For accountants, there are two certainties: golf and taxes. Together, both are tedious enough to make me want death. Unfortunately, I knew I’d be hearing a lot about both of these moribund subjects at our firm golf tournament. I was in the parking lot that morning, praying to the heavens for divine intervention when I heard my boss’ 1976 Corvette growling and lazily pulling up. As soon as I saw the ‘Vette, I decided to cash in the goodwill I’d earned by working 300 hours of overtime between November and March. “Fifteen minutes – no more,” he said. Score.
As we sat down for the drive, my boss smiled. He knew what was coming. I turned the ignition; the car sputtered lamely. “This always happens when I drive cars that are older than me,” I said. I primed it with a flick of the gas and the 305 V8 rumbled to life. T-Top off, we hit the country roads near the course.
The car’s age was immediately apparent. The brakes were spongy and non-linear, the pedal travel was maddening and the stock automatic only had three speeds. The car’s handling managed to somehow both be soft, yet twitchy over destitute farm roads. By far the worst thing was the skinny steering wheel. Though it was relatively linear, the steering offered about 20 degrees of play before engaging in earnest, and when it did, it gave me an upper body workout worthy of P90X. Gripping the skinny tiller, and then making the Herculean effort to rotate it, I wondered if power steering should trump sliced bread as the world’s greatest invention.
I struggled to find a basis for comparison. The Corvette was so raw, so unrefined, so different from anything I’d driven. Though it was a “luxury” car in its day, I could never treat it as such. Every change of direction had to be planned in advance, lest the understeer or snap oversteer take over with such non-linear brakes. Every turn of the steering required a rest until the next. This thing wasn’t even close to a luxury car, it was a motorcycle on four wheels. Even the straight pipes and their thunderous burble reminded me of a bike.
As we bombed it down the country roads, I wasn’t taken back to a scene from Bullit, or 2 Fast Too Furious. The only thing I could think of was the opening scene in Lawrence of Arabia. The one where Peter O’Toole pushes his bike to the limit, swallowing the country road ahead of him, approaching death so closely just to see if he could still feel alive.
“This is all really cheesy,” I said to my boss. “Yeah, but it’s a kind of cheesy I like,” he replied.
It all felt so ancient, belonging to a time when Americans loved the open road. Before drivers learned to delegate 90 percent of a car’s decisions to a computer. A time when cars were so fun, and new, and cool, and awesome that just hitting a piece of strip was an event in and of itself. And the Stingtay was near the top of the pantheon, as far as perfect cars to devour the Interstate: more adventurous and accessible than a Cadillac of the same vintage, and more athletic than a Chevy Impala.
As cars became more insular, and the “Sunday drive” became a thing of the past, they stopped making Vettes like this one. But this Vette didn’t just take me through country roads, it brought me back to 1976. The 305 burbled, the sun shone and the road lay ahead of us. No speed traps, no ABS, no traction control. Just the Vette, my scared shitless Boss and I. A rare moment of automotive nirvana.
In the end, it didn’t really matter that the 305 could barely manage to produce wheelspin without power braking. And I hardly cared that the yellow Stinger was ridiculously phallic (it could probably arouse Bob Dole from the dead). Or that the seats were so old and cracked and offered so little lumbar support that I regretted not bringing my chiro along. Nope, none of that mattered.
Not having been alive when it rolled off the line, it was clear I couldn’t evaluate the Vette against its peers. All I knew was that I loved it. Was it because it was so different than the type of cars I grew up in, or was it because it was a bona fide good car? Out here on these country roads, as the miles piled up, the engine roared and I felt strangely at peace with myself, I’m not sure the answer really mattered.