Early Cars In My Life

To say that I went through a lot of cars when I started driving would be a bit of an understatement.  My first car I ever bought was a 1966 Ford Fairlane.  I did not actually pay for the car.  Somehow I managed to scam a cousin out of the car with the promise to pay him $200 for it.  Which in honesty, never happened.  I drove the little 4 door car for a couple weeks and kept having problems where it acted like “vapor lock” because the car would act like it was choking itself out and my engine speed would slowly decrease to around 25 or 30 mph then it would mysteriously clear up and drive fine for a couple hours.  Never did figure out the problem but the car finally crapped out on me on a dirt road north of Angola Indiana.  The engine refused to turn over so I walked to the closest farmhouse to use their phone to call my cousin for a ride home.  The guy at the farm looked like a typical 1970’s hippie with the full beard and happy-go-lucky disposition.  He allowed me to use his phone and then walked with me down the road to where my car was stranded.  The car was a light green color with the green vinyl interior and the body was in mint condition.  The “hippie” fell in love with the car even though it did not run and by the time Steve (my cousin) got to us I had the car sold to the hippie  for the $200 I owed for it.  Break even for Steve except then I got on the hook for the next car- a 1968 Galaxie 500.  Whereas the Fairlane had a 289 with a 2 barrel carb, this one had a 352 Police Interceptor engine that really hauled ass.  I was on the hook for $300 dollars now.  This car I paid for over the course of about 2 months, by which time I had thoroughly abused the vehicle to near death.  Another car sold for $200 and then I was onto a couple Pontiacs for my next rides.  First came a 1966 Bonneville with a 389 4 barrel.  Big boat of a car but at 90 mph she floated down the interstate like the land yacht she was.  And there was room to load up 7 buddies and go running around on the weekends.  Then came a 1969 Gran Prix SJ with the 428 cid engine.  The Gran Prix was not marketed as a muscle car from the days of yore, but as a gentlemans personal sports coupe.  This was the car that made me quite a few dollars on Friday night street races, however.  Nothing short of a Camaro Z or a Mustang Mach I or Mopar with the 440 or a Hemi could beat it on the 5 mile road course we ran.  At $50 a race, I might have lost 4 or 5 times and won a couple dozen.  This was the car that peaked my curiosity for performance cars.

From there it was a 1969 Buick GS400 convertible, 67 GTO 400, and a beautiful Jade Green Camaro SS396 convertible…..1969 of course.  These last 3 cars came to me through my part time job working for a neighbor of ours who owned a body shop.  It was actually a “Rebuild Shop”.  He specialized in buying wrecked vehicles and rebuilding them and selling them as used cars.  This enabled me to buy cars and drive them and sell them after a month or two for more than they cost me to start with.  It also enabled me to get the prize jewel of my arsenal.  That was a 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.  It was a totalled out wreck and when it was brought to the shop the owner found it had frame damage and was going to scrap the car.  After begging for the thing I bought it for $500.  I sent it down to another body guy in the area and he cut the entire front frame rails back to the firewall and welded in new sections with a box around the outside of the cuts for added stiffness.  Then with some modifications put Delta 88 A-frames and front axles.  This increased the engine compartment width enough to drop a Chevy 454 into the engine bay.  The motor got the deluxe treatment with domed pistons and forged race crankshaft and a wild cam.  Then an intake manifold with a 750 Holley carb and electric fuel pump and electric cooling fan.  I do not know what all the guy did to build the motor but when it was done I bracket raced the car at Avilla Indiana and ran the quarter at 11.9 seconds, which for a street car in 1975 was AWESOME.

The first problem to show up was that the car jerked and surged at about 110 mph on the Interstate so back to the shop it went for further engine mods.  It was determined that the engine was starving for gas and thus the jerking at top speed.  So out came the intake and the Holley and in it’s place went a Taranchula Hi-Rise and dual 480’s.  The new carbs required cutting the hood and adding a scoop that stood about 4 inches above the hood.  It messed up the forward view but at the track it cut the time to 11.6 and more importantly the speedometer now buried past 120 and the surging was gone.  This car’s first loss on a street race was due to me blowing the rear end all over US 20 just east of Columbia Ohio and once more it was back to the shop to get a new heavier duty rear end.  The donor Delta 88 now gave up the rear axle for the Cutlass.  And for the next 6 months we were the terror of the streets.

But like all great adventures it had to end.  For the Black Beauty that was my Olds, that end came at the hands of a telephone pole.  The street race was going well untill I topped a hill to find a slow car in front of me.  As it was a double hill I could not take a chance on swerving out into the oncoming lane so I rationalized the shoulder was wide enough and swung right to dart around the slower vehicle.  The flaw in my quick thinking was that the shoulder was gravel and when I swerved right at about 90 miles per hour the corresponding swerve back left did not occur.  The steering wheel swung and the tires turned I am certain but the Cutlass continued in it’s beeline off the embankment and into the aforementioned telephone pole.  The pole was merely used to slow the vehicle as it sheared off and the Olds settled into the clump of small trees that lay beyond it.  I remember hearing a voice yelling from the distance ” Hey, are you alright?”  Then my world went dark.  When I woke up it was in the Bryan Ohio Hospital Intensive Care ward and it was 2 days later.  There are probably still pieces of the Olds on that hillside although most of it was hauled off to the junkyard.  My insurance company never paid for the car because it was a “modified” vehicle and I never claimed it as such.  And Ohio Bell charged me 250 dollars for their pole.  That bill got to me before I even left the hospital.

The sad thing about the whole episode is that it did not make me want to drive slower or not take chances.  It probably made me think I was even more invincible because my love for fast powerful cars is as strong as ever.  But now at 52 I can say that I have slowed down some.  But honestly, that is because it now takes a lot longer to heal.

davey boy


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One Response to “Early Cars In My Life”

  1. SUPER MARAUDER 58 Says:

    Hello, I enjoyed you article on muscle cars and the fact that you gave Mercury a little credit in Horsepower history. I felt I should relay that Mercury was the first car to reach 400 hp with its super marauder engine in 1958. It did very well as a heavy car even beating the 57 corvette fuel injected 283.There is a lot of info on this car and its contibution to the racing world. Hope you get a chance to read about it. B.V Philadelphia Pa

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