There is something magical about the way liars make their way into groups of car people. The odds are, if you gather more than five “car guys” together, one of them is about to sling some serious BS. To inflate the claims of these vehicular storytellers, just add beer.
The claims vary from liar to liar. Some guys have driven 200 mph, while some get 50 mpg without trying. Others—the real scoundrels—own cars that were secretly built with one-off engines that no one was supposed to know about.
I share here my recollections of three fabulous automotive exaggerators and BS artists.
Firebird Guy (FG) was a regular customer at the service station I worked at back in high school. FG looked a little like Tom Petty’s homeless kid brother, but he was a friendly sort and was a welcome addition to the mélange of regulars who populated my workweek. FG, who stopped by the station mostly for cigarettes, was always updating me on the progress of his two project cars. It’s worth noting that his two project cars were his only cars, and that they both looked in need of a little TLC.
FG betrayed himself as a liar one day when, during a visit to the station, he informed me that his Firebird Formula (a ’78, perhaps) was down for a spell while he swapped out the heads. The problem was, he had driven the car to the station. He would later explain that he had swapped out the engine for a “driver motor” while he worked on the original mill. Despite having been busted, he would continue to update me on an irregular basis on the car’s never-ending journey to some ill-defined higher-performance state.
FG also owned an early Fiero that was being worked on by a friend of his who was “into computers.” By FG’s own estimates, the 4-cylinder Fiero was running 0-60 times of seven seconds, with better performance to come. FG made it very clear, however, that no matter how much work he and his buddy did on the Fiero’s computer, it would never be as fast as his Formula.
Monte Carlo Guy
Monte Carlo Guy (MCG) was an unlikable sort. MCG was a programmer and coworker at some job I once had. Because of the nature of my job, I was forced to interact with MCG several times a day. These exchanges gave MCG plenty of opportunities to share with me the details of his Little Lotto payday, his exploits in Vietnam, his countless bowling achievements, and, because I was a fellow car guy, his fabulous 1987 Monte Carlo SS.
Badly paint-faded and shod with balding, off-brand, raised-white-letter “radials,” MCG’s car was an unlikely candidate for the boastings of an office blowhard, but the stories of its performance came fast and furious. MCG made a point of telling folks that his wife refused to drive the car because “it’s too much for her to handle.”
MCG’s claims included hitting 200 mph on a regular basis on his commute to work, that the car was only pulling 2000 RPM at 120 mph, and that the car boasted 300 horsepower from the factory. That latter point, repeated often, always struck me as a an especially foolish claim because A) it’s pretty easy to prove false, and B) 300 horsepower will not get a 3,400-pound coupe to 200 mph under any conditions that do not involve driving off a cliff.
MCG’s finest hour came one evening at the holiday office party. It was there that I found myself exchanging pleasantries with his wife. After his Monte Carlo, the thing MCG most enjoyed talking about was his Harley Davidson. MCG’s cube was spattered with random Harley signage and tchotchkes, while he was often heard recounting tales of late-night rides down the rural roads not far from our office. So, in making small talk with Mrs. MCG, I opined that Mr. MCG must have been taking advantage of the unusually mild local weather to extend the riding season. Mrs. MCG looked confused. So I added, “To take his Harley out.” “What Harley?” Mrs. MCG responded.
Having overheard this exchange, MCG would later take me aside and thank me for “not blowing my cover.”
Neon Guy (NG) is one of my favorite liars because he so masterfully blended strange truth with fabulous fiction. Looking a little like Yanni’s underfed kid brother, NG was a bartender at a dude ranch that I completely regret having visited. There, NG engaged me in a conversation that quickly became surreal. By my second beer, I was looking at pictures on his camera that NG claimed to have taken from the tops of high-tension power-line towers. Looking at bird’s-eye views of the local topography, I could only conclude that this guy—or someone using this camera—had gone daredevil and actually climbed 200 feet into the air to snap a few photos.
But, my faith in the veracity of NG’s claims was soon tested. As he continued telling me about his life, NG moved easily from the plausible to the fantastic. It seems that NG’s tower-climbing heroics were somehow wrapped up in his secret gig as a government agent monitoring central Wisconsin for terrorist activity. As such, his car was loaded with communications equipment and enhanced by a “government chip” that allowed him to reach top speeds in excess of 140 miles per hour.
I listened to NG, nodding patiently as my father taught me to do when being lied to, and took in the rest of his tale. Apparently, it was frequently necessary for NG to drive at high rates of speed to specific towers and climb them for a quick review of the countryside. NG was required to “phone in” his observations via a special radio, which according to him looked very much like a normal CB radio.
Having taken all this in, and after polishing off my fourth Corona, I thanked NG for his service and shuffled out of the bar back toward my cabin. Just outside I noticed, parked behind a short wall of foliage, a very clean and very stock-looking 1995-ish Dodge Neon—stock-looking save for the stunning array of antennae mounted on the roof and rear deck lid. Most interesting was the giant mast antenna, which was connected at its base to the front bumper and at its top to the rear, forming an arc over the car.
Inside the car, mounted on the dash top, was what looked very much like a normal CB radio. What I couldn’t see was the government chip—but who knows, it was dark.