Po-Boy Views: Old Iron or The Duchess
Jan 04 2021

Po-Boy Views: Old Iron or The Duchess

By: Phil LaMancusa

The Duchess of Lincolnshire is 24 years old and has seen a lot in her few years. Of course, if you measured her in human years, she would probably be as old as your new president. She is sleek, fast, and cheap (much like myself); she's at home in any neighborhood and gets waves and whistles as she passes by. She can cruise the hood or take to the road like a warrior, she's thrifty on gas, her brakes are good, and the tires are fair. She's got 205,000 miles on her, and she roars like a tiger when pressed. She's got power under the hood and in her spirit. I wouldn't trade her for a yard full of Jaguars.

The Duchess came to us a few years ago after the demise of her predecessor, who was a few years her senior and had to be put to pasture as an organ donor. They both came from the same family: the Fords of Detroit. Her predecessor was simply named the Stinkin' Lincoln and was retired at 253,000 miles because (much like myself) the engine ran like a teenager, but the body was quickly falling to pieces. Both were/are four-door, power-everything, boat-like maneuverability, and equipped with Mafia trunks that had/have a four-body capacity.

I come from a time of "old iron": cars that idled high and traveled well, in which families comfortably took on long trips. Vehicles with names like Roadmaster, Bonneville, and Cougar, the Bel Air, Coupe de Ville, Fairlane, Camaro, Monte Carlo, Stingray, and Impala. They were all made of heavy-gauge metal and had speedometers that read up to 130+ and were not kidding!

Well, that was then, and this is now. A program called Cash for Clunkers took most of the old iron off the road, and people started settling for smaller, more-efficient, cramped, fiberglass and tin midgets that cannot be distinguished one from the other as far as I can tell. I swear, sometimes I look at some of these pieces of miniature motorcars and think, "Boy, you get hit in that thing, and the next thing you'll be driving is a pine box!"

Here's another one of my "in my day" stories: In my day, people went out for "drives." There were drive-in movies, diner and ice cream pull-up-and-get-served destinations, full-service gas stations where they'd check your oil and tires (gratis), and open roads where you could sit back and guide the car with one hand completely relaxed in the driver's seat, while whoever was riding "shotgun" could easily slouch with their feet out the window. Air conditioning was the rolling down of windows and vents; heat was a fan connected to the motor. Cars came in primary colors and were long enough to haul lumber. You could make your car into a pickup truck by sawing off the back half, which gave manufacturers the idea for the El Camino and Ranchero, which you could close in to make a station wagon (another dinosaur).

Those were the days of 501s, pomaded hair, and unfiltered cigarettes—before seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Dangerous days. They were also the days of kids with skinned knees and bruises from playing games now thought of as lethal. Days of playground equipment that could (and did) really put a hurt on you: seesaws, monkey bars, metal slides that could get really hot in the summer, and those little merry-go-rounds that you'd have to run and push to get started and then hop on quickly before you were jettisoned. Fun.

So, you, now that you're still hampered by the plague and have only electronic devices to amuse, tutor, and instruct you, here's something that you can and might find fun to do: Call up a person of a certain age and ask what it was like when they only had dial-up phones, played board and card games, jumped rope, threw jacks, and played something called "Red Rover, Red Rover, let me cross over!" Ask what car they had. If you want to really start a conversation, ask what it cost to fill up the tank.

It's a new year and you're bored. I'm so sorry. Why don't you take a drive to, say, Fairhope and back, throw some drinks in a cooler, pack a blanket, take Old Highway 90 and slow the heck down, stop at Dong Phuong for sandwiches, cruise through the Rigolets, and stay off the freeways and interstates. Or drive up to Memphis for some barbecue and take the Blues Trail (Highway 61). See some country, crank up the tunes, hang your head out the window, leave your cell phones in the trunk, and talk to each other. Evacuate your mind. Drive to a beach, bring some egg salad sandwiches or stop at a Waffle House for a stack and a couple of over-easies, put your feet in the sand, take the dog. Then come home and use your bike for the next week to assuage your "carbon footprint" guilt.

Every time I get behind the wheel of the Duchess, I feel like taking a drive, hit the open road, put the pedal to the metal, and driving it like I stole it. And here's a little secret: I have a '97 Lincoln Towncar that runs like a top and is as comfortable as a sofa. The mechanic gives it a thumbs up with every visit, and you know what? She cost me less to purchase than six months' payment on your new sissy car.

So, this New Year, when you spy the Duchess rollin' smooth, easy, and loud, resolve to get some old iron in your life and, like me, live the dream—don't just dream about living. Happy New Year!

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