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El Camino Shifter Knob

Powerglide Dreams

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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My Grandfather didn't like the factory shift knob on the column shifter of his '67 El Camino.

I can't remember if he said it broke at some point or he just got tired of it and got this green leaf/flame thing you see in the photo above, but I do remember he liked it and I was absolutely enthralled with it from my earliest memories.

As a small child I used to play with it whenever I could. I don't remember getting in trouble for it, but I do remember sitting in the middle of the bench seat while he was driving, which meant the shifter was lower than normal and I could reach up and touch it. I was probably three or four. And, yes, this was long before car seats. Or mandatory seat belts. Hell, my Grandfather hated seat belts so much he didn't even have them in the Old Cruck until they became required by law, so I didn't have to wear them as a kid.

It took me a while to get used to them when they became mandatory — they irritated the crap out of me for years. Of course, when I started racing, I learned a begrudging respect for them.

I can also remember that when he wanted to drop a gear, he almost never let the Powerglide downshift automatically — he'd drop it down manually with that green knob and floor it. The Chevy 283 V8 would jump to life, the El Camino would squat down, then as soon as it took off, the whole chassis would lift up and it would be floating as the little engine bellowed.

As a kid I didn't understand how it all worked and since I didn't drive, I didn't really care, I only appreciated the way the El Camino would tear off, wubbling through its dual exhaust. Yes, you read that ride. Wubbling. It didn't roar or bark, it wubbled. As in, at idle, it made a rich, mellow wub, wub, wub sound that almost, but not quite, echoed. So, when my Grandfather floored it, it didn't roar, it wubbled.

That sound will live with me until the day I die — precluding some sort of dementia or a coma, of course.

Now, not only do I understand how to drive it, I know exactly how the manual shift valve and throttle valve work in the Powerglide, after reading the Powerglide Transmission Handbook.

I'm genuinely looking forward to getting that thing apart and looking at all of its insides.

It's good to have dreams.

But it's even better to realize them — especially a dream this important.

One day: when I have a place, some space, and the tools to get it done.

One day.

Ryan

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