calf can get holding that accelerator hour after hour. In fact I really toyed with the idea of jamming the snowbrush between the accelerator and the seat – but I didn’t.
Oh well, all these conveniences would be developed in the coming decades and it’s obvious why they did. The comforts (not to mention safety features) on my truck suck! In fact there isn’t a single thing on my ‘71 that I’d say is better than what’s available today.
So, if you are one of the many guys who have walked up to my truck at the lumber yard and said “Man, they don’t build’em like that anymore!” – My reply will be “You are so right! – and thank God they don’t”.