BELTSVILLE SHELL: Book Review




 

REVIEWING STAND

By Bob Wallace, Editor
VETTE Magazine, a Primedia Publication

BELTSVILLE SHELL: YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE By Cary Thomas What would you get if you crossed American Graffiti with Bruce Springsteen, then wrapped it in a paperback book cover? If you said BELTSVILLE SHELL: YOU ARE WHAT YOU DRIVE, Cary Thomas' paean to fast cars, rock and roll, and adolescent testosterone in the tumultuous'60s you'd come pretty close.

Beltsville, Maryland is now an anonymous northeastern suburb of Washington, D.C., but in the '60s and into the '70s, it was one of the small towns nestled along US Route 1, then a main corridor between D.C. and Baltimore. Beltsville Shell was a service station, back in the days before self-serve (or pay an extra fifty cents per gallon to have a surly slob do it for you), when the gas was not only pumped for you but a usually courteous attendant washed your windshield and at a minimum gave the car's tires and vital fluids a cursory check. Beltsville Shell was, thanks to a somewhat understanding and open-minded owner, also a local hangout for a group of car-crazed teenagers, a place to for them to work on their four-wheeled alter egos and, for a lucky few, their first job.

Cary Thomas was one of those kids, and BELTSVILLE SHELL is his warm and gentle, raucous and rowdy remembrance of that brief period when muscle cars ruled, when a high school kid could actually afford to buy a few years old Corvette, and before the war in Vietnam claimed the lives of over 50,000 young Americans and divided the country to a degree unseen since the Civil War. It's also an ode to the Corvettes of yesteryear and one particular clique, 13 teenage guys with tetraethyl lead in their veins.

The 184-page book is divided into 41 concise chapters covering topics like "Racing in the Snow," "Midnight Auto Supply," "Girls," and "Mishaps" to "The $15.00 Car" (the author's first car, a '56 Bel Air two door sedan) and "My First Ride in a Corvette." ('I was stricken not only with the Corvette mystique, but also with the adrenaline rush of drag racing. I would never be the same.') Chapter 13 will make most grown men get a little weak kneed as the author relates buying his first Corvette, a Roman Red '59 fuelie (with a carburetor replacing the Rochester F.I. system) and optioned with factory metallic brakes (RPO 686), close ratio four-speed (RPO 685), a 4.56:1 Posi rearend (RPO 675), and radio delete-an all together very serious then-seven year old car-for the magnificent sum of $1,200!

BELTSVILLE SHELL should unleash a flood of memories for anyone who grew up in the '60s and early '70s. It's not, however, purely an exercise in warm and fuzzy nostalgia, filtered through rosy-tinted glasses and three decades. The joys and exhilaration of street races are recounted, as is the emotional body blow of the deaths of three different friends in two violent, high speed crashes. Cary Thomas sold his '59 Corvette in June of 1973, but never his love affair with America's Sports Car never died, and 40 years after that first memorable ride in a friend's '62 Corvette, now living on the West Coast, he bought another Corvette. Some things in life come full circle.

I enjoyed the book, a lot, and heartily recommend it.