When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

Bob Feeley

A few years ago I was looking at photos taken in the late 1930s of some young guys and their dolled-up cars. One of the neatest, a 1930 Ford roadster with sheet metal changes and a Riley head, belonged to Bob Feeley. It took me a month to realize that I went to school with a Bob Feeley, and that the guy in the photos must be his father.

The Bob Feeley I knew was somewhat unattractive, with a weasely look and bad skin and already a heavy smoker. He was also a funny kid and had a couple cute girl friends; one I found out years later, he had got pregnant and she had to leave school and return in her senior year. That was a major scandal in those days.

The reason for Bob's popularity had to do with his car, a clean green 1941 Chevrolet coupe with white sidewalls and duals. Most guys did not have a car in high school, and those who did had a lot of junk. Bob's '41 Chev stood out. Always spotless, it was a car that girls loved to ride in.

We graduated in 1953, and Bob soon had a gorgeous 1950 Ford convertible; it was leaded, lowered and painted a deep maroon. I hung out with him occasionally, and I remember one night when we were cruising around and he got a ticket for dual pipes. His parents' house was on a street adjoining a busy intersection, and I'd often go past it to beat the traffic. The Ford disappeared and a nifty 1954 Studebaker was in the driveway; I can't recall whether it had been altered, but it was always spotless.

Then Bob and lots or other guys disappeared. In 1963 I was in a Fred Meyer store shopping with my wife and there was Bob Feeley. He looked just the way he'd looked years earlier, we talked a while, then parted. I didn't see him again, nor did I think about him until I found the old photo of a neat Model A roadster. Thirty years had passed, but just for the heck or it I looked up his name in the phone book; there it was, with an address a block or two from where he had lived years before. A woman answered, and said that Bob Feeley had died of a heart attack a couple years earlier. Something wasn't right, and I asked how old he had been. Ninety-one, she said. I figured it out: she had been married to the guy in the old photo, and was the step-mother or the Bob Feeley I knew. I explained who I was, and asked about Bob junior.

Oh, she said, he committed suicide. He'd lost his job, he was about to lose his car and he shot himself. In 1973, she said.

I had thought I was on the track or some good information, but it all came to a dead end. What affected me most or all was the realization that I wanted to tell someone about Bob but there was no one to tell.

The photo shows Bob Feely Sr.'s 1930 Model A roadster. Both front and rear fenders have been reworked, as have the side panels. Streamlined headlights, cut-down spare tire, and fancy wheel trim. The Engine was a four port Riley.
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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A $25 Hot Rod

Sometimes even I forget how cheap a car could be in the good old bad days. In February, 1952 I bought a complete, running 1929 Ford roadster for only $25.00!

It was a straight and solid body mounted on a 1937 Willys chassis and powered by a Jeep engine. It was someone's idea of neat transportation and it had a radio, heater, top and reworked fenders. It even had those things that some of us never got put back on a car, such as the emergency brake, horn, license plate, light and windshield wipers.

As soon as I could, I took all those things off. I also got rid of the grille, hood and headlights. I was determined to make the car into a stripped-down California hot rod such as the examples I'd seen in magazines. I had no money to do anything to the car, but it cost nothing to remove parts. Mostly I drove it. The car lacked license plates and insurance, but cops were seen infrequently, which was one reason that time was called the good old bad days. After school I drove it all around the neighborhood and beyond, keeping mostly to the side streets, taking corners at speed. I would have continued in that way except that one of those infrequently seen cops came around the corner and gave me a ticket. He also said he never wanted to see that car again. (See Fifties Flashback for a fuller version of this story.)
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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A smooth car from the cover of the April, 1952 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.

Today everyone from TV anchor people to college professors use the word "cool" to describe a person, place or thing. It springs easily to the lips, and of course part of the reason it's used is because it reflects well on the user, indicating that he or she is cool. It's an example of a word that is overused, until it has no effect.

Cool probably dates from the late 1950s, from the Beatnik era, when it did gain currency. But early in the decade it was not used as I recall. I remember people saying "smooth" something that would later be called cool. Hot rods and custom cars were smooth, and they were: no excess trim, no spot lights, louvers or flames to interrupt the car's lines. My friend, Norm Cahill, always described a good-looking car as smooth. He also used it to describe articles of clothing or a certain guy. It also described Norm, who always wore a white T-shirt, white pegged cords and either Armishaw saddles or highly-polished smooth-toed cordovans. “He's a smooth cat,” Norm would say, or about a moment of time, "smooth."
Copyright 2008, Albert Drake and Flat Out Press.
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