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In the 1970’s, Southern California was a Breeding Ground for the Coolest Hot Rods

Firing Up: SoCal, Street Freaks, and the ’70s

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It was 1970-something and the Saturday night fun for a bunch of us early teens consisted of hopping on our Schwinn Sting-Rays and heading over to Taco Bell on Garey Ave. in Pomona, California. Even though we were a few years away from getting our driver’s licenses we still wanted to be involved in the popular muscle car scene.

Behind this particular Taco Bell was a huge lot that could easily accommodate more than 50 cars. The fact that it was tucked a few hundred feet off the street made it less conspicuous to the cops even though they were fully aware of the muscle car hot spot. Most of the time there would be about 20-25 of us ogling at all the cool muscle cars, and we knew the guys with the best-looking and fastest cars. They were local famous on the streets and were celebrities to us young pedal pushers.

Growing up in the Pomona Valley during the early to mid-’70s meant being around the baddest muscle cars and hot rods in SoCal. On just about every block it was common to see an open garage door on a warm summer night with a few young gearheads listening to Led Zeppelin while wrenching away on a hot rod of some sort. And if you lived near a guy with a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster you were really lucky. Those guys were absolute rock stars and your popularity went up a notch just for living nearby. Occasionally, they would fire up a Top Fuel engine in the driveway and instantly draw a crowd of kids to enjoy the cackle and smell of a blown, nitromethane-powered engine. I’m sure not every neighbor appreciated that, but to us it was the coolest thing in the world. It was SoCal in the ’70s, and it was awesome.

Also awesome was the fact that we were surrounded by so many great dragstrips. Pomona Fairgrounds, home of the NHRA Winternationals was right in our backyard. Orange County International Raceway was about 20 miles southwest, Irwindale Raceway was about 10 miles to the west, and Fontana was just a quick jaunt east on the 10 freeway. We took it for granted that those tracks would be around forever (Auto Club Raceway at Pomona is the lone survivor). The local drag scene was a major influence on every young hot rodder’s ride. And whether you drove your mom’s hand-me-down station wagon or a dedicated street/strip Chevelle or Camaro, finding a track with a grudge match night was usually not a problem.

So, what got me all nostalgic and wanting to reminisce about SoCal in the ’70s was when freelance photographer Tim Sutton recently shot Louis LaFon’s 1969 Chevelle SS and asked me if I wanted the car for a feature. It’s a survivor from the 1970’s Street Freak era and was on Hot Rod magazine’s July 1975 cover. Seeing Tim’s images of the car with its candy paint, old-school flame job, and straight-axle frontend immediately took me back to the days when cars like this ruled the streets and dragstrips of Southern California.

Yeah, we definitely had some great dragstrips back then, and I’m betting there were some great tracks near your town as well. With that said, we can’t take it for granted that the ones we have left today will be around forever. Urban sprawl is sizing up that 1320 like a lion staring down an overweight zebra, so let’s do our part and support our local dragstrips for some straight-line fun. Besides, it’s probably time for a grudge match against that kid down the street with the Volkswagen GTI and bad taste in music.

You in!

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