A Love For Cars & Other Vehicles
Monte Carlo SS
The Affliction Is Chronic - The Go Kart 6
This article was originated as an autobigraphy about the cars that I had owned up until the time that I began the work (about 1985). After that, I had been keeping (although not very diligently) a diary about the cars that I owned, and I simply have included that.
Mark's Automobile Affliction
My passion for automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, motorized transportation in general, has provide me with fun, interesting, and educational experiences. Not to mention numerous problems. I started out as a teenager owning and maintaining my own cars. My first car was a 1963 Falcon 4 door. Because it was nearly 10 years old when I got it and it was a cheaply built car it had its share of mechanical failures. I suppose my style of use had something to do with it too. But fortunately, it was a simply built machine and parts were fairly cheap, so I learned a lot as I worked to keep it on the road.
While the Falcon was the first car I owned, it was not the first car I had intimate relations with. When I was 14 or 15, my friend Dave Cheney managed to talk his grandmother into giving him her 1950 Buick Special. The Buick was a once noble dame that had set in a garage for some time but was really still pretty sound. Dave's uncle had worked on it some and managed to back it up the driveway with the door open and run the door into a tree or the garage or something, giving it its only significant body blemish. Can you imagine - a 1950 Buick in actually excellent condition, given to us for our enjoyment. Well, that was typical of the life with Dave Cheney, because he had been the only son, nephew, and grandson in the family until he was 13 or 14 years old. Plainly, he got nearly anything he wanted. And, what we did to that old Buick was a sin - not that we maliciously destroyed it, but we just didn't have the where-with-all to maintain that car like it deserved.
We, Dave, myself, and another friend Terry Cusick, figured we could take it to Terry's farm, get it running, and have a blast cruising around the farm. So, we talked Dad into driving the tow car (his Plymouth Furry if memory serves me) and Terry's brother into piloting the Buick to my house first for the initial attempt to get it running.
We worked for several days and got it to fire a couple of times, but never could get it to run. In the process of getting it to fire, we were pouring gas down the carb while cranking it over. It backfired and spewed flames up out of the carb about three feet and nearly took Terry's head off. That's when dad instructed me to never try to start a car with the air cleaner off. A sound piece of advice.
Finally, Mom and Dad's patience ran out and we were told to remove the car from the premises. So, again we enlisted Terry's brothers and pulled the car down to the farm (using a tractor this time). We spent hours working on the carb, fuel pump, and fuel lines trying to get the car to run.
After extended consultation with Dad, we dropped the gas tank, found the dirt that was keeping the monster straight eight from getting its dinner, and finally got the beast to run reliably. And man did this thing run! That is when we could keep tires on it. Because it had set for years, all the tires were dry rotted and one by one they blew. It seemed we were in a never ending job of finding replacement tires ( no easy task when you have no money) and then changing the monster 15 inches by hand. We definitely learned how to change tires!
The next major problem, once we got four reliable tires, was that of brakes. We discovered this problem one night while we were driving around our bean field circuit. It was in October or November and one of Cusick's harvested bean fields made a nice test track. We went down one side until we came to a fence, turned left and went to the back yard of a house, turned left again, went along the edge of the back yard, turning right at the end, and then made a big sweeping loop back to start the run toward the fence. After making numerous trips, the track was beginning to get fairly smooth and we were able to make some speed. Then, just when we needed to be slowing down to make the left turn at the fence, the brake pedal went to the floor. We made the turn but it was exciting. This was just the beginning of a myriad of brake problems that ultimately resulted in the front brakes being disabled totally.
The same night that the brakes went out, (we didn't stop driving it just because we had no brakes) we were making the same ill-fated left hand turn, and the lights went out. We discovered that the light switch had broken. Fifties Buicks just weren't designed for bean field service. I was able to eventually solve this problem by somehow tying the switch back in place with bailing twine, literally, bailing twine.
The car met its ultimate demise when Terry's brother one day declared, " I'm going to run this thing into that tree", and proceeded to do so. It broke the radiator and that ended our being able to make the bean field circuit. The big Buick got parked out behind the barn with the hood up and the air cleaner off, and the first rain filled the engine with water. So much for the giant straight eight.
