Beach Boys – “409”
All classic car aficionados know that 409 is the cubic inch displacement of the eight-cylinder big-block engine that Chevrolet used from 1962 until 1965. Some are not aware that it started life as a 348 cubic-inch truck engine. It was bored to reach that magic 409 displacement.
They put the 348 in trucks, and a few high-end model cars, starting in 1958. After the 409 era, the same design was used as the basis of the 427, which was available only in 1962 and 1963.
409 Song Secret
While the harmony came from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and the other Beach Boys, the song came primarily from the mind of the little-known songwriter and producer named Gary Usher.
Usher and Wilson wrote the song, and Love got writing credits, whether he deserved it or not. Wilson was the musical genius in the group, Usher was his automotive muse. Love was the Eddie Haskell-like cousin of Wilson, so we’ll never know his real contribution to the song.
I happened to meet Gary Usher back in the day. He came to our little Southern California farming community once for the drag race we held weekly on a remote country road. He didn’t arrive in a 409-powered Chevy, however. He was driving a lifted black 1963 Plymouth Fury 426. That was the fastest car in the quarter at that time, not the 409.
We had painted start and finish lines on a paved country road. It was situated so that you could look beyond the open fields to the distant lights of the freeway, so there was little chance the California Highway Patrol could surprise us. Hundreds gathered along the side of the road to watch wave after wave of local racers.
What I remember most of all about that night was when Usher came into town. All of us car club types hung out at our local Texaco. When cars came off the freeway onto our short main street, they first became visible as they topped a rise in the road. The kids at the Texaco heard the whistle of that 426 long before we saw his car appear.
“409” Still Gets Juices Flowing
I mention this for only one reason. That is, Gary Usher was a car guy. He is the one who had the smarts to talk about a four-speed transmission, dual-quad carburation, and a positraction rear end. Face it, the Beach Boys were music nerds. They didn’t even know how to surf, much less how to speed-shift through a quarter mile.
In any event, “409” is part of the soundtrack of the life of anyone who grew up in the 60s. It has all the right ingredients to get hot rodders hot — a high-powered tempo, simple lyrics, and the sound effect of someone putting the pedal to the metal of a Chevy 409.