It was a late night in early spring 1977. I was working in Indianapolis at a newly-opened Radio Shack, after having graduated from Butler University in December 1976. I had been at Butler visiting some friends who were still students, one of whom would become my wife later that year.
The hour wasn’t quite midnight, but it was close to it when I turned left from Clarendon Drive onto 38th Street. I was headed east to the other side of town where I shared an apartment with another former student. 38th Street is two lanes in each direction at that point and did not drop back to a single lane until close to my apartment.
I was in the left lane as I stopped at the next traffic signal; another car was already stopped in the right lane. I can’t tell you anything about the other car; to be honest, I paid little attention to either car or driver.
My car was a 1969 Pontiac Executive Hardtop. Pontiac had three models with the same basic body type; Bonneville, Catalina, and Executive. The Executive was the top model of the three, having the most “extras”; I had purchased it used the summer before for $800 from the former owner. Its color was a metallic shade of “dead leaf green”, and “455” appeared after the word “Executive” on the front fender. It was a prime hunk of “Detroit Iron”.
I heard the engine of the other car “rev up” as the other driver pulsed his (or her) gas pedal. On a whim, I did the same. When the light went green, we both “floored it”. I got a slight lead, but I couldn’t hold it. My engine had a “cough” in one cylinder – from what cause I was not sure – and I was essentially driving a “V7” that night. By the time I got up to speed, my front bumper was roughly even with his rear tire. I could not catch him, and he could not shake me.
We remained in “formation” like that as we flew across Indianapolis. My speedometer was stuck just above 95 MPH, and nothing I tried could urge it any higher. At that hour, 38th Street was deserted; there were no other vehicles in either direction, and no police. Although it didn’t strike me until later we also did not encounter a single red light, or even a yellow. If we had, I would have stopped; driving over twice the speed limit was bad enough, I would not have added running red lights to a possible citation.
Even so, we were nearing the intersection where 38th Street became a single lane again. I was just about to let off the gas and drop in behind the other driver when three things happened in very rapid succession. First, my transmission shifted into a second passing gear; one I wasn’t even aware existed. Second, the “cough” in my engine disappeared and it ran smooth for the first time in about three months. Finally, as a result of those two events, my speed shot over 105 MPH and I almost literally lunged past the other car.
As I pulled up at that intersection, at the first red light we encountered, I saw in my rearview mirror that the other car was turning off a couple of streets back. I drove the rest of the way to my apartment and a much more sedate speed.
Although I cannot recommend driving like an idiot across a major city as a cure for a rough running engine, I must say it certainly cured the problem with mine for quite some time after that.
Some years later, when I got up the nerve to tell my father about this, I got another surprise. I had expected at least a reprimand for speeding and reckless driving; instead he nodded and smiled. I still marvel at that.
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I managed to find a photo of a 1969 Bonneville. Even though the car in the photo is a convertible and in the wrong color, the body styling is correct.