The Buick served several days then as a drag sledge to be pulled behind a tractor. This was fun but nothing like driving it. We figured the tractor could do better if it didn't have to lug that big eight around so we dismantled and removed it from the car. Man, that crankshaft looked to be six feet long, and was all one healthy teenager could lift. Finally, the Buick's body was disassembled by three teenagers with wrecking bars and hammers. We pulverized that car. We got the idea from some money making stunt they had at the Catholic school where they charged so much for a lick on a car with a sledge hammer. What a bargain, we beat all day for free!
The last encounter we had with the Buick was one night when we were camping out and looking for something to do. We decided that it would be interesting to drop that giant crank off the top of the Cusick silo. It was a pretty stupid idea, but I went along because it appealed to the scientific side of me. Sort of like sir Isaac Newton, or Galelio and the leaning tower of Pizza. So, we scrounged up some bailing twine (life on the farm would end without bailing twine) and a block and tackle and attempted to hoist that chunk of iron to the top of the silo. Man we could barely get it off the ground. At a height of about ten feet, the twine broke and we gave up our little physics experiment.
As I think of the dreadful end that the noble old Buick came to, I almost want to cry. I must say that I am truly ashamed. I feel wretched, like a young man who got carried away entertaining himself by tormenting the neighbor's cat until the cat was dead. I will say on our behalf though, that our intentions were good. We did intend to save the Buick from a fate of being parked forever in a garage. Unfortunately, we did not have the financial resources to pull it off. Additionally, we were also handicapped by the fact that we did not have a driver's license among us so we were forced to bring Terry's idiot brother into play, thereby giving him some feeling of ownership and the right to smash the car into a tree. Once that happened, the car did not have a chance, and quickly met its end. Truly a sad story, no?
That ol' Buick, even in its final days was serving mankind. It kept three rambunctious teen agers off the streets and out of trouble. It provided an innocent place for boys to become men in the realm of automobiles.
At this point, you may have noticed that I have a feeling of a relationship to cars. I see them as noble works that take on a personality of their own after being incarnated by creative people . I don't call them "he" or "she" because I know they are not people, and they are not as important as people, but they are worthy of heroic deeds being done in their behalf. They are worthy of sadness on the occasion of their demise. They are worthy of fond memories of years spent with them; memories of in fact the car, not just the things that we did or experienced in them. The memory is of them. Mushy, huh?
I enjoyed working on cars, and it was a good thing, because I didn't have the money to pay for repairs. This meant that I would learn a great deal about diagnosing and fixing cars. My primary source of information and training was my father. He is a very skilled troubleshooter and very knowledgeable about cars. He was a sergeant in a motor pool in the army and worked for a short time at McDaniel's Pontiac in Marion. He was always willing to help me get my car back on the road, no matter the time of day or the degree of the weather.
As if the Falcon didn't provide me with enough work, I decided that I needed another car; one just to work on - an antique. I started my search and got rumor of a "neat ol' car over at Whetstone Country Club, behind the club house." I drove over one day and after inquiring, found out that the owner's son owned a 1936 Dodge and that he had taken it to Columbus to try to sell it. I left my name and number and the fellow called me the next day. He hauled me to Columbus and I fell in love with the car. It was neat. With the long nose, big fenders, hump-back trunk, and hood ornament, it was all I could imagine a car could be like a gangster car. His price was $300 and after deliberating a couple of days, and discussing the matter with my dad who couldn't see the sense in it, I bought it. How I ever convinced my Dad to let me buy it is beyond me. I think that I didn't really want to buy it, but knew all along that Dad wouldn't let my anyway so I let my imagination take over. When Dad finally consented, I was so psyched up to buy it that I couldn't think rationally.
