1979: The worst year ever

Photograph Courtesy Chevrolet

I don’t sit around much. Even at night, I’m usually writing stories or working in the shop on one of our project cars.

That said, I do occasionally like to goof off. I’m not proud of this, but one of the main ways I relax is by watching movies. Bad car movies. Instead of bettering myself by watching masterpieces from Truffault, I enjoy mixing a stiff drink or three, sitting in my easy chair, and pressing play on a B-movie.

My wife cringes when I do this. She is convinced that watching the likes of Annette Funicello in one of those mindless beach movies with Frankie Avalon is going to make me into an absolute idiot.

If you come to our office or our shop, you’ll quickly see that I’m telling the truth, because I also collect stupid old car-movie posters. I have a lot of them, ranging from “Teen Age Thunder” to “The Devil’s Hairpin.” What’s worse, I am always looking for more–along with the movies that go with them.

Most of these films are so bad, it takes me several nights to finish viewing a single one. I usually fall asleep in the first 10 minutes, leaving my wife to rescue me from a TV blaring with idiotic tire screeching and equally bad dialogue.

Still, I persist in this inane hobby.

I recently stumbled across a boxed set of bad ’60s and ’70s car movies. (It seems that I am not alone in my preferences, as these crappy old movies are being re-released.) Last night I dug into “Van Nuys Boulevard,” a mythically awful stinker from 1979.

Almost as soon as I began watching this turd, I actually found myself cringing. Right off the bat, disco music started blaring and loud skirts and bell bottoms began to block my view of the cars. Even the introduction of Cynthia Woods, 1974’s Playboy Playmate of the Year, couldn’t fix what was wrong with this movie.

I was a little surprised, since I’ve enjoyed worse. What made this one so bad? Then it dawned on me: a truth I’d been avoiding for over 30 years.

As soon as they tried to pull off a scene with two conversion vans drag racing at night, I figured out why I have done most of what I have done.

I was 19 years old in 1979. I had just graduated high school and was starting college. I finally had my freedom and even a couple nickels to rub together.

Nineteen seventy-nine was just the worst year ever. I flashed back to the horrible disco music, to my usually failed pursuits of the opposite sex, and to the automotive trends that nearly put even the mighty Hot Rod out of business.

The cars seemed to sum it up best. Yes, 1979 was the year for imports like the Toyota Cressida and the Datsun B-210, but it was also the year that tackily painted mini-trucks and big, stupid spoilers and flares covering stock-sized wheels reigned supreme. It was the year of conversion vans and yacht-sized cars, econoboxes and gutless sports cars. The CB radios and polyester shirts were just the turd cherry on the crap sundae.

I can remember looking around the showroom of my dad’s Ford dealership that summer and seeing LTD IIs, Pintos and Fairmonts. “Screw this,” I thought, “I can’t sell this crap to people my whole life.” That’s when I decided what I was not going to be: a Ford dealer like my father and grandfather before me.

If you’ve read this magazine long, it should be obvious my automotive tastes are stuck in the period spanning the late ’50s through the late ’60s. I own 10 cars that were made from 1957 to 1967. Coincidence? I think not.

Why can’t I just enjoy modern bad movies like most other people? Then I could satisfied making payments on cookie-cutter cars.

Thanks to “Van Nuys Boulevard,” I’ve figured it all it out. The $10 I spent on this collection of crappy movies did more for me than, I imagine, years of psychiatric help. And I’m happy to say that both Freud and my wife were wrong: I can blame 1979, not my mother, and these movies are actually making me wiser. Cue the next one.

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B. Choate
B. Choate UltraDork
3/23/15 4:05 p.m.

Links aren't working, so I don';t know where you're going with this, but I'd agree that the best thing about the late 80s car-wise was that you could still buy insanely cool older cars on the cheap. My next-door neighbor had a pristine AC Ace - sold it for $6k

stuart in mn
stuart in mn PowerDork
3/23/15 6:30 p.m.

Ha! I just watched Fireball 500 on TV the other night. It's such a stupid movie - no one blinks an eye when Frankie Avalon pulls up in that awful Barris custom, towing Richard Petty's car on a trailer, like that sort of thing happens every day. You have to try to ignore the bad acting, and instead look for cool cars in the background.

ronbros9 New Reader
3/23/15 6:40 p.m.

cheer up things could be worse, so you cheered up and things got worse!!

NAH,not so,life is moving along(so is everyone else).

life is about personal freedom, like nothing to think/or worry about. get out of bed in the morning any time and just meander thru the day, eat when and what you want to(not at some set time table)! go to bed any time you feel like,or stay up all night!

its your life and you are starting to realize you have little freedom, like running/,managing, a lot of people, and some popular magazines,ETC.

and nothin wrong with a drink or two, as long as it doesnt become nessisary!

believe me it made my life miserable,but i wasnt the one with the habit!!LOL. all in all,some times you have to change the course!

OK over and out,i'm starting to sound like a shrink!

850Combat Reader
3/23/15 11:20 p.m.

I've got Red Line 7000 and Thunder Road, I must admit. I may have Drive a Crooked Road, too. I saw Two Lane Blacktop. I might have a couple Elvis movies too. Spinout, and some other. Clambake? Some cool old cars. I bought Palm Springs Weekend to see the Thunderbird. It had a siz cylinder sound How stupid is that? I'll probably buy Angel Face to see the XK120 back off the cliff

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA Dork
3/24/15 11:16 a.m.

Two Lane Blacktop with James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. The next time your wife complains about those movies making you an idiot, just reply like I do in similar situations with my wife:

"It's too late for that, Honey."

3/24/15 1:34 p.m.

Great information sharing here.

rogpatt New Reader
3/25/15 6:07 a.m.

What a boost down memory lane, Tim.

I bought six cars during the 1970s; beginning with a 1970 Ford Country Sedan purchased at the factory via my company's "Vendor X" program, which son #3 flipped on his way to the draft board a few months later. Replaced with a 1971 Gran Torino wagon which wife like driving better anyway. Rust prompted swapping for a 1975 Ford Elite with trunk able to fit four golf bags and snazzier than that year's Thunderbird. We still puffed back then and car was so tight I had a fan installed under rear window to exhaust hanging smoke into trunk. Terrific cruiser to far away places, but it rusted out too. A used 1976 Olds Ciera from the dealer's wife's garage slipped in as our first air conditioned car; New Hampshire folks didn't need such gadgets, but it came with the car. A 1978 Pontiac Phoenix...one of those dreaded "X Cars" was next and couldn't have been too bad since we drove it happily for six years. Finally, there was the the 1979 Ford Fiesta...the first delivered in New Hampshire, that was a fantastic little bugger until T-boned at the entrance to Logan Airport Tunnel in Beantown.

The next one was probably the very best of all cars I've ever owned; in style, performance, durability, etc., etc., but that's another story.

Rog Patterson

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
3/31/15 6:57 a.m.

I actually like some of the Elvis movies, especially Viva Las Vegas, as they were at least well produced, took you deep into the sixties and usually had awesome cars and beautiful women.

Mel22 New Reader
4/1/15 3:49 a.m.

Two words: Ann-Margret

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
4/1/15 7:16 a.m.

Mel22, yup, those are the two words! There was some serious chemistry there too. I think she had an affair offscreen with Elvis.

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