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THE CAR CULT FROM RUMPSVILLE
Robert H. Boyle
April 24, 1961
To many persons the automobile is a status symbol. To 1.5 million hot rodders, however, the car is the cornerstone of a cult with its own lingo, totems and heaven. The cats range from wild to mild, but the fuzzy world they live in can be far out, man, far out
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April 24, 1961

The Car Cult From Rumpsville

To many persons the automobile is a status symbol. To 1.5 million hot rodders, however, the car is the cornerstone of a cult with its own lingo, totems and heaven. The cats range from wild to mild, but the fuzzy world they live in can be far out, man, far out

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The six offered a figure of $1,000 as the yearly sum each spent on his car. "This is what it costs you after you have bought your car," said Jack Eaton, 28, Ed's younger brother and president of the club. "This $1,000 is for nothing—for bolts." Eighty-five dollars a week was given as the income for the affluent members. Married Panthers indicated their wives handled their paychecks and several mentioned $15 a week as their car allowance.

All admitted to street racing, but stressed that this was either before they joined the club or to "tame" a shot rodder who was a menace on the road. Steve Petersen, 18, said he had lost his junior license for nearly two years after he was caught doing 110 mph. "Since then I've been tame," he said. "It hurt too much not to be able to drive my car, and so now I have no trouble holding myself down."

Only one Panther, Dick Herman, 25, had ever "dragged for a pink slip"—that is, bet his registration against another driver. Herman lost. "I just didn't think of not giving him my car," he said. "If I hadn't, I suppose he would have beaten me up."

Herman, now an auxiliary policeman, agreed with other members that police, away from Glen Cove, are waiting to nab hot rodders on technical violations. "They'll tag you for a technical muffler violation," he said. "The same thing the ordinary driver gets away with day after day, the hot rodder will be tagged for!"

Eaton was opposed to many of the Los Angeles fads. "Most of them are too far out for us," he said. "We don't wear any garbage. None of those squirrelly Weirdo shirts or furry mirror warmers. The way I figure it the guys should be dressed so I wouldn't be ashamed for them to come to my house." He was also against bongo drums, but he thought voodoo-head gearshift knobs were all right.

Several Panthers disagreed. Claude Pardi, 22, who had spent some time in California, thought the bongos and some of the new paint jobs were great. "I hope to eventually live on the Coast," he said. "Every time I see a California license plate, I say, 'Holy Land! Holy Land!' " Pardi is captivated by cars. "I was going steady with this girl and she objected to my concentration on my car." he said. "At the time I was putting in an Oldsmobile motor, but she expected me to be at her house. Finally she told me it would either be her or the car, so I said so long. My car comes first."

Cars owned by Panthers are models of cleanliness. "Unless you keep it clean it won't run right," said Herman. "I wash my car three or four times a week. I just can't stand to see it dirty. I see some of these women drive around in dirty cars, and I think their houses must be a mess."

"I had the hood up on my car," Pardi said, "and a woman looked at it and said the motor was clean enough to eat off. I didn't say anything to her, but I thought, 'I wouldn't let you eat off my engine, lady, you might get crumbs on it.' "

"I talk real nice to my car," said Petersen, "and sometimes when I'm feeling real good, I'll open the hood and kiss all that beautiful chrome smiling up at me from the engine block. Yet, when it gets temperamental, I threaten it, and once I took a hammer and smashed two fenders. As soon as I did, I took a body mallet and hammered out the dents."

"I've whipped my car," said Pardi, "but afterwards I was sorry I did it."

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