As 1977 drew to a close, my father finally agreed to let my mother have the new car he’d promised her earlier in the year. Mom’s Volvo was only three years old but it was already rusting and erratic in cold mornings. They went to some Oldsmobile dealership in Baltimore to see the new-for-1978 Cutlass Supreme coupes. It was the era of the personal luxury coupe and the Cutlass was the alpha dog in the pack. To Dad’s annoyance, however, Mom didn’t want the square-edged Malaise superstar. No, she wanted the one seventy-seven they had left in stock. Dark blue Supreme, light blue top and interior. Color-matched rally wheels. Most importantly, it had the 403. Absurdly oversquare engine. Whisper quiet but when the light went green it shoved. We went home from the dealer with what Dad considered to be a used car already. He didn’t really care, he was rocking a ’77 LeSabre sedan and Yves Saint Laurent prêt-à-porter, yo.
Once I was strong enough to pull the release and pop the hood, I’d stand on the front bumper and stare into the engine compartment. By the time Mom chopped in the Cutlass on a black Civic “S” the 403 was obscure and obsolete, simultaneously laughable for its gauche thirst and frightening in its deep-chested power. It was the last of its kind, the last to believe you could make it happen with cubic inches alone, the last Rocket V8, three hundred and twenty pound-feet, a dinosaur roaring alone on the showroom floor among the three point eight liter proto-mammals, staring unconcernedly at the bright flash in the sky.
Thirty-seven years later, it’s time for another extinction.