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PRIME TIME: The lure of loud mufflers

On a clear June morning, I drove from my home in Bemidji to Hibbing via Highways 2 and 169.

My route took me by Jerry’s Consignment Sales just east of Bemidji. After I completed my work in Hibbing, I returned to Bemidji by the same route. As I passed Jerry’s, I felt the excitement that Toad felt in “The Wind in the Willows.” Parked in Jerry’s lot was a red motor car. I pulled into Jerry’s for a closer look.

There it sat -- a red 1965 Ford Mustang 289. The bright red paint had faded from the hood, top and trunk, but the dual exhaust pipes and racing wheels offset any paint distraction. The black interior featured a three-speed stick shift. Jerry let me start the engine.

The roar that emanated from those dual pipes sounded like a heavenly chorus only produced by glass pack mufflers. Most car mufflers do just that -- muffle the noise from the engine manifold through the exhaust system. Glass pack mufflers abate some noise, but they let the engine throb in a silence shattering symphony of unleashed gas fired pistons. I instantly recalled my first experience with glass pack mufflers.

As a teen, my family had only one car, but it was special. Dad bought a new blue and white 1956 Pontiac Catalina, a four-door hardtop with leather upholstery and chrome everywhere. Of course, the big eight-cylinder engine had a dual exhaust. I loved to drive that car except it needed a little more flair. So, one day I drove it to a nearby town and had a glass pack put on one side. It made some noise, but not a lot. Dad never said a word. Not satisfied with one, I had a second glass pack installed. Now that “Pony” really caught your attention. Dad never said a word.

Generally, Dad let me drive our car at my asking. One night, I drove to town a few miles away to see a girl. After our date, I stopped by a Dairy Queen for a small ice cream cone. When I pulled out of the parking lot, I did not see the Gray Ghost pull in behind me until he hit the flashing lights.  Naive that I was, I let the Pony idle until I finished my cone. The trooper walked to the driver’s side and asked for my license. I showed him.  He then asked me to get out of the car. As we stood beside the car, he asked me, “What kind of mufflers do you have on this car?” I looked at his shiny North Carolina Highway Patrol badge, and lied, “I don’t know.” He knelt to look under the car.  When he stood up, he said, “There is a glass pack on this side. What’s on the other side?” I told him, “Probably the same thing.” “We don’t like these mufflers over here. You better have them off when you come over here again,” he drawled. I barely croaked, “Yes sir.”

After he drove past me, I started the Pony and made my way home, never to return to the town where glass pack mufflers were not welcome. I never saw the girl again, nor did I ever tell anyone about my encounter with the man in the gray uniform, especially my Dad.

With my mind back at Jerry’s, I looked the Mustang over. The clutch pedal rubber cover was missing. The ground could be seen through the torn rubber gear shift lever boot. The trunk key failed to open the trunk. When I drove off Jerry’s lot and onto the highway, applying the brakes caused a pull to one side. After returning to Jerry’s, he suggested that I make an offer. Without thinking, or any consultation with my wife, I did.

I continued my trip home, keeping the secret of my bid for an old car that needed work by someone other than me. That night I quietly thought about what I had done, and the potential for disaster. I kept hoping that my Mustang bid would be topped by a Ford Mustang aficionado, and I could put the whole experience into the past. Early the next morning, Jerry called with the news, “It’s yours.” Now I had to tell my wife that I had spent a portion of our life savings on a questionable whim. Again, I recalled Toad and his fascination with a red motor car. When I took ownership of the car later that morning, my hand could hardly let go of the check. Sensing my internal turmoil, Jerry graciously advised me that he would pay my first year’s dues in the Paul Bunyan Vintage Auto Club.

Five years have passed. After many needed repairs and cosmetic additions such as an AM-FM radio with a cassette tape player and a touch-up paint job, I go to club meetings and take club cruises with members who know much more about vintage cars than I do. My wife likes to ride in the “Stang” as she calls it. I drive it only in warm weather on hard surface roads with the windows down (no AC). There is no fun in driving a loud car if you can’t hear it. However, there is at least one disadvantage.  I will sometimes go into the attached garage and fire up the Stang. My wife runs to the door from the kitchen and yells, “Where are you going?”  I tell her, “Nowhere. I’m just listening to the pipes and to the cassette player.” Of course, I play mostly 60’s music with a sprinkling of 50s.

I know that I should drive the Stang more, but it’s just so much fun to look at and to listen to.  Mysteriously, youth has been restored through my red motor car. I take it to the local Dairy Queen on Saturday nights just to show it off, occasionally remembering my deceitful adventure at Dairy Queen years ago. My wife has even forgiven me for not consulting her about my impromptu decision to spend some of our meager savings for a seldom-driven motor vehicle. Well, she has almost. It helps that I made her a set of keys and have let her drive it now and then, but not in town.

I don’t want her to have to lie about the mufflers.  

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