Auto-making best left to Detroit

By Bob Huber: CNJ Columnist

We were barely out of bib overalls when my boyhood friend Smooth Heine joined me in celebrating our independence by assembling a motorized vehicle on a budget of $13.67, the total value of our lifetime savings and investment portfolio.

Actually, we were in the early stages of a primal urge to drive fast cars, wear white scarves and grow sideburns, convinced that eager girls would flock to us for rapid transportation, tender caresses and other colorful pastimes. It was an eighth-grade whim.

So we shooed chickens out of a Model T truck chassis on Smooth’s farm, foraged a gas motor from an old well pump and made seats out of cast-off wooden beer kegs from the local brewery. We also fashioned brake bands out of baling wire complete with a fail-safe, tsunami-proof emergency stop system, namely dragging our feet.

When we finally cranked the motor, smoke filled the cab like a high school restroom, but we didn’t care. We figured gentle zephyrs flowing over the open roof would whisk away any smoke and aromatic clues to former residents.

There was one little idiosyncrasy — the motor occasionally and for no apparent reason emitted a shattering KAH-VOOM! and a cloud of black goo would belch out the back. Cows on neighboring farms bawled mournfully and stood dry for two days, but no one was ever hit.

The final touch was a coat of red barn paint except for the fenders that were purple because we ran out of red. Over the radiator we fastened deer antlers painted green. We christened the car “Clarence,” and ventured forth on a test run.

Before we hit the trail, however, I called Belinda Golightly, the current love of my life, and she agreed to accompany us on Clarence’s maiden voyage, but only if I would provide her with a white scarf, too. “No problem,” I said. “You can have mine.” I figured my token gesture would keep her excited until I launched my torrid love-making technique.

But Belinda had a few shortcomings. First of all she lived on a mountain top with a winding gravel road and cliffs on two sides, and she also had a mundane concept of modern transportation, probably inherited. Both surfaced as I introduced her to Clarence.

She was so overwhelmed with the car’s appearance — the green antlers were the frosting on the cake — that she could only point to the road back down the mountain then at Clarence and mutter, “Ulp. Ulp.”

 Without going into lengthy narrative about our slapdash flight down the mountain and our pinball journey through town, bouncing off houses and tearing through fences and clotheslines at top speed, let me just say we didn’t waver from our jagged path until we ascended Graveyard Hill on the other side of town and stalled, having lost our purple fenders and our brakes en route. We also left a trail of goo splotches and pieces of our shoes for anyone seeking a historical record.

That’s when I seized the moment and slipped an arm around Belinda’s shoulders, causing her eyes to pop open and her back to shudder like a startled mule. With a single “ulp,” she flattened her ears and whapped me alongside the head.

I recovered from this sudden show of affection in time to see her kick off the door and stomp away, her white scarf flapping in the breeze.

Clarence never ran well after that. Belinda wasn’t real manageable either. It was obvious the world wasn’t prepared for such advanced automotive engineering.