Have you noticed how quiet cars run these days? It’s hard to know a hybrid engine is even running when you are standing next to one, and even the standard internal combustion engines are so quiet driving down a street that the main sounds you’ll hear are the tires rolling across the pavement.
Compare that to cars in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Everyday cars made their own noises, which became the number one diagnostic tool for skilled mechanics. The squeak of a fan belt, clunk of a transmission or metallic tap, tap, tap of tappets that needed an adjustment could be ascertained simply by listening to an engine idle and accelerate.
For early boomers boys, the idea was to have their vehicles make as much noise as possible, with the goal being to make their cars sound like race cars. Beginning in the hot rod era of the ’50s and ’60s, the guttural brap, brap, brap of an idling engine gave way to an earth-shaking roar when the driver put the pedal to the metal. Long before pollution concerns and catalytic converter requirements, it was common for boomers to remove mufflers from their “ride” altogether, or to install custom mufflers that were specifically designed to elicit a powerful noise. Thrush was a popular brand of mufflers for early boomers, not only for their decibel-inducing mufflers, but for their woodpecker logo. The high-performance company’s mufflers appeared on the scene in 1966, while two years later, Cherry Bomb mufflers became a competitor.
Then, like now, young boys liked stickers. Mister Boomer recalls the free automotive-based stickers that came his way from neighborhood kids and gas station visits, including the Thrush woodpecker logo, National Hot Rod Association, Valvoline motor oil, STP, and AC spark plugs. Perhaps it was inspiration from these stickers, and the noise generated from older boomers’ cars, that inspired younger boomers to clasp baseball cards to their bicycle wheel spokes. Mister Boomer followed suit on occasion. First he’d carefully look through his baseball card collection and choose a duplicate or the card of an inconsequential player. Then, grabbing a clothespin out of the fabric bag that contained them that was suspended from the backyard clothesline, he would bend the card about a quarter inch and wrap it over his bicycle’s front fork. The bulk of the card was situated so it was in the spokes. Once the card was secured with the clothespin, the resulting sound as the wheel rotated was more like a spin on The Wheel of Fortune than a race car, but it was cool to pre-teen boomer boys in the fifties and sixties.
Mister Boomer has read that in Japan, some municipalities are pondering requiring cars — especially electric models — to install systems that would broadcast sounds as a car approached. This would not only assist the visually impaired, but also all other pedestrians as well as motorists needing to check their blind spots. In true Japanese fashion, a variety of sounds are being tested as possible candidates for gaining attention as cars approach an intersection or one another, including vintage engine sounds, ringtone-like blips, electronic rhythms and bird chirps. Should this notion find its way to our shores, Mister Boomer has a few other sounds he’d like to toss into the mix; How about a 427 Chevy engine powered through a Thrush muffler, a 426 Dodge Hemi, a tri-carb 409 GTO or a ’60s Mustang with a 389 engine and four-on-the-floor transmission? If that won’t work, could we try the sound of a baseball card clasped to the fork of a bicycle?
Did you bring on the noise on your bike or car, boomers?