Another trip to Columbus (the former owner drove it home because I was afraid to because it wasn't licensed) and it was setting in the drive way, the interest of the neighborhood. The very next morning, I pushed it into the garage and started disassembling it. All the front sheet metal came off and eventually the engine came out. Then I started stripping the paint off with a 5 inch disc sander on an electric drill. This took days - I guess months. Eventually, my enthusiasm ran out as well as my time. Because I was working 20 hours a week and going to college. Then the next year I moved to the Columbus campus and stopped working on the car altogether. Between my sophomore and junior years, I became entangled in other more pressing interests and got married. The car was not even considered then. When I graduated from college, Mom and Dad were moving to Akron and I was moving to Lexington, and neither of us wanted or had room for the car. I worked a couple of days on it and got it running. It ran quite well and had lots of power. I did drive it around the yard a little, but I never did drive it on the street. After advertising it in "Cars And Parts" for a couple of weeks, I sold it for $400. I, of course, had considerably more than that in it, but was happy to get that much and be rid of the car. When I moved to Lexington, I had many summer nights that I wished that I had that car to work on.
This longing for a plaything led to the clandestine purchase of a 1949 Cadillac "Sedanette". I saw an add in the paper for several antiques for sale from the same owner. They were priced very cheap so I decided why not have a look. I went over to this guy's house (a farm actually) on a Saturday and looked at the various cars he had lined up for sale. I don't remember all of them, but I think the Caddy was the cheapest he had. He was asking $100. I talked about it to Connie and of course she thought I was crazy. After a day or two, I decided to get the car regardless of what Connie thought. I called Gaines Green (the seller) and as soon as I identified myself, he said that he had been thinking about it and that he would lower the price to $80. He didn't even give me a chance to say that I'd take it for $100. That did it. I had to borrow some wheels off of Gaines, because the Cad's were so rusty that they wouldn't hold air. I got Austin Pyle to pull the thing home on our lunch hour (which turned into more like 2 hours) with his 4 wheel drive pickup and a makeshift tow bar and parked the car in the garage. Connie found out about it a couple of days later. She didn't throw a fit like I thought she would.
Now I had my work cut out for me. You can imagine what kind of shape this $80 car was in. The brakes had to be completely disassembled cleaned and reassembled. The engine could be rolled over by hand and I didn't think it needed too much to get it running. All of the electrical components had been stripped off, but fortunately there was a '51 and '53 Cad in a junk yard in town that supplied the needed starter, generator, coil, and ignition wiring except a ground strap for the battery. I hadn't been able to find one that would fit so I was using a piece of solid copper wire doubled up a couple of times. I wanted to get everything as cheap as possible just to see if this beast was going to run before I started spending any real money. I had no intentions of financing a new engine for an $80 car. If she wouldn't run as is, I'd call the junk man.
There was oil showing on the dipstick and it didn't look too bad, but I figured I'd better change the oil before trying to fire it up anyway, so I pulled the drain plug. Was I ever surprised when nothing drained out. I thought, "Wait a minute! Am I going crazy?" I checked the oil again, and it was still showing on the dipstick. I crawled back under with a screw driver and rammed it in the drain hole. It came out with some thick greasy stuff on it. I rammed it back and twirled it around and finally the flow started. Slow at first, but faster and faster until finally it was dry. I hadn't wanted to but now I knew I was going to have to drop the pan and clean it out. Fortunately on a big old Cad' its not too tough to drop the pan. Just drop the steering cross link, take about a hundred bolts out of the pan, and then and get out of the way.
With a new load of 10w-40 and the piece-meal electrical system complete, I was ready to give her a try. With a healthy shot of starting fluid and some priming of the carb, the beast finally roared to life. Now everything was down hill. All I needed to do now was fix the brakes, find a radiator, completely rewire the entire car, get all new upholstery, and do about a lifetime's worth of body work and this "classic" would be a real cruiser.
Finally, in 1985, I gave up on the Cad and sold it for $300 to some guy from Cambellsville Ky. He said he didn't know when if he ever would get around to working on it. I guess he was a collector of cars suffering the same affliction as me.
