Flying Car Angst December 4, 2010

It was Texas, the summer of 1957.  Buck Rogers and other space pioneers were only in the movies, or on the still-largely black and white world of television.  Two monumental world-view, game-changers were yet to happen:  1) the launch of the USSR’s Sputnik on October 4, 1957 was three months away, and 2) NBC was over a year away from Sputniks launch with their own launch of ‘living color’, color video tape broadcasting, on October 17, 1958 which ushered in coast to coast color TV programing.

At the impressionable age of 11,  going on 12, and already wishing he had a Cushman motor-scooter this pre-teen boy was still mesmerized by the world around him.  A world where our Milky Way remained in 1957 as distant as it had for Galileo in 1610.  He got on a Greyhound Bus in Dallas and was headed for Oklahoma City to visit his father for part of his summer vacation.

Clutched in his hand, as he boarded the bus with his older sister, was the sack of necessities he picked out for this 8hr trip.  At the bus station news stand from amongst such titles as: “Boy’s Life”, “Reader’s Digest”, “Real Detective”, “Harper’s”, “Vogue”, “Life”, “Look”, “Seventeen”, “Hot Rod Magazine”, “The Saturday Evening Post” and many others, he picked the July issue of “Popular Mechanics”, “Hot Rod Magazine” and “Boy’s Life”.  These three magazines were his window on a world he was only just discovering.  Though the stories in these magazines often seemed fantastical, they always seemed possible, even practical.  But “Hot Rod Magazine” was his favorite.  He loved the chromed engines, the chopped-tops, the ‘rolled and pleated’ interiors, and the cherry-red paint jobs.  Most of all he fantasized about ‘stick-shift’s', clutches, and shifting gears.  He wanted to be a clutch-stompin’, gear-jamin’ hot-rod racer!

On that bus, somewhere on Highway 75, north of Dallas but certainly before they’d reached their first ‘rest-stop’ in Sherman/Dennison and before crossing the Red River, he went into a deep funk.  One he did not fully recover from until almost five years later, just before his sixteenth birthday.  Finally settled in, after mourning the disappearance of his hometown’s familiar skyline, he reached forward and into the pouch sewn onto the back of the seat in front of him.  He retrieved the news stand sack.  It contained, in addition to the aforementioned three magazines, other provisions:  2 Baby Ruth’s (King Size), 2 5th Avenues, 1 Peanutbutter Log, and 1Butterfingers candy bar.

Replacing all but the “Popular Mechanics”, he scootched back in his seat and brought the magazine’s cover up and angled it toward the failing light of the window at his side.  His sister was already several pages into her “Seventeen Magazine” and didn’t notice his stunned amazement or the on-setting funk.  Of course back then no one used the term ‘funk’ to describe a state of depressive-melancholia.  If she had noticed, and she usually noticed everything, she might have said her little brother ‘looked sad’.  But she would have also considered that, not unusual.  The boy missed his father.  Their father and mother were divorced and since their father now lived in Oklahoma there were no weekend-visits.  They went to see him four times a year, when school was out for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter… this was their annual summer visit.

The boy couldn’t believe his eyes!  There on the cover was a drawing, which he didn’t particularly distinguish at that moment as an ‘artist’s rendering’.  To him it was just a drawing of the real thing… something that existed.  The picture showed what appeared to be a yellow car with a red top and no wheels, Mr. & Mrs Middle America inside (Mr. A. driving) and it appeared to be obviously hovering over a mountainous residential neighborhood!  It was fantastical, it was cool!  Could it be possible, it certainly seemed practical… he chided himself, ‘of course it’s possible, cars already have fins, don’t they.  Wings can’t be far behind!’  He got excited studying the picture and was doing just fine as he started reading the text box in the lower left-hand corner of the magazine.  In capital letters the first line read: “HILLER’S AERIAL SEDAN”.  It was the second line that shook his world: an em-dash followed by italics:   “–your flying car for 1967–page 74″.  The logic that he would be twenty-one in 1967 escaped him as at that point in his life, five years was half his life-time… ten years might have been forever, but sixteen years old and driver’s licenses was a frame of reference he understood.  His only thought was that he would’t be able to drive for five more years… and now, there were going to be ‘flying cars’… to him that meant no more stick-shifts!

He had to look away.  He let his eyes slide left off the page and toward the cars passing on the highway below his window and beside the bus.  He shook his head and muttered to the window, “No more stick-shifts!”

It didn’t help matters when he finally decided he’d better read “page 74″.  There on page 74 and spread across the fold onto page 75 was the article’s title in big bold caps:  ”YOUR AERIAL SEDAN FOR 1967″.  With great trepidation he read the article’s opening paragraph:  ”A NEW KIND of flying machine is being designed that sounds like the answer to your desires for a personal aerial vehicle.”  He scanned faster, the words barely registering: “flying carpet”, “will resemble an automobile although it will rest on four short stilts,” “four-door model”.  Then he read, “To fly it, open the door and sit down behind the wheel.  That button on the instrument panel operates the starter…”, “See those two levers?  The one on the left is the climb control.  Push it up and leave it there.   Now we are rising.”  Nothing was said about clutches or stick-shifts.

He couldn’t believe what he was reading.  Totally disconsolate, he just kept shaking his head and muttering to himself, ‘no more stick-shifts, no more stick-shifts’.  Reading as fast as an eleven year old does, he finally had to stop when he read, “…in about ten years you’ll be able to buy… for the price of a good car.”  His next thought, only deepened his funk… what if it’s sooner?

He looked at all the pictures and drawings.  They’re going to do it, they’re going to do it, he thought.  He quickly convinced himself that cars, especially ‘hot rods’, would soon be obsolete and his fantasy of driving a stick-shift car was not going to come true.

