Back In The Day

First Night In Town

Roger Johnson - March 25, 2014 12:00 PM


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(Editor’s Note: Roger Johnson will be providing a Mopar-centric retrospective each month. The next installment will be seen on April 24)  

It was the last day of May in 1969 when I arrived in Detroit, actually in Westland. My apartment wouldn't be ready until the next day, so I got a motel room on nearby Telegraph Road for the night.
I just sold my 1965 Dart GT four-speed with a Hi-Po 273 before I made the move, so I was driving my only other car, a black 1964 Triumph Spitfire. This woefully underpowered two-seater would eventually be chewed up and spit out by Detroit traffic.  Soon, I’d be the proud, second owner of a 1967 383 Formula S Barracuda.  But that’s a story for later.
About 10:30 that first night, I hopped in the Triumph and cruised up this major highway, looking for a convenience store. Traffic that Sunday night was plentiful but flowing smoothly. I came to a stoplight and was positioned in the front row of the center lane.  Almost immediately, I could hear healthy V-8 engines behind me snarling at one another. All I could see in my rearview mirror were headlights.
When the light went green, I slowly drove off, but heard two explosions of horsepower. A blue 396 Chevelle screamed by me from the left side and a red 428 CJ Mustang running even with the Chevelle passed me on the right. Both were four-speed cars and pounded second gear right next to each of my ears. A third engine blast in the form of a gold 1969 fastback Barracuda 383 rocketed past me on my right. The Mopar was a three-speed Torqueflite, already in the sweet spot of second gear and revving eagerly.
The road was completely clear in front of us, a good thing since all three drivers were determined to stay on it as long as possible. Finally, they braked for the stoplight. I couldn’t tell who got there first but the Barracuda did close smartly. By the time I got to that intersection, the three combatants were long gone.
Cluster racing like this was popular, but as you might imagine it’s always more difficult to orchestrate with that rolling three-way start in traffic, and all.  On my very first night in city that gave birth to the muscle car, the locals happily showed me they were game for anything. Under my breath, I assured all of them that next time I wouldn’t be a bystander.