In the course of owning the Cad, I bought a 1950 Cad by mistake. I was over in Winchester, Ky. looking around a junk yard, primarily looking for a radiator (only the 49 and 50s had the same radiator, and my 49 didn't have one). I spotted the 50 model, and quickly checking under the hood, found that the radiator was gone. I checked at the office, and they pointed up at the ceiling where they had the radiator hanging in storage. The guy told me $50 for the radiator, "but why don't you buy the whole car?" I asked how much, and he said $150. I asked if that included the radiator, and he said "no." So, I told him I would be back next week with some money for the radiator. The next week I go back with the money for the radiator and he says, "Why don't you buy the whole car?" I said, "You tried that last week and wouldn't put a decent price on it." He said, "How much will you give me?" Dangerous ground now. I said, "$150 for the whole thing including the radiator." He said, "You just bought yourself a Cadillac." I thought oh no. What am I going to do with this?
So I recruited a guy who would help me get it home (I don't know how I ever talked him into it - the car was 30 miles from where I lived). I brought it to the house, spent a week stripping parts off it, that I might be able to use and I ran an ad in the paper, "WIll work on your car if you'll store my antique car." The phone rang off the hook. I took one that was just a few blocks from where I lived and moved the car into their garage. It was there for several months before they called and wanted me to move it. I think I did an oil change for them and that was all.
I ran the same ad, and found another home for it. The car was there for some time and I was advertising it for parts. I had a guy that wanted the flywheel or more accurately the torque converter plate and so I went over to get it out. I had to take out about 1000 bolts and then get out of the way. The transmission in that thing weighed a couple hundred pounds. I just envisioned having it come down on my chest, pinning me under the Cadillac where someone might find me several weeks or months later.
Well I did manage to get the trans out and somehow stuffed it in the back seat and come home with the torque plate. I shipped it to California COD ($36 for shipping, $80 for the part as I recall) only to have it returned. I was really, really mad. A couple of weeks later the guy calls wanting to know where the part was. I told him what happened, he appolgized and said one of his kids was at the shop when it arrived and they rejected it. He sent me a check for the part and double the shipping and I finally had it sold.
So one day I get this call from a realator that I need to come and get my car. I said I would have to get a tow bar etc. and it would be a couple of weeks before I could get it. They just said I need to get it. When I eventually get there, the car is gone. I call and find out they had it towed and I can retrieve it for an $80 towing bill. So I go and get it out of hock, get some more parts off it, and then drag it to the junk yard who takes it off my hands. I don't think the parts I sold paid for the car, but I did use the radiator and a head (one heads on the 49 had a burned valve) and so the parts I userd were probably worth $150.
(The premier relationship of my youth.)
As the title states, the Falcon was the greatest love affair (although I didn't know it at the time) of my youth. I had others, but none that lasted so long, none so intimate, and none so memorable. The Falcon was there as I grew up, as I had fun, as I broke the law, and as I worked, dreamed, struggled with my emotions, and my own maturing. It witnessed me at my best and my worst.
This relationship began while I was working at Mason's Department Store. I was driving Mom's car (green '63 Plymouth Valiant, which we had purchased from Grandpa Boyd) back and forth to work. She got off work at four o'clock, and got home by four thirty. I would take the car and be at work at five. This arrangement was working extraordinarily well from my standpoint, but Mom and Dad were becoming more and more strained by it. Mom was without a car all evening, every evening, and in retrospect, I think more than that, they believed I was tearing the car up. Mom's car was the car that I had learned to drive in. I knew the car inside and out, and had logged most of my few driving miles on it alone. Certainly, I was qualified to "cowboy" it if I decided to. The fact was, I did very little of it. But, the car was nearly ten years old and was due to have those end-of-life problems that every car of that vintage experiences. Mom and Dad were suspecting my driving practices and felt that the best remedy was to get me in a car of my own where I would be paying for the damage I did.
I had saved up about five hundred dollars with the express purpose of buying a car, but I had hoped for something more than the five-hundred-dollar class. But Dad called me aside one day and said I was going to have to get a car of my own. I looked around for a suitable steed on my own, but could find nothing very promising (any salesman willing to spend his time on a 16 year old kid, does not have honest intentions, and I was on the close-up end of learning that). For example, some guy tried to sell me a 50's Buick that had a real sick transmission. It took about two city blocks to shift gears. Also, as I drove the car, I kept smelling a burnt smell. The salesman said he didn't really notice it. When we got back to the lot and I checked things over more closely, I found that the back seat had been burnt up!
