If you haven’t read Chris Queen’s superb analysis of why that Chevy ad everybody is talking about strikes such deep chords with so many Americans, stop reading this column right now and go read his, here.
Back? Okay, Chris is right about the amazing impact of “Holiday Ride” when he writes that it is “a collection of some of the best things about Christmas — and the rest of the holidays: family, community, a caring spirit, and unconditional love.”
But there is another important factor at work here for America’s Boomers, one that Chris seems to have missed, as evidenced by his observation that “the Chevy logo is almost incidental at the end of the commercial, taking a backseat to the ‘Happy Holidays’ wish.”
Here’s what I mean: The grieving dad receives the amazing gift of the restoration of his lost wife’s 1966 Chevy Impala SS Convertible. Car guys of a certain age, like me, immediately notice the “396” flag logos on the front fenders. The 396 was Chevy’s first “big block” motor.
Chevy was by far the most popular car in America in the 1960s and there are millions of us Boomers whose families drove Chevys when we were growing up. Odds are legions of the folks seeing “Holiday Ride” today — be they from “Chevy families” or “Ford families” or “MOPAR families” — can recall countless time spent long ago riding around in vehicles bearing the familiar logo.
But what makes Holiday Ride especially meaningful for me was something that jumped out at me the first time I saw the spot. When the daughter heads to town to seek help in getting her mom’s ’66 restored, there is a black and white ’55 Chevy parked at the curb.
It’s parked right in the center of the picture, but you only see it for an instant. Many viewers would miss it. But for me, hardly a day goes by that I don’t see that car — and my Dad — in my mind’s eye of memories.
That’s because the first new car my Dad ever bought was a white 1955 210 two-door Chevy. The 210 was the middle of the range, price and equipment-wise, in those days, having some of the top-of-the-line Bel Air’s trim pieces, but only enough to distinguish it from the bottom-of-the-line 110.
Dad, in a stroke of genius, had the dealer paint the hood, front fenders and doors black. The result was a strikingly handsome car because that particular color combination perfectly emphasized the exceptionally clean beauty of the ’55’s design, which at least in my view is by far the most attractive Chevy of the 50s era, not the more popular ’57.
But there was more to Dad’s ’55 than its looks. He was proud of it and he loved it. Under its hood was a two-barrel, 162-horsepower version of Chevy’s first-ever V-8, the 265 cubic inch “small block” that became the most produced engine design in automotive history.
The transmission was a three-speed column shifter, with overdrive, which effectively functioned as a fourth, cruising, speed. The clutch was easy to engage, the engine revved easily, and the ’55 handled well, for its day, on a curving road. It was fun to drive, comfortable and dependable as Big Ben in London.
Our family put 160,000 miles on that ’55 before the engine needed rebuilding by 1967, my junior year in high school. That was a job Dad was quite capable of doing, but I somehow persuaded him to instead buy a low-mileage 307-cubic inch Chevy V-8. We did the swap together.
I put a lot of those miles on the ’55 driving all over the state of Oklahoma starting high school Teen-Age Republican (TAR) clubs. That Dad allowed me to drive the family car — his automotive pride and joy — on those trips still amazes me today. He even allowed me, accompanied by two of my buddies, to drive it from Oklahoma City to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota for a week-long national TAR convention.
Thanks to Chevy’s engineers, the 307 virtually bolted in between the ’55’s front frame rails and the transmission seamlessly “stabbed” the flywheel. The 307 was only a little more powerful than the 262 but it was smooth and sweet. I was overjoyed when Dad allowed me to drive it to college at Oklahoma State University, then on to marriage and graduate school in 1972 at the University of Dallas.
When the 307 hit 150,000 miles, we decided to rebuild the 265 and restore the ’55 to its original configuration, including a freshening of the paint and Naugahyde seat coverings. Dad and I spent a lot of hours together around and under the ’55 during that project, too.
And then, in a moment of graduate school insanity, I sold the ’55. To this day, I don’t understand why. I still cringe whenever I think of the flash of pain I saw cross Dad’s face when I told him it was gone. You never forget a moment like that.
Even so, that black and white ’55 remains the source of so many memories, mostly good but some less so, of my Dad, my childhood, and lessons learned the hard way. Cars today are mere appliances, throwaways, like too many families. Not that ’55, it might as well have been a family member. And it is a sweet memory today.