It was understood by those around him, he was an introspective child.  Sometime into their two week visit, his father came to him at bedtime and asked him ‘what was bothering’ him.

Years later, in his first novel titled “Jamaica Moon,” this story became the fictional reality of the character Tom Darrow as a young boy.  The magazine name and the dates were changed for the story, but the essence is there.  The year is substantive to the story, but the real magazine “Popular Mechanics” should have gotten the kudos for the artist rendering and article.  Here is how this real-life zeitgeist of the ‘flying car’ played out fictionally in “Jamaica Moon” (see page 313):


A recent TV commercial had asked a similar question; maybe that was why Tom was thinking about it.  He remembered as a boy, the summer of 1963, when he turned fourteen and the horror he felt when he picked up a copy of “Popular Science.”

On the cover was a picture of a flying car.  The horrific caption said something to the effect, “Flying Cars by 1965!”  His dreams of driving a stick-shift hot-rod like the ones he’d cut from various hot-rod magazines and thumb-tacked to his cork bulletin board, were still two years away.  And now science and the auto industry were planning to make all those dreams obsolete in 1965.

Tom had been devastated.  he moped around the house for three weeks that summer much to the consternation of his parents.  Finally his father cornered him in his room and demanded to know, “what-the-hell-is-a-matter-with-you?

“I’ll never be able to drive,” he repeated, “in two years they’re gonna have flying cars.  I’ll never get to have my stick-shift– ‘m gonna havta fly!”

“What are you talking about, Tommy?”

Tom sat up on the edge of his bed and pointed to the top of his dresser.  His father walked over to the dresser and picked up the three-week old issue of “Popular Science” and held it up, pointed to the cover and nodded to young Tom, who nodded back.  The senior Darrow read the cover blurb and flipped to the article and quickly scanned it.

“Tom, he said using his grown-up name, “don’t worry about this.  if it did happen there’d still be millions of stick-shift cars around to drive for some years to come.  But, Tom, it’s just never gonna happen, know why?

Tom looked over at his dad, who came to sit beside him on his bed, shook his head and said, “No.”

“Tom, what do car engines run on?

“Gasoline, ” Tom answered, as he questioned his father’s possible loss of memory.

“And what about these flying cars?

“Some kinda new fuel, they said.”

“Right.  And, Tom, gasoline comes from the oil companies who refine it and truck it to the gas stations for us to fill up our cars, don’t they?

“Yes sir.”

“Well, here’s what I’m getting at.  The car companies and the oil companies have been working together for years.  One hand washes the other so to speak; they kind of have an investment in each other’s success.  ’Memeber studyin’ symbtiotic relationships in Science?”  Tommy nodded.  ”Well, that’s what they’ve got.  Anyway if the car companies suddenly started making flying cars that didn’t use the oil company’s gas, what do you think would happen to all the gas stations–they’d go out of business, woudn’t they?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“There are thousands and thousands, maybe millions of gas stations all across the country, aren’t there?”  Tommy nodded again,  ”The government can’t afford for all those people to be out of work and the gas companies don’t want to go out of business do they?  So they want the car companies to keep on producing gasoline combustion engines, don’t they?”

Tommy had gotten lost in his father’s reasoned discourse the moment he said, “Tom, it’s just never gonna happen; not in our lifetimes”–he believed that strongly in his father’s correctness.  But he continued to appear to be listening as his father finished explaining the socio-economic reasons why these co-dependent industries, not to mention the public and private sectors, would not yet stand for giving up the fossil fuel combustion engine.

He finished by saying “it’s the same thing as the tobacco industry.  Even thought I smoke and I know it’s bad for us, our government keeps subsidizing the growth of tobacco.  Why?  Because cigarette companies pay millions and millions in taxes that the politicians get to spend, they say on our behalf.  And the tobacco compaines spend big dollars lobbying Washington every year to make sure they dont’ get what they’d consider bad laws.  Maybe in your lifetime, Tommy, you’ll see the extinguishing of the last cigarette but not in mine.”

“So don’t ‘sweat it’, Tom,” his dad used the popular expression.  ”There will be plenty of cars with stick shift gears for you to mangle when you turn sixteen.”

“He was right,” Tom said to the cars flanking him on the clogged freeway, “more than enough.”  ’That had been thirty-six years ago, “and still no flying cars, what happend to the dreams?”


Indeed, what happend to all those individual flights of fancy?”

In case you were wondering, yes, the young man fully recovered without intervention, drugs, or psychoanalysis.  Further, if you would like to read the original, temporarily ‘psychologically damaging’ article go the the link here:

7 Responses to “Flying Car Angst”

  1. Matthew C. Kriner Says:

    Hi there may I use some of the information here in this post if I provide a link back to your site?

  2. Robert Sadler Says:

    Matthew. I’m not sure I see the relevance, ( & Flying Car Angst) but yes you may use some of the information in the blog with the appropriate attribution including a link-back. rjs

  3. Sylvitan Says:

    Hello ! I’m new on this forum, hope to talk to you soon :)
    I love cars and tuning, and you ?

  4. Robert Sadler Says:

    Thanks, Sylvie. Apparently you like fromage as well… Not much cheese-talk here; but you never know, I’ve said some pretty ‘cheesy’ things.

  5. Sylvitan Says:

    Hello ! I’m new on this forum, hope to talk to you soon :)
    I love carsn seotons and tuning, and you ?

  6. Doc Yankee Says:

    Great Minds Think Alike, Robert!

    Particularly those minds from those lads who were that age, back in ’57.

    Excellent reading, my friend!


  7. Robert Sadler Says:

    Thanks Doc. As they say, takes one to know one. I once came up with a whole list of ‘names’ for various brands of flying cars… though I can’t remember any now; guess I didn’t need them after all!

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