Well-known fact: Michael Douglas was a teenager in Westport.

Less well-known: He was a member of the Downshifters hot rod club.

Virtually unknown, unless you grew up in Westport in the late 1950s and early ’60s: Westport had a hot rod club.

Meetings were held at the Y.  Members brought their girlfriends — but they sat outside.

Inside, there were formal presentations on cars — carburetors, brake systems, that sort of thing. Dues were collected, officers elected and minutes recorded.

Michael douglas 2

But the Downshifters were not a book club or sewing circle. They found spots around town to race (like “the asphalt near Mahackeno” — presumably, now the entrance to the Y). They “had something to do” with the Dover Drag Strip, just across the state line in Dutchess County.

The Downshifters are now receiving Social Security. The gears they shift are probably automatic.

But the club lives on in the memories of all its members (and their girlfriends, who sat outside).

Charlie Taylor, today.

Charlie Taylor, today.

As part of this weekend’s Staples High School’s Class of 1960 reunion, Charlie Taylor and Mike James will talk about the Downshifters. They’ll show photos and memorabilia, and discuss the possibility of a movie about the group. (Michael Douglas, anyone?)

Charlie and Mike are great storytellers. (They also have intriguing, non-hot-rod back stories. Charlie is a noted Nashville musician, while Mike was a prominent political activist.)

On Saturday though, they’ll concentrate on their Downshifter days. Those engines provided the soundtrack for some of the best times of their lives.

(The Downshifters talk is this Saturday, September 19, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in the Westport Library 2nd floor seminar room. It’s free, and open to the public.)


11 responses to “Downshifting

  1. they forgot to mention that these guys were “greasers”!!!! are you exhausted? do you still have the kids am in sherborn and happy to be here xodb

  2. You mean there were no women who qualified for the club? If I had lived here and was that age, I would have petitioned to join. In fact, I’d be happy to race any one of them now! But not on Greens Farms Road.

    • I believe the women were all baking cookies for the guys. After delivering them, they hung around outside, waiting for whenever their men were ready for them.

      PS: That’s a joke, for all you humor-impaired people.

  3. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    The girlfriends weren’t allowed inside the club, or did they prefer to stay outside swapping fashion and makeup techniques? (sorry, just had a queasy flashback to last week’s Miss America post).

  4. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    I graduated from Staples in 1953, and remember going with friends, in our cut down and souped-up jalopies late at night, to Darien to a still-under construction section of the future Connecticut Turnpike (between the present I-95 exits 11 and 12) for drag racing. There was no actual entrance to the roadway; you had to know where was the gravel construction ramp onto the concrete. It was loud and it was fun. However, few of us had tricked-out roadsters like Mr. Douglas’ vehicle.

    • Since Michael Douglas was in the class of `64 (graduating from another school than Staples), I guess he wasn’t driving in Darien when he was 11 in `53. But thanks for this memory and will share it at the Downshifters talk.

  5. Adam Schwartz '75

    No hotrodder from back in the day would ever be seen or caught driving an automatic!

  6. Choate ’63 or ’64. I spent the summer of ’62 with him there for summer school before I entered ninth grade. He got me on the varsity baseball team with him. His nickname for me: “Westport.” He played second base (I played 1B) and was a good ballplayer. Really nice guy. I first heard about the Downshifters from him.