After a week or two, Dad started putting pressure on me to get my own car. I think the Valiant was having some particular malfunction at the time, which was causing mom to apply pressure to Dad, and I was the recipient of the trickle down affect. I complained to Mom that I had
looked but couldn't find anything, so she encouraged Dad to help me find a car.
Dad and I made an appointment for the next Saturday. We looked at numerous car lots with little success and not much encouragement. Finally, we went up to the Dodge dealer. Dad had bought at least one car there, and maybe several. Now I have to explain that there were a lot of different cars that I would have loved to drive. I loved Barracudas, and Mach 1 Mustangs and lots of others, but there were only 3 cars that I absolutely did not want to own: a Nash Metropolitan, a pre-63 Valiant, or a Ford Falcon. Well you might know that when we walked on the lot, Dad met a salesman he knew and asked him what he had for about five hundred bucks. He said he had only one car meeting the requirements, that he had just got it in, and pointed to a black and white four door Falcon. I cringed when I saw it, because I knew it was just what my Dad would buy if it were up to him. An anemic, pathetic looking, un-suave, Falcon. The salesman said he had just gotten it in on a trade and it hadn't been cleaned up yet. If I recall, he said the price was something like seven hundred dollars.
In fairness, I had to consent to a test drive. That little car ran like a new one. We were both very impressed. When we got back, Dad told him I only had five hundred, and then the salesman said five-twenty-five was as low as he could go. So with a twenty-five dollar loan from Dad, I bought it. The start of a beautiful relationship.
Following are other stories I need to tell:
Booney driving with the Falcon.
Running drifts with the Falcon.
Connie going airborne across a bridge in the Falcon
Picking up strangers at 3AM
Hosting and Bill Dahlstrom's comments about exhaust fumes
Repairing cars - I repaired Dave Cheney's - pulled the trans and determined there was nothing wrong. Fixed the vacuum advance- Working on that Chevette with the hole in the side of the block. Gooked up crank cases, fouled up automatic choke. Fixed fan belt in IBM parking lot.
Learning to drive in the driveway- Valiant-Chevy and the garage
Monte Carlo SS
At last, I was able to afford a car that I wanted, not just buy a car that I could afford. The '84 Monte Carlo was it. I had to wait a year, because in '83 they didn't put bucket seats in them. So, in '84, when buckets were available, I bought one. Actually it was used for 9 months and 16,000 miles before I got it. I do really enjoy it. I get many comments from friends and strangers that they like it too.
It is a big enough car for 5 men to ride comfortably and yet has the power and handling of a sports car. At least a sporty car. It hasn't been the most reliable car I ever owned, but not the least reliable either. I suppose the Reliant would take that title because it blew the head gasket at 55000 miles and then a month later spun a rod bearing. Up until then I only had to replace a water pump, and have the transmission rebuilt under warranty (which is a whole other chapter in itself).
Today, June 20, 1987, I just finished replacing the brakes power vacuum booster unit. I put on a used one because a new one costs $135 minimum, and repair parts for the unit would take a week or more to get. Since I have to drive it to Mansfield tomorrow, I can't wait a week. The used unit cost $65 which I felt was robbery. I think I'll go ahead and get the repair kit and rebuild the old unit and while I'm at maybe have it chromed too. Might as well add some class under the hood.
The Monte is perfect for state route highway driving. When you need to pass a car doing 55, so that you can cruise at 60, it doesn't take much room to make the pass. Just steadily put on the power, and you are around and moving about 80mph.
I like the Monte Carlo on the highway, but I think a Regal Turbo Buick would be better. It would have even more power and be more luxurious inside. The Monte Carlo, typical of Chevys, has a lot of rattles. But the engine rumble is loud anyway (which many of its commentors mention) so a few rattles don't really bother you that much.
