Oh I just love the machines in my life. To me a vehicle is so much more than mere conveyance; it speaks of who you are. It's one of those things, like the music you set as the soundtrack to your day, that can turn living into a real happening... an adventure... a scene out of a life's movie. Having a rather dominating '70s fixation, where else would a vested, porkchopped, mirror-shaded, Bob Seger listening guy such as myself park his butt bones for the trips he takes? For the motion he manifests? Certainly nothing past the early '80s. That's where cars started turning into computers... I like machines. And I like wrenching on old machines; it's one of the things I do to stay sane so I can focus really hard on being the music guy I'm here to be and 90% of my life revolves around. You've got to have another interest than the big obsession so you don't just get eaten by it while you feed it.
I have relationships with my cars. They each have a story and they all mean something to me. I'm sharing them with you because I know how much I like to read about others' car projects and automotive lives and how inspiring that has been for me. There is nothing quite like driving a 50 year old car you brought back to life and seeing the smiles - and sometimes laughter and, sure, the occasional disgust which is great in its own way - on the faces as you rumble by. My granola streak is definitely concerned about the environment, but other than road trips I don't drive much. Especially not compared to the lines of soccer moms in their idling SUVs outside the schools every day. And in the big picture I'll GLADLY compare overall life environmental footprints with any one of them or the average Prius driver... I keep 'em tuned and only burn rubber on days ending in "Y". Kidding, I'm kidding. So here you are, I offer my little side loves to you. Hope you find this entertaining...
Life begins at 100,000. It's amazing what a set of Keystones, an air dam, spoiler, fat tires, side pipes, driving lights, diamond portholes, captain's chairs, rear tire carrier, roof vent, stereo, CB and a pair of '70s Trans Am fender vents sunk into a blacked out hood will do for a little old '83 Ford Econoline. Got it in 2011 with 69,000 original miles from the original owner. It's got the great 300 straight six, C6 automatic, power steering & brakes. I've gone through the whole brake system and put on KYB shocks and it's been on major road trips - including one of 3500 miles, up through the Mississippi Delta.
A van is a rolling motel room and I've spent my share of time in them... those diamond windows are out of a '79 I had back in the early '90s. This is Econoline #6 for me and van #11. More '70s style mods to come including a proper red, black & wood interior with a blues bar theme, and a set of flares. I have to take care of some rain gutter rot a bit more properly than the temporary fixes I've got now, and re-do the hood with the T/A scoops a bit cleaner. Need to build the interior with a blues bar / juke joint / music theme. Hoping for many future good times with this blues machine. Current mileage as of summer 2018: 116,000.
Joe the Truck
Goodness... this truck has not only been the best tool I ever bought and the best vehicle I've ever owned, but a true inspiration to be as durable, ready, strong, simple and reliable as it is. A handy piece of old American steel and a mentor all in one machine. When I moved out to settle a piece of raw rural Texas land, I knew I would need a truck to do it. I met someone who said he had one for sale - a '74 Dodge with low mileage he was selling for a friend. And 18 years ago, this truck with 81,000 miles on it became my brother in arms. In settling in and building a homestead, starting and moving workshops, and of assistance with others' projects, Joe The Truck has hauled anything any of us could fit in the bed. Loads of mulch, rock, bricks, pieces of building, scrap, engines, no problem. It's pushed and pulled other vehicles and we keep seeing the original owner's son every now and then, and that's always good for some laughs and handshakes. He's got plenty of stories about rural Texas fun with this old truck.
It even hauled, section by section, my mentor's workshop from what was his land over to my homestead, where it was rebuilt and used for Birdsong Guitars... and where I'm writing this right now years later.
It has a 318 V8 and 727 automatic and I think those and the step bumper were the only options the one previous owner checked off. Everything else was metal, manual, and really manly to operate. Your basic truck. It also hauls lots of wood for Birdsong, my guitar company. And it was on one such trip that it broke down for only the 2nd or 3rd time in ten years. Even with what turned out to be a broken crankshaft it still started, drove off the flatbed, and got into position on my slab at home... where I put in a VERY strong engine I was prepping for my Road Runner. With a rebuilt suspension and the balls of a rhinoceros, Joe - named after an old Tennessee guy I used to rent a room from who taught me so much about simple living - is still in service, starts every time, and now sounds like every great '70s car chase scene.
