(Please welcome Daniel, everybody — this is the first of two contributions! — JB)
Elliot and I grew up in the same hometown, but didn’t become friends until we both transferred to the same university, around my twentieth birthday. Elliot was the sort of stain-on-his-shirt awkward but consistently jovial soul you couldn’t help but root for – an encyclopedia of automotive knowledge, dreadful at talking to women, and a fiercely loyal friend. We hit it off quickly between our shared classes and the car projects we were building on shoestring budgets.
Elliot’s ’97 S10 pickup was slowly becoming a mirror of its owner, this boisterous riot machine in plain clothing. What started life as a lowly 4 cylinder work truck, was now a 5.3-swapped, lightweight street fighter with 4.11 gearing and a threatening exhaust note – following the crude but venerable formula of small car, big engine that hot rodders knew and loved. While I was trying to find a more sophisticated suspension setup to improve my RX-7, Elliot was just trying to build a big hammer.
Sometime after the truck was finished, tuned, and had finally left his grandmother’s garage under its own power, Elliot and I were both at a local gas station when a C5 Corvette rolled in for fuel. The Vette’s targa top was off, music blaring, and the platinum blonde in the passenger seat was probably 20 years younger than the driver, who was out looking for attention. He got nothing from me, as in my experience C5 drivers were typically the cargo shorts and white New Balance sneaker type – drive the car twice a week, never push the engine past 3k rpm, and never opt for the stick shift. Elliot, however, was hopeful.
Sure enough, the authoritative idle chop of the iron-block 5.3 and the mild shudder of the S10’s cowl caught the Corvette driver’s attention, and he followed us out of the station and onto the entrance ramp of the local freeway. Elliot pedaled the throttle a bit, the 275/40-series rear tires struggling for grip halfway through second gear, the shuddering of my seat rails indicating that the truck’s wheel hop issue wasn’t fully cured. As we got up to highway speed, it seemed our opponent had lost interest and would be content to just cruise behind us in the left lane. I was turned sideways in my seat, watching from the rear window of the truck’s cab, and was just about to give up hope when the Corvette’s nose lifted abruptly skyward upon acceleration. LET’S GO. LET’S GO. ELLIOT FUCKING GO. Elliot slammed the shifter from 4th to 3rd and hammered the throttle, the resulting acceleration could only be described as absolutely violent..
Car enthusiasts of my generation are quick to criticize the ancient and proletarian pushrod V8, favoring the dual cam Japanese JZ and SR engines that Gran Turismo taught us to desire. Although those engines are exciting in their own right, and I have a terrible weakness for the Mazda rotary, just to be in the cab of that truck in that moment, thrown into the seat by the manic acceleration, ears inundated with the thunderous roar of brute force displacement… To not be feel enraptured, emotionally moved, one’s childlike wonder and excitement for life must have died long ago.
The Corvette driver looked incredulous, repeatedly glancing over to the center lane and finding that he just could not leave us behind, that we were door to door at triple digit speed. Finally, at around 120 mph, I can only imagine that the C5’s slippery nose cheated the wind with advantage over our wheeled brick, and the car slowly pushed past us, both engines kindred souls, ripping a concussive boom through the stillness of the night.
The next day Elliot would put his uniform on after class and spend another afternoon selling brake rotors and plug wires to a thankless general public. I would toil through another economics class before spending the evening patching drywall in an office building. But tonight, that night, we were alive, and we were young. Best of all, we were fast.