July 15, 1989 - Continuing saga of the "Mount Carlos"
I had the MC painted last September while Connie was in the hospital having Alex. Now it is beautiful, and I plan to keep the car forever.
June 6, 1991
The Monte is not looking so good now. The doors are rusting at the bottom and the windshield broke about a couple of weeks ago. It still runs good (97,000 m). It does need front, and probably rear, shocks.
October 9, 1991 The Monte hits 100
Today, the Mount Carlos rolled over 100,000 miles. It was like any other day. I sort of felt like it should have been a gala affair, but it was otherwise like any other day. It happened on my way to a meeting at the Columbus office - just before I passed under the 5th Avenue under pass. The sun was stinging in my left eye. The weather was clear and about 60 degrees, and George Jones was on the radio singing about how his woman left him and left Post-it slips stuck all over his house. It was kind of depressing to have just any other day on a day that was of such profound significance. After all, how many people roll the odo on their cars in America? Well, I'll have to be better prepared for 200,000.
The Affliction Is Chronic - The Go Kart
Now I've bought a go kart and just tonight, a helmet for John. We spent $100 and Connie is not so happy. She has been on a Nintendo campaign for some time, saying that we should get John Nintendo (after all, all of the neighbors have it so he should too, right?) Anyway, I have to admit that my affliction has caused me to spend money on this go kart and helmet. I rationalize it by making it for John. John doesn't really care about the kart all that much, but he is excited about the helmet. Mostly because he looks cool. I was surprised, the neighborhood kids told him he looks cool.
I just want him to get into running go karts so that I can do it. Connie would never let me do it, but if the kids are interested, then I have a chance. She is catching on though and not cutting me any slack.
November 16, 1993
I traded the Monte for Bo Christensen's 1988 Turbo T-Bird last summer. It had just 8300 miles on it and was like a new car. I paid $7600, which is less than the down payment I would have made on a new car (I was thinking about a new Tuarus SHO). Now, I'd really like to get a Buick Park Avenue Ultra. Its a beautiful machine. Very comfortable, very powerful, and fairly expensive.
June 23, 1994
I've been driving the T-Bird, and I like it. It runs and handles good, but the ride is kind of harsh. The seats are more firm than the Monte Carlo. I've seen a couple of antique cars lately, and I wish I had one. When I was telling Connie about this, she made comment that really hurt. She said, "If we had room for an extra car, we would have kept the Monte Carlo wouldn't have we?" That really hurt. I should have kept that car. It was a great car. it ran great and was really comfortable. I should have just gotten the body fixed up, and kept driving it.
We've now bought a van. We bought it in November. It is a 1990 Chevy conversion van by Mark II. It is a Chevy G20 (3/4 ton). It makes traveling with the whole family much better. It doesn't eliminate fights, but it does cut down on the constant bickering. They have to go out of their way to cause trouble.
After driving the T-bird Turbo Coupe for six years and about 130k miles, I now refer to it as the Job Mobile, and am trading it on a 1998 Regal GS. The Regal is a demonstrator with 6500 miles on it.
The T-Bird has been a great car until this year. I have spent over $3000 in repairs this year. Now that is partly due to the fact that I was planning on keeping it for another 100k miles, so I was fixing it up right. Had I known I was going to trade it, I would not have done some of the repairs, or at least not in the fashion I did.
I just couldn't keep the T-Bird going. I replaced the clutch, and rebuilt the rear end. I Had to replace the radiator and I had to repair the cooling tube for the turbo charger. Anyway, I determined that I had to get a different car, one that I didn't have to repair all the time - one that I could get in and know it was going to get me where I was going. So, to make a long story short, I bought a 98 Buidk Regal GS. Its supercharged and uses premium fuel and runs like a raped ape. 0-60 in something like 6.7 sec. Its fast and its luxurious. Also, I got it with .9 percent financing.
The Regal was a great car. I sold it John last year when it had 180,000 miles on it. I only ever replaced the water pump, the anti-lock braking motor, and the fuel pump resistor. The Michelen tires I had on it lasted 120,000 miles. Wow!
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