The timing, of course, couldn’t have been more propitious. Notions of freedom raged in pandemic proportions. Some young Americans found its expression in Freedom Summer or in weed, mescaline and the Beatles. Others, in the Beach Boys and high-octane machines and drive-ins. Some tried it all. The success of the GTO (Ronnie & the Daytonas’ “Little GTO” single sold a million copies) set off a furious muscle-car competition in Detroit. Along came the Barracudas, Challengers, Roadrunners, 442s and ever-hotter takes on the Mustang.
It was a raucous, wonderful ride for a solid decade until zooming gas prices and stricter environmental standards killed off the Goat. Its final version, in 1974, limped off the line with an embarrassing, feeble 200 horses.
Well, now we’re back and, in case you ask or care, completely guilt-free. No lectures, please, on more “practical” or more environmentally sustainable cars. Driving in L.A. is boring enough. And nothing is more boring than a boring car — be it a low-end Hyundai or an overpriced Beemer or Lexus. I recently drove a friend’s Prius, and when I floored it to get up a hill, it felt like I had thrust my foot into a bucket of slop.
My GTO ekes out about 16 mpg in the city and just about 20 mpg on the road. While that’s twice as much as my more primitive ’67 clocked and about double the mileage of many SUVs, I still had to pay a $1,001 federal gas-guzzler tax. SUVs are classified as trucks and are exempt from federal standards. We who drive new GTOs, along with owners of the monster-powered Dodge Vipers, are the only folks who pay that tax on an American passenger car.
I do so happily, by the way. I readily concede that the internal-combustion engine is evil. Indeed, I am convinced it could still become, actually is very likely to become, the one machine that eventually kills off human civilization. I also know that what cars we buy and drive is all about our identity and self-image. There is no such thing as an environmentally friendly automobile. Hybrids run as much as 93 percent cleaner than the average gas-powered passenger car, but they are still low-grade poisonous polluters. Greenhouse gases, including methane and carbon dioxide, still chug out of their tailpipes. Yet, self-satisfied drivers of hybrids putter around with one eye cast on their in-dash LCD readouts, smugly reminding themselves how Green and Good they think they are. I offer myself no such congratulations. And the only readout I monitor is my radar detector.