This is actually a story about three vehicles, not just one. During high school, as related elsewhere, I drove many different vehicles (one of the odd perks of my father’s business, a repossession agency). We lived out in the boonies, many miles from school, and when I got heavily involved in after-school activities my parents grew understandably tired of shuttling me back and forth at all hours of the day and night. After the Type 2 Van was sold, and before I requisitioned my sister’s Honda while she was in college, My dad gave me the keys to a silver Mazda B2000. This was the fourth generation (’78-’85), featuring a 2 liter gas engine, five-speed stick, two seats, and not much else. This particular truck was only in service for a short while; I’ve forgotten exactly why it left the fleet.
In its place appeared a black doppelganger in better mechanical shape. I drove this truck during one hot summer to and from my job as a golf-course ranger (in retrospect, one of the easiest and most ridiculous jobs I’ve ever had) and as a barback/busboy. Lacking any source of air conditioning, I beat the heat by rolling the windows down and turning the balky radio up as loud as possible. Being a 5-speed, it was slightly more fun to drive than an oxcart. The gearing was low and then got ridiculously high somewhere around 4th, so I found I had to get the engine screaming in 3rd to stay in front of it. It featured black fabric seats and worn carpeting that smelled… funny, and which got even more stinky as the heat of the day wore on. It had a steering wheel made of some form of black rubber that cooked in direct sunlight and then melted off onto one’s palms, so it looked like I’d arm-wrestled a Sharpie upon arrival to work.
It took a righteous beating from a 16-year-old punk, though, and stayed together admirably well as I bombed it up and down the lumpy back roads of Putnam County. At some point that fall, my next car was appeared and/or my father decided he wanted his utility truck back, so I turned it back in and moved on.
During my sophomore year of college, perhaps to celebrate the highest GPA I’d ever earned in fourteen years of school, my Dad handed me the keys to another Mazda and told me to take it with me. This could also have been in response to the painful and expensive series of train rides I needed to take to make it home each break (although I’m not complaining–to be able to walk to the train station in Baltimore and make it all but 15 miles from my house in New York State via rail is a miracle here in the USA). It was a fifth generation model, an ’86, and it had about 90K on the odometer. Compared to the black pickup, though, it was a Cadillac. The body and interior were in better shape. The clutch was smooth and geared reasonably. It was miserly on gas. It had modern tires. And all my crap could fit in the rear bed–perfect for a dumpster-diving art student with a ground floor apartment.
Over the next three years, my little mule got me to and from my parents’ place in NY through all kinds of weather, moved countless classmates between shitty apartments, carried people to and from parties, hauled construction debris and camping gear, and never complained. It took my roommate Pat and I all the way out to Texas in a meandering, aimless spring break journey our sophomore year without incident; the only issue we had with it was due to driver error when I bent a leaf spring backing it into a service station bollard in a driving rainstorm. The bed was just long enough to fit the pair of us for camping, but we found out the hard way about the effect of corrugated metal on restful sleep.
Apart from a vapor lock problem with the carburetor I never had major mechanical problems with it. Upon graduation, my father signed the title over to me, and I used it heavily for the next three years while I ran a contracting business. As it reached past the 175K mark, however, it started to blow more and more smoke. I was adding oil weekly, which meant the rings were going. Grudgingly, I placed an ad in the Baltimore Sun and within a day I had three people call me to set up appointments. The first guys to arrive showed up in a slammed Nissan minitruck painted teal over maroon and spoke little english; I knew what my little mule was in for when I signed over the title. I like to think she’s still on the road somewhere, lowered an inch or two above the ground, painted like a back alley puta, cruising the minitruck section at car shows.
I was down in DC three weeks ago for a work thing, and because I had to hump a bunch of video gear from the office to my old CEO’s house as well as meet up with a bunch of folks for lunch, I drove the Accord. We were eating at a restaurant I’d never been to before, so Siri took me in and dropped me at an empty parking spot right out in front of the place. I went in, lunch was had, and we left two hours and five minutes later—just enough expired time for the Accord to collect a $50 ticket. The ink was still warm when I pulled it from the wiper blade. Last week I went online to pay it, grumbling, and found a cryptic message that said I owed $0. Puzzled, I waited for the official paperwork to arrive. Yesterday I got two (?!?) letters from the DC government that confirmed things: the officer hadn’t turned in his paperwork on time, so by law I owed nothing. That was a nice gift.
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We got the CR-V back from the body shop yesterday, looking like a half-brand-new vehicle. The list of stuff they replaced was long, but the visible stuff included a new bumper, bumper surround, front fender, and weatherstripping; the rear hatch opens and closes again, and the spare tire hangs straight. It’s good to have our old girl on the road again, even with 150K on the clock, and I hope we can keep her going for another 50. Now I need to bust out the buffer to shine up the sheet metal that wasn’t sanded and repainted so that it matches correctly.
Look at what popped up on Barnfinds.com this morning: a 1966 Chrysler 300 convertible the same color as Bob’s. From what the commentariat says, it’s in rough shape (it’s in Louisiana) and probably worth nothing more than parts. This one is red over white with a white top, and features a 383 with air conditioning. I’d prefer having A/C, but the white upholstery and top look pretty lousy to me.
So my MotorTrend Online subscription lapsed about a year ago, and I’ve held off on renewing it for reasons I can’t really explain. Dirt Every Day was always one of my favored shows on that channel: two guys cutting and welding and building crazy vehicles to take on crazy adventures. Turns out they’ve ended the show—no idea if they’ve cancelled it or if the hosts have hung up the towel. There are some other shows on the channel I like—it’s the best place to see the old episodes of Top Gear, but I’ll have to reassess whether or not I’ll renew it now.
I’ve run across this site in the past, and meant to link to it: Rambler Lore is a collection of information about Nash/AMC Ramblers and the upkeep of a small fleet of them; the author has driven them for 20+ years and does all his own mechanical/engineerig/fabrication. This is the kind of thing I’d love to be able to retire and do with my free time.
File this one under Direct-To-My-Pleasure-Center: a guy produced a 25-minute video about the AMC Pacer for his senior college project, and it was received very well. He decided to expand that out into a documentary about American Motors Corporation, and started the research and production several years ago. He’s self-financing but has an agreement with Maryland Public Television to distribute it. There’s a GoFundMe set up to help with the costs; I threw $50 at it this morning.