Lance Lambert describes himself as a “car guy since birth.” The Tacoma native produces and hosts a TV show about cars and has just come out with a memoir (“Fenders, Fins & Friends: Confessions of a Car Guy”) about growing up amidst Tacoma’s car culture in the 1960s.
“As far back as I can remember I’ve been nuts about cars,” Lambert says. Two more books are in the works.
“The stories come easy for me,” Lambert says. “What I hear over and over from people in the car community is that I’m telling their stories. Guys have done similar or the same things.”
On Thursday Lambert will share some of those stories at a talk at LeMay-America’s Car Museum. The News Tribune caught up with him from his Seattle production office.
Q: You graduated from Stadium High School in 1965. Take me back to those days.
A: My dad, who was a Tacoma police officer, had a Lambretta motor scooter that, when I was 15 and going to Jason Lee (the Junior High), I had access to. Lambrettas are kind of nerdy, but in the ninth grade, it was like having a Ferrari. I didn’t have a license but my dad’s co-workers just looked the other way.
Q: So being a cop’s son had its privileges?
A: Oh yeah. Back then, having a police officer as a father was like having the king of England for your dad. I got out of so many things.
Q: What did you drive in high school?
A: I had a ’48 Chevy Fleetline. The cover of the book shows us (with a brother and friend) putting a new motor in it. I traded a pizza for the motor. In my junior year, I got a ‘54 Oldsmobile, lowered, chrome wheels. …
Q: What were the modifications and accoutrements of car culture in those days?
A: Lowering your car, two or three inches (was popular). ... Nobody had fuzzy dice hanging from the mirrors back then. But a lot of the guys hung the tassels off of their graduation cap. If you got married and had kids, you’d hang baby shoes. And car clubs were a really big thing.
Q: Did you belong to one?
A: In the summer of ‘62, I got together with five buddies and started the Steeds Car Club. It’s still going now. Back then, if you were a real club in Tacoma, you’d have letterman’s jackets with the club insignia on the back and your name on the front. There were about a dozen big clubs that were active in Tacoma. We put on dances and car shows.
Q: How did you decide what club to join?
A: They were regional. The Toppers were Lincoln High School, The Steeds were Stadium and Wilson, Capers were Lincoln and Mount Tahoma. In Steeds, most of us tried to get the newest cars we could get. In the early 1960s, they were generally in the ‘40s up into the early ‘60s. You would nose them and deck them.
Q: What is nosing and decking?
A: You would take the identification off the car and fill in the holes and paint over them. Nosing was for the front and decking was the trunk. You might take the chrome off the side and fill in the holes. A lot of people would put 1956 Oldsmobile taillights on their ‘52 to ‘54 Fords. ’59 Cadillac lights were a big deal. I made extra money back in those days by acquiring ’59 Cadillac taillights and reselling them.
Q: What do you mean by acquire?
A: One time I was going through an alley and I had the proper equipment to relieve a Cadillac of its taillights.
Q: Do you feel guilty about that now?
A: I do. Now that I’m old and gray, I wouldn’t want to walk out and see the taillights missing off of my car.
Q: Was cruising big?
A: Absolutely. All the Stadium car guys and all the Wilson car guys … all we did was cruise between Frisko Freeze and Kings Drive-in. It was see and be seen. Frisko was Stadium’s hangout. Kings was Wilson’s territory.
Q: Was there a rivalry?
A: It was a friendly rivalry because everybody had buddies at both schools. But if the Wilson guys came to Frisko, they had to be just a little bit careful, and when the Stadium guys went to Kings, it was just the reverse.
A: It was not unusual to see a fight every night. It was just usually pushing and shoving or a stare down.
Q: Did the police harass you?
A: There was respect back then. You might play a little cat and mouse with the police but you respected them. They had the attitude, “You’re just a bunch of mischievous boys. Behave yourself. Pour that beer in the gutter and go home.”
Q: Were they always so lenient?
A: There was a big chrome siren in our basement that had been on a police car at some point. Me and some buddies put that in a friend’s ‘55 Ford. We decided one night it would be a good idea to go out and pull people over. It was a white ‘55 Ford that was lowered and had spinner hubcaps and side pipes, but the cars would pull right over and we’d laugh and wave and drive on. They eventually dropped me off. From my bedroom I could hear the siren in the distance, but then I heard another one right after with a different tone. They all got to spend the weekend in Remann Hall (juvenile detention center).
Q: You got lucky.
A: Back then, if you were a minor, the first thing they did (in juvenile detention) was to shave all your hair off. They all got shaved. I somehow got away with it. They didn’t rat me out. My dad never asked what happened to the siren.