Opinion: Remembering the sound of Smitty mufflers

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At 7:30 every morning, the guy down the street drives past my house. Sticking out from the rear bumper of his 20-year-old car are twin chrome pipes: Smitty mufflers.

Back in the day, Smitty mufflers were a religion. There was no other sound quite like it, and amazingly, no two sets of Smittys sounded alike.

In the early 1950s, American cars came from the factory with a single exhaust pipe. The mufflers themselves were cumbersome things filled with multiple steel baffles designed to eliminate engine sound.

This was highly frustrating for the average American boy who cut his teeth on motor noise. “Vroom, vroom!” were probably the first words most of us learned after “Mommy, Daddy and no.”

Finally, some guy invented a different kind of muffler, a straight pipe filled with fiberglass. The Glasspack, as it became known, muffled the sound too, but a magical thing happened after you drove the car awhile. The fiberglass began to burn out and the muffler developed a throaty rumble. The more you drove it, the deeper the rumble.

Overnight, every boy in America was ripping off his old mufflers and installing Smittys. And since one good thing is never enough, they also split the exhaust manifold into two pipes, installed double Smittys and entered into the ethereal aura of muffler heaven.

Suddenly, up and down the streets of small town America the harmonious roar of Smitty mufflers filled the air. Muffler shops became churches and backyard mechanics were turned into gods.

There’s always a downside to any good thing, unfortunately, and the Smitty muffler was no exception. While it was music to every American boy’s ears, it violated just about every local sound ordinance on the books. Truthfully, a car with Smittys and “twice pipes” could be heard coming a mile away.

Drivers were ticketed for disturbing the peace, repeat offenders had their cars impounded, and it began to look like the age of motor music was about to end. Or so it seemed.

Then, Yankee ingenuity – always best in a crisis – came to the rescue. Somebody figured out you could add a baffle to the mufflers that could tone down the noise and make it street legal. The baffle was a simple mechanical device that was operated by a lever mounted on the dash.

When the cops were around, America’s cars tiptoed quietly through the streets. But when they were in the diner having coffee and donuts, the levers were flipped and the symphony of Smittys resounded in full voice.

Times have changed, and the song of the Smitty muffler has receded. Except for guys like my neighbor of course, who can’t get “vroom vroom” out of his head.


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