Caprice started my life with cars
The blame for my love for cars - and four-barrel carbs - can be placed upon my father and his 1978 Chevrolet Caprice Classic.
My father worked as a rocket scientist for the U.S. government. When the motor pool offered him a courtesy car, my father politely took the spearmint-green-metallic Caprice. Understated, smooth and with lots of cargo space for summer vacation runs to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
What my dad didn't understand was that under the hood lurked 350 cubic inches of Detroit muscle. Granted, the engine was strangled to 170 hp - but still, it was a V-8 with four-barrel carburetion.
My best friend, Matt, and I had just obtained our driver's licenses, and with his dad's tan-on-caramel Caprice, our adjacent driveways were a matching pair. We wanted to drive fast, but we knew we couldn't make major changes to the Caprices without our fathers finding out.
Being 16-year-old troublemakers, Matt and I read the usual hell-raiser literature, including Hunter S. Thompson - who explained the murky art of flipping the air filter cover on a carbureted engine for better engine breathing.
We surreptitiously popped the hoods on the twin Caprices and flipped the filter covers. When we took the cars out for a spin - and I mean that literally - we floored the gas pedals and discovered a new unholy roar from the V-8. Did it make more power? Probably not much, but the "buh-WHOOOOOAGH" of the freer-breathing carbs sure attracted attention.
Matt and I used those Caprices as our personal stock cars on weekends. We snuck out past midnight onto the dewy Ridgecrest Junior High soccer field to practice drifting. We drag-raced Mercedes coupes up Hawthorne Boulevard. Matt mounted a 50,000-candlepower spotlight on his dad's car for various nefarious purposes. We even used my dad's Caprice as an "unmarked police car" in a James Bond parody movie we filmed, shedding a hubcap on command during a J-turn.
Then one day my dad called me into his study.
"Do you have something you want to tell me?" he asked.
Given the trouble I could get into on any given day, answering such an open-ended question was flirting with disaster.
"The fleet mechanics found something different with my car's engine," he continued, sternly. "Any particular reason you felt the need to modify the car?"
I could have denied doing it. But I knew my dad, as an engineer, loved to experiment. So I told him about Hunter S. Thompson's theories of carburetion. His reasoned response, "OK, let's go see what happens."
We went out to the garage, flipped the air filter cover, then drove the Caprice for a spell. On an open stretch of road, my dad punched the accelerator. The Caprice surged forward, its sonorous underhood note audible for blocks.
Dad turned to me, his face studious but his eyes grinning, and said, "It gives it a bit more pickup, doesn't it?"
We took the car home and flipped the filter cover back to its proper position. As we walked into the house, my dad turned to me and said, "According to your mother, you're in trouble. Just don't do it again."
You can reach Mark Rechtin at email@example.com. -- Follow Mark on