Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oh the Cars You'll Drive: Or Isaiah Doesn't Ever Learn



As my wife pushed my MGA back to the garage last weekend, after the fuel pump went out in the parking lot, I realized little has changed in terms of my automotive growth.  For the last 15 years I’ve been (or friends) pushing cars and I can’t say that they’ve (the cars) really gotten any better.

My first car was a 1951 Ford F-1 my father gave me for my 15thbirthday.  We drove out and bought if from a guy that my father worked with.  It was beside a barn under a tree and the cab was literally filled with pack rat nest.  A tree had fallen across the tailgate and the bed had rotted out but I was stoked to have a truck to restore.
 

We filled the tires and they held air (although rock hard).  Then, in one of my proudest days, I got to steer it the 15 miles of dirt roads (the back way) home as my dad towed it.

The first job was to take the rotten bed off and my father asked me to grind the frame down to metal.  I think he thought I was slacking because weeks later I still hadn’t wore it down to metal although I’d been using a 6” grinder with a steel wire wheel (and of course this also started the tradition of not using a face mask; and I wonder why I have allergy/breathing problems now).  Years later I found out that they baked the paint onto these frames similar to the cast iron kitchen ovens used in the same period.  That paint was probably one of the harder paint materials known to man.  They should consider using it on the shuttle.

When I turned 16 I was given The Beast by my parents.  This vehicle was an ex-electric utility truck with a uhaul overdriven transmission mounted to a ford straight six stacked with performance parts and Dana axles.  And that was about it. There was a body, but not much of one, with parts from 3 or four different trucks after the utility box was taken off.   There was a hole in the door and dent in the roof from where my dad and I rolled it coming back from motorcycle riding.  Yet, despite it’s lack of amenities, still probably my favorite vehicle I’ve owned and the most capable.

The day I turned 16 my buddy and I took it out to Coors canyon and grenaded the locker in the rear axle.  That was a nice $800 dollar bill on day one of being legal to drive.  The tone was set.

That truck also broke my hand when we came over a lip airborne out in the desert, and the wheels took a sharp turn to the right because of the force of the truck landing on them slightly turned.  My hand was in the vicinity of the steering wheel and it’s 100 mph spin green broke one of my finger bones.  The doctor put a cast on it.  I took it off outside so I could shift to get home.

My dad still uses that truck as a wood truck.  You can’t kill it.

I was on the lookout for a car.  I saw a funny looking convertible next to a trailer.  We saw the owner in the yard and he said we could have it for what he got it for, $30.

As we towed the car home I saw my buddy getting smaller in my rear view mirror.  I pulled the truck over to watch him fly by in the melon field desperately pumping the brakes.  Yeah, there were no brakes.  The melons eventually stopped the car.  We were a little more careful about how we connected it to the truck after that.

About a mile from home one of the tires disintegrated.  We decided we were too close to quit.  We dragged the car home on a steel wheel shooting sparks.  Later I realized there were groove marks in the asphalt leading straight to the car.

It turned out it was a Kaiser Henry J someone had chopped the top off.  An early monocoque (body/frame combined) with a jeep motor made in a venture by the Kaiser’s of ship fame after WWII.

About the same time a buddy bought a 76 camaro and had the prisoners paint it and put an interior in it (his dad was a warden and this was a program to teach them skills).  They painted it a ghastly yellow and blue with matching interior.  He got a ticket for near 100 mph and needed close to a grand to pay the ticket.  He was trying to sell the car and couldn’t get anyone to buy it.  I told him I had 1200 in my bank account and would pay him that for the car.  At first he blew me off but several weeks later he told me that he’d take the 1200.

The car needed a new carb and the interior put together (the inmates weren’t allowed to have clips so all the interior was just placed in).  The mexican’s in the desert would always comment how cool the car’s paint job was.  Funny thing was, I never heard that from anyone not from Mexico.
 
That car cost me my license for a couple days.  My father was at my little brothers school and heard some idiot go around the corner in front of the school with the tires broke loose and the car sliding sideways.  When he looked up he saw my unmistakable blue and yellow car.  In my defense, it had just rained and that was the only time I could break the tires loose in that car.  I had to do it.  It doesn’t rain that often in the desert.

 I was also told to sell the Kaiser because it wasn’t good for a 16 year old to have 3 crappy cars.  My mom was starting to complain that our house looked like an Indian reservation.  Aw man, two racial references in 3 paragraphs; I promise I’m not racist, both of the above are just honest cultural considerations you learn after living with them (I’ve lived near the reservation and the Mexican border).

When I regained my license, my parents bought a Honda and decided that the old family Blazer might be a good vehicle for me.  It had a chip and blue printed motor so I was game to give it a try.

About rolled it our first night out when we came over a sand dune too fast and the backside had a cliff.  We hung a wheel off but managed to get it stopped.  That was an adrenaline rush!

I wanted to put a lift kit on it.  Prom was coming up and it was my goal to have it lifted to do some four wheeling in Coor’s Canyon during the after party.  Several days before the prom my lift kit came in.

When I was trying to get the rear spring off I was laying under the truck with my feet planted on the frame pulling on a 3 foot wrench.  The wrench slipped and broke my face open.  I couldn’t quit because Prom was around the corner so I went in to the freezer to find something to put on it so I could continue working.  I found only a biscuit.  My buddy came over and was quite surprised to see a bloody raw biscuit stuck to my face.  I still have the scar.

