Over the 64 years of my life, one constant has pretty much been the cars around me. There are pictures of me climbing on the fenders of pre-war cars that had headlights separate from the fenders all the way to pictures of me mugging for the Camera as I took the 57 Chevy apart in the Driveway here at Rabbit Run.
One of the first I remember was the Kaiser Mom and Dad had that Dad worked on all the time to keep it running. We actually wore the seat covers out on that car and were reduced to sitting on blankets. I remember that in the Mid 50's dad was enamored with a Studebaker and wanted one pretty badly. He broke down and bought the notorious "Plymon" new in 1955. It was a basic four door Plymouth sedan and from the first Dad had his job cut out for him keeping that damned thing running. It was not expensive to buy, but I'll bet if you figured in all the parts, tires, shocks and dripping oil Dad replaced in the four years we owned it, it was one of the most expensive.
Somewhere about 1960, my father found a 1957 Chrysler. That white and gold car was beautiful and was one of the best. I remember it had push buttons for the automatic transmission and radio. It would haul a family of six and you could throw in a dog for good measure. On one of our trips home from Arkansas,, I asked dad just how fast will this thing go. It had one of the Hemi motors and would haul ass with air conditioned comfort. Dad was on one of those straight roads in Southeast Kansas and floored it. At 112 MPH, something on the drive line let loose and made a buzzing sound and then quit. The car was fine but something had obviously scared the hell out of Dad. There was a rubber boot on the drive shaft that covered the universal joints that had let go. Dad and I put a new one on later when we got home. Well, I watched and Dad did most of the work. Probably where I learned the difference between an adjustable wrench, a fucking spanner and a god dammed socket. Thank god it was back in the SAE days and there wasn't a bunch of metric sized wrenches to get in the way. I'm sure that learning to cuss was a right of passage most boys went through.
My sister Carol was just starting college when dad found a 47 Ford Sedan to fix up for her to drive. We bought a big package of sandpaper and a case of spray paint and went to work. Dad and I spent one weekend wet sanding that old car away from the factory black rusty paint it came with. Then dad spent hours putting masking tape over all the shinny bits.so we could spray primer first. The final color was a two toned grey and black. The biggest problem with the ford was that due to its age, you had to be careful or it would run out of oil or water (or both) Being a young teen male, the job of checking the fluid levels weekly became my job. Carol was pretty but mechanically challenged. Dad always seemed to have a case of oil around the house and the hose was right there on the side of the house. One other problem with the old ford was the six volt electrical system. If you turned on the radio it would just eat the battery. If you wanted to listen to the radio, you had to run the motor.
I never did know why or where Dad found the 1954 Hillman Californian. It was small two door car that had a stick shift and a 4 speed engine. The paint was a beautiful red and black but the paint was dead and unless you waxed it about once a month, it was so faded it was terrible. In a little over a year I had waxed that paint down to the primer. It was a great little car with one weakness. A nail file could work the ignition switch and I stole it a couple of times before I got caught driving it. I drove it to High School for a while when Carol found a 49 Cadillac that she drove. It was beautiful and smooth but got only about 10 Miles per gallon. (If That) The Hillman lasted for a few years until Carol and Rick went to Arkansas and back. Somewhere about Augusta east of Wichita, it started to get hot and by the time she pulled up in the yard, that engine was just frozen solid. It was so hot that it melted the spark plug wires. Lucky if didn't catch on fire. It was kind of funny that I had put those clear red spark plug wires on it and Carol was sure that that was the cause of the problem. Dad knew better.
We had a mini before it was cool to have one. Ours was a Morris 850 and really was a cute little car. It would not go real fast except around corners. It was more like a go kart than a regular car. The battery was always bad and the good news was that I could get it rolling out of the driveway and it would start. It got about 40 Miles per gallon back when gas was cheap.
My first, Denny paid for car, was a 55 Chevy that became to be called "Bad News." I worked at the Standard Station at Rock Road and Kellogg in Wichita. My boss had bought the old Chevy from an Air Force kid that was deploying overseas. It had a metallic paint job and looked pretty to my young eyes. I think I paid less than a hundred dollars for it and probably that much getting it running. Somewhere in that first year, I decided that it needed some oil additives to get the oil flowing. Working in a gas station, there were all types of oil products. I seem to think that Bardahl was the one I tried and it cut so much sludge loose it plugged up the oil passages and a new engine was in order. I should have known that if you were using non detergent oil you didn't need additives. The mechanic that dad used at that time found a six cylinder truck engine that was bored .60 over and it had solid lifters. It was a hauling Jessie and there wasn't many cars that it wouldn't outrun. OK, the 57's with the newer 327 engines were more than I could handle. Until, I ran into the side of a brand new 63 Chevy on my way to school. Chunks of body filler fell out of the body in places that I didn't know you could put body filler in. There was so little of the fender left that I had to wire the headlight in. Yes, drill holes in the fender that wasn't rusty and use bailing wire to hold the light wherever it was pointed. The wires would rust and I knew it was time to rewire when the headlight would point either at the top of trees or the ditch. One day, one of the rear fenders was rubbing on a tire and one of the guys there in the station took an air chisel and cut the wheel wells out and painted Bad News on the side with a spray Paint Can. I drove that car all through High School and only stopped driving it when the engine finally raced its last race.
More on cars Tomorrow.
MUD, Richard Petty's brother.
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