Joe also spent a year or so as a "Muscle truck" with Torq Thrusts, an air dam & vintage Cal Custom hood scoops... those are still on hum but he's back to truck tires and the chrome wagon spokes.
Becky the Valiant
Around 2001 I noticed the back end of an old Plymouth in a car port on a side street. It was a '67 Plymouth Valiant. I left a note and a friendship started that continues today. It was her mother's car and they were thrilled when the engine let go years ago so she'd stop driving. Becky was her name. Long story short the car was gifted to me and it took some time but every system was gone through and the fried six was replaced with a low mileage, hopped-up-in-the-'70s 1967 273 V8 I bought (of all things) an '86 pickup it had been put in to get it. That truck provided other parts for Joe the truck, too - shocks, better seat, bed cover - but that's another story. The little car only had 67,000 miles on it and a known history back to the original owner.
It's a high compression engine with a nice cam, vintage Offenhauser "Dual Port" intake (an interesting piece of aluminum casting - look it up) and Cal Custom finned valve covers, Edelbrock 4-barrel carb, full dual exhaust. Lowered 1-1/2", rebuilt front end, KYB shocks. Why do all this to a 4-door Valiant? A 4-door A-body of this era is my absolute favorite daily driver. Economical, practical, yet still enough of a classic to make people smile and start conversations. Even a humble Valiant has sculpting, trim & proportions we'll never see again in cars. They weigh nothing so with any decent small block V8 they'll go like stink and still get decent mileage (I get 17). I can toss guitar cases or boxes in it really easy as a 4-door, the trunk is huge, and the car itself is much smaller than it looks. Other than the Valiant being longer, a new Accord dwarfs it. These really are just shrunken big Plymouths.
As far as I'm concerned, it's a crew cab Barracuda. I love this thing. It still needs the windshield replaced, but the most recent round of work was to pull & seal the trans, pull & reseal the intake manifold, fix the oil leal at the filter housing, and replace the radiator with an aftermarket one of aluminum with a shroud. Runs nice and cool now! I love it but am uncertain it will stay in the fleet given how little I have to be driving these days. For now we cruise in style, patina & all. This ratty old 4-door gets as much attention as Sarge the '74 Road Runner does. It makes people smile and wave - and sometimes they even use their whole hand!
In the spring of 2018, Becky went to live in Chattanooga, TN. Godspeed sweet machine!
Alvin the Valiant
When you get a call from a pal that runs an old Mopar (Chrysler products) junkyard saying "We're done, yard's closed, everything's getting crushed, come get what you want..." you go with dreams of rescuing a '69 Charger or a '70 Road Runner. Even a '70s Coronet. I knew better. This place was totally picked over years ago ~ what was left was mostly big chunks of nothing held together by rust... but the one thing I'd never done, the car guy merit badge I hadn't earned, was to pull a car out of an actual junkyard and get it running again. There was a stripped factory Petty Blue 340 Duster, but it was rusty and had taken a bad hit where it wasn't so easy to fix, a real butcher job. There was a cute old van but its day was done. Same for the '60s stepside pickup. Just... done. That's why they were here donating parts to keep better ones on the road.
Then it caught my eye. Completely intact, not a part missing. The ugly runt of the litter. Unwanted. I walked over to this 1962 Plymouth Valiant 4-door, mind altered by its surreal amorphous appearance, and said "Don't worry. You're coming home with me." The single most undesirable vintage Mopar one could imagine (unless you're in Australia where they have a cult for these things), with a little negotiation, became mine. I couldn't let such a complete piece of sculpture, albeit one that looks like it was designed by three guys on three different drugs, get crushed into metal to be sold back to us as Chinese chintz. The car equivalent of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree deserved better... and the old machine was running again after delivery, driving up and down my driveway with no brakes, in an hour after sitting for 20 years. You have to love on a car that wants to run - I think that's in the Commandments, isn't it?
170 slant six, pushbutton automatic, will be my combo ratty cruiser and economy car. Traded a parts car for some great floorpan replacement, there's a seat from a 67 Barracuda in there now with all the original (gag, hack, cough) shredded upholstery GONE. Back seat area will be a platform for Maggie the dog, or me on road trip naps, needs the brakes & fuel tank fixed, then I'm going to blast it with some flat black above the beltline and start driving it. The engine purrs. It's fugly but it's got some spirit to it and it's definitely different. I can respect that. Alvin? Well it was trucked over the day Alvin Lee of Ten Years After died... and Alvin is almost an anagