Would anyone be interested in taking a little trip with me in the wayback machine?
A buddy of mine on the Dearborn Police Department recently clued me in to a cool, and pretty rare, video available on YouTube (search “Street Racing in Detroit, Michigan 1964”).
The video shows teens racing cars on Stecker Street between Michigan Avenue and Southern Street back in 1964.
(I’m not going to say they were drag racing, which is a formal sport done on drag strips. These guys were street racing, largely informal and always illegal.)
The film — probably shot in 8 mm — is a bit blurry and grainy, just like memories from nearly 50 years ago.
But it shows hundreds of clean cut-looking teens lined up on either side of the street as cars pair off and then peel out like James Dean and Buzz on their “chickie run” toward the abyss in “Rebel Without a Cause.”
The cars in the Stecker film were everyday drivers then, but today, they’re all highly sought-after collectibles worth thousands of dollars.
The film shows ’56/’57 Chevys, 1954 Fords, 1960 Pontiac Bonnevilles, 1960 Ford Galaxys and many more I can’t identify.
Many of the cars are raked and shackled (raked is where the front end of the car is lower than the rear; shackled is front end higher than the rear) cuz, you know, it looked cooler!
And it seemed like every car was sporting baby moons.
One vehicle, which was missing much of its front grill, had the license plate tucked up directly beneath the driver’s side headlight.
I got a special kick from the teenager who was the official starter. He would slowly move the cars up inch by inch until they were perfectly aligned, and then would jump up into the air to signal the start of the race.
The part that made me laugh is this nearly prehistoric hipster was wearing a suit and a pork pie hat!
The final footage shows something pretty interesting: a black Detroit police car (a station wagon) with an officer casually parked on Stecker watching the races.
After the races, I suppose everyone headed over to Blazos for a slice of pie.
I guess now and then, time really doesn’t march on all that much.
My police buddy also sent me some photos of Stecker today and it looks largely the same as in 1964, just fewer fields and more light industry.
I have to admit the film caused some serious reflection on my part. It was shot in 1964, a more or less “Happy Days” period in America.
By 1966 life would be much more intense and complicated as the war in Vietnam began to rage. I keep wondering if any of those high schoolers filmed back in 1964 ended up in Vietnam.
God knows Dearborn paid a high price in that conflict, losing 69 young men in that 10,000-day war.
In a way, maybe they were also racing toward an abyss.