With hundreds of people milling around me, I didn’t actually hear the engine, but I certainly felt it! It was a deliciously smooth snarl that I could actually feel in my chest. I didn’t even have to look to know what it was. A short stacked V-12, is a V-12, is a V-12. I glanced up and there, at probably 800 to 1,000 feet in a tight bank purposely circling the crowd, was a Mustang. The hairs on my arms stood up, and I glanced at those around me. What I saw amazed me more than seeing the airplane! I was the only one craning my neck to watch it. What the…?
About every other Father’s Day I’m allowed to do what I want to do simply because it’s Father’s Day. My kids live on either coast, so it doesn’t make any difference where I am when I get the obligatory phone call. That being the case, I’ll usually hotfoot it out to Pomona, Calif., on the eastern edge of the L.A. people-swamp for the annual Los Angeles Roadsters Show where lots of my different interests converge. This time, however, the Mustang ratcheted it up yet another notch.
As with so many others, I’m an interdenominational “thing” guy. Lots of the guys I know love almost any kind of mechanical “thing” you can name, some more than others. If it clicks, jumps, whirrs, moves, looks cool, makes lots of noise and/or has lots of recoil, they’re into it. No restrictions. In my case, hotrods, specifically old-school, open-wheel roadsters is one of those “things.” Just like little red biplanes, they are part of my DNA. Full-throat V-12s are in there, too.
By pure happenstance, the Pomona Fairplex is literally right across the road from Brackett Field, an active GA airport. So there’s a continual stream of mostly spam cans coming up out of the trees on the far side of the massive (I mean huge) parking lot that the swap meet calls home. And the swap meet, much more than the show cars, is the real reason I love the day (a very loooong day) spent at the show. There you are ambling down endless rows of vendors of incredible “things” (while pulling a two-wheel shopping basket to haul the goodies in) feeling as if you’re wading through a museum storeroom where every artifact has a price tag on it.
Even though this is a car-oriented event, their swap meet is like mechanical swap meets everywhere: There’s absolutely no way of guessing what you’ll find on the next table or stuffed away in the corners of the next booth. It’s like a treasure hunt where my brand of treasure is usually out of context: The stuff I’m looking for won’t be car oriented, so there’s a chance the seller may not know what it is and may not know its correct value. More than that, he may not love it as much as I do. For instance, I picked up a nearly new Mk. 8 illuminated gun sight that probably spent part of its life bolted to the glare shield of a Grumman F6F Hellcat. The guy thought it was some sort of surveying thingie, but whatever it was, it was an optical device and, as he said, “Optical stuff is always expensive.” Expensive to him was 35 bucks. That was free as far as I was concerned, and my office looks so much better with it sitting on a bookshelf where I can admire it.
Then there were the two aircraft drop tanks sitting innocuously in the back of a booth almost hidden by automotive bits and pieces. Even from a distance, without reading their placards, it was obvious that these were the real deal: 300 gallon tanks as used on the Lockheed P-38. I knew that hotrod guys saw them as the basis for a Lakester—an open-wheel, straight-line racecar like you’d run on the Salt Flats. I had no interest in building such a car, but I instantly started trying to figure out how to strap them on the top of my car. To the car guys they were 500-bucks-apiece pieces of cool scrap, but to the Warbird community they were super rare, very expensive items. Alas, the average four-door sedan like mine wasn’t about to accommodate two 14-foot tanks no matter how badly I wanted to take them home.
In hanging around with nuts-and-bolts freaks who like junque (high-class junk) and spend their evenings and weekends creating cars, I assumed they all liked mechanical stuff of all kinds, including airplanes. Especially unusual ones like the Mustang. I know a lot of airplane guys who are crazy about hotrods, etc. However, as I stood there amongst what I thought were my own kind, watching that P-51D circle us, I found it didn’t always work both ways. I wasn’t exactly a stranger in a strange land, but I certainly found that just because someone is crazy about nuts and bolts, that doesn’t mean they like every combination of nuts and bolts.
There were several hundred guys within shouting distance of me, but as the Mustang came around for his second pass, not a soul was looking at him. I literally had to restrain myself. I could picture someone calling security because this lunatic gray dog was grabbing people by the front of their T-shirts insisting that they look up. I did turn to the guy next to me and say, “Hey, look at that! A Mustang!” At that point it was coming downhill at us and sounded almost sexual in its 12-cylinder ferocity. The guy glanced up but didn’t even smile! He had a so-what look on his face, and I was crushed!
I couldn’t believe it! The Mustang was wonderfully unexpected and far out of context but still, to my mind, it fit into the surroundings perfectly. I’ve flown Mustangs and seen dozens and dozens of them, so it should have been no big deal. However, seeing that one in that setting was so special that it was far more exciting than usual. I expected every single guy on those grounds to stop what they were doing and visually follow that marvelous shape with that nasty-but-luscious soundtrack trailing out behind it. I was wrong. And I can’t explain why because I don’t know.
I guess birds of an oddball feather don’t always flock together, which is okay! That just leaves that much more junk for me.