My date hated the blazer.  Said it was too tall and hard to get into.  Last I saw, she was in Hollywood pursuing an acting career.  I like to think that I helped her realize she hated redneck and pushed her towards her city living and career.

I was 18 and whining a lot that the blazer was a family vehicle and I really wanted something better.  My parents had always said that if I kept my grades up through high school they’d provide a vehicle and they made good on that promise.  They gave me a 5k budget and we found a nice clean lifted 80’s Chevy 1500 4x4 in LA with every extra you could think of (axle guards, tow kit, camper, camper kit, headers, valve covers, grille, etc.)

That truck survived my first couple years of college.  There was a lot of off roading as I went to college in Flagstaff.  I even lived in it for the summer, camping in the woods, after my freshman year to save money for the next year.  I eventually snapped the frame where the steering box bolted on and it experienced some down time.

My grandparents had an old Chevy C-10 and they were selling everything and moving to the desert in a RV.  They gave me the C-10 to drive while my truck was down.  It was a decently clean truck, but it did have a dent in the rear fender I put in it driving it when I was 14 (it was my chore to take the lawn clippings out in the woods and dump them; coming around a corner I almost ran into another 14 year old buddy who had his own truck and I went bouncing out into a recently burned forest where I dented the fender and lived in fear of anyone discovering the dent for months).

I digressed, sorry; back to college. At that time I piled a motorcycle into a tree DUI and about killed myself.  I lost my full ride ROTC scholarship for “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer” but God really used that wreck to get a hold of my life which was quickly going the wrong direction.

I had to sell the C-10 to pay for the DUI lawyer.  I attempted to pop the dent out of the rear fender pulling the truck over a wall mart traffic control pole (you know – the metal poles filled with concrete) and applying power.  I pulled the stupid pole out of the ground and it thrashed the fender.  A lot of time with a hammer after that incident.

I’d see that truck running around Flag until the day I moved and each time it would make me sigh as I remembered all my stupidity.

I eventually bought the blazer back and finished out college in the blazer.  I sold the 4x4 pickup to a lesbian who loved it because it was a “man truck”.  The “little unit” jokes are just too easy on that one.

After college I decided to head for Hawaii.  God really opened the door.  I googled “Construction Hawaii” and called the first job I could find a phone number for.  It turned out they had won a court case that day to continue and needed a project engineer.  I struck out for Hawaii without a car and my parents bought the Blazer back.

My first truck in Hawaii was a total disaster.  I found another Ford straight six but an 80’s two wheel drive this time.  I bought the truck in Hilo at about 8 PM (after work I rode over from Kona), on the rainy side of Hawaii. I hit a puddle on the way home and lost the rotten exhaust.  I spent 20 minutes kicking it out from under the truck.

About halfway home the headlights started dimming, coming back, dimming, etc.  Then the truck died.  Of course by this time it was one in the morning and I was on the military grounds with signs everywhere “Absolutely No Stopping” and it was freezing cold on the mountain.  Around 2 an MP pulled up and called a tow truck.

I found out the next day that the alternator was loose.  On top of that, the brake lines had rusted through under the bed and I had been driving with only front brakes (that little pressure check valve works!)
 

I painted that truck flat black with white inserts.  My buddies called it the penguin truck.

I sold that truck to some local landscapers and bought a lifted F-150 with the 5.0 motor.  The bed bolts had rusted out around 3 of the four bolts and every time I hit a bump the bed would bounce up and down.  This was particularly noticeable because in Hawaii I often had people riding in the back on the way to surf spots.  I’d yell back, “keep your legs away from the bolts, it’ll pinch like hell!”

The radiator on that truck was terrible and I’d often arrive at my destination in a cloud of steam.

My father took pity on me and sold me his truck for $2500.  A straight 71 Ford Highboy with a 390.  It cost me 1500 to get it to Hawaii but I had a big block classic 4x4!  

The Ford served well for about a year and then developed a deathly knock that continues to this day despite thousands I’ve dropped on the top end (turns out it’s a bottom end problem).  Between buying it shipping it to Hawaii and the top end work I've spent over over $6000.  Sad considering you can buy them here in Oregon for $1500.

The construction boom fell away and I ended up back in the states.

I eventually got a job in downtown Portland and the people flipping me off or asking me if I needed a fire extinguisher in the smoking knocking truck eventually got old.  A friend was selling a Taurus for a grand and I bought it.  I told myself it didn’t matter.  A car is a car if all you are using it for is transportation.


… But eventually I wanted to date again (I had also went through a painful breakup around the Taurus time) and decided that a car was not always a car.  For the price of a Taurus about the only thing interesting I could buy (that ran) was an MGB.  So I sold the Taurus and bought a barely running MGB.  The first night my roommate had to push it several times as we tried to figure out why it would die when we turned the headlights on (alternator again).
 
I loved my MGB.  I eventually converted it from a rubber bumper with steel wheels to a chrome bumper with wire wheels.  You can see more of that project at www.budgetmgb.blogspot.com.

I married my wife in that car, autocrossed it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  But then one day I saw an MGA.  And I had to have one.

After months of searching I found one for about what I could get out of the MGB.

And here I am today.  15 years later I’m back to a 50’s car that I had to drag home.  It’s almost depressing how little I’ve improved.  Those that fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.  I guess I’m not learning from my mistakes.


You can witness my fun at: www.budgetmga.blogspot.com.

Just got the MGA running.  I’m hoping to, by the end of the summer, have autocrossed the car once.  It’s my goal.  Wish me luck.  And pray that I learn something.