I'm 54 years old now and I graduated from high school in 1969. There were 209 kids in my graduating class back in Hutchinson, MN, and only seven of us had our own cars. Back then, you had your football and basketball stars, the cheerleader group and the car owners. The car owners never got as much press in the school paper and they never shared in the glow of homecoming or state tournaments. But, that doesn't mean nobody noticed.
I had a 1956 Chevrolet Two-Ten, two-door sedan with Bel-Aire interior. The 283 V-8 was pretty fast with the fuel fed from a Rochester four-barrel and the exhaust pouring out of a set of headers and dual exhaust pipes. The three-speed transmission included a Hurst floor shifter - the good one, not the cheap one.
The paint job left a lot to be desired. The previous owner had sanded off the original paint with some 80- grit paper and never followed up to get all the sand scratches out. It looked good from a distance. The Keystone mag wheels and wide-oval tires helped draw attention away from the metallic green paint job. It was fast, it was cool and it was one of "the" cars to own.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s, if you owned a '55, '56 or '57 Chevy, it felt like everything was right with the world. If you were lucky, like I was, you worked nights and weekends at a full-service gas station that provided you the opportunity to work on your own car during the off hours. That was really handy, because if you abused the car as bad as I did, it was in constant need of repair. It got to the point that I could pull the transmission and change the clutch in just a couple of hours before work. I distinctly remember doing this three times in just one summer. Ah, those were the days!
Have you noticed what the '55, '56 and '57 Chevys of today's generation are? They're the nitro-fired, lowered, AGX-shocked, cross-drill-rotored, rear-spoilered, 17-inch-wheeled Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas! Oh my gosh, what has happened?
My parents always bought Buick LeSabres. My neighbors on one side of my home had a Ford Galaxy and on the other side a Plymouth. Both neighbors across the street had different model Chevrolets and there were Chrysler, Ford and General Motors vehicles everywhere you looked. If you happened to see a pickup truck, it was usually an F-150. Nobody I knew had a "foreign" car, much less a foreign truck.
As I look out my garage door while I am typing this article, the vehicles in my neighborhood today look a lot different from the vehicles around my parent's neighborhood when I was a kid. Next door is a Jaguar and an Isuzu Trooper.
Across the street, I see two Toyotas, a Corolla and a Camry. On the other side, my neighbor drives a Honda Accord and his wife, a Saturn Vue. Did you know that a lot of folks consider Saturn products "imports?" Really. Their owners are in our import specialty stores all of the time seeking parts for their "imports."
With all of these parents driving import vehicles, it's no wonder their kids have chosen the same models to be their '55, '56 and '57 Chevys of choice today. As much as kids seem to defy many of their parents' wishes, it is also obvious that they have emulated their buying decisions through the decades.
Just as American and Keystone mag wheels stole the attentions of me and a few others in my class, the products that have been created, manufactured and offered to the "tuner" enthusiasts are even more desirable. The products are much more flashy, the advertising is out of this world and kids today seem always to have the money for whatever they want.
If Meyer's Auto Parts, my employer, were truly the import specialist we claim to be, we would have broken into this tuner market years ago. But, we missed the opportunity, and now, several "tuner" specialists have opened up around the Las Vegas valley. During a visit to one of these shops, I asked the owner how he was doing. He described young men and women in their late teens purchasing $4,000 to $6,000 worth of accessory items for their late-model imports and having their parents lay down a credit card for the entire balance. "It happens every day," he said.
The opportunity in selling import replacement parts goes way beyond the normal requests for air and oil filters. It's true that with equal care, import models go further without repair than their American-manufactured counterparts. But they do get repaired and millions of dollars of accessory items are sold to import vehicle enthusiasts every year.
With the growth of import cars, SUVs and now, full-size pickup trucks too, it is imperative for every auto parts professional to recognize the importance of these vehicles in the market. Import specialists know all about it, because they have been supporting these vehicles with replacement parts from the beginning.
Isn't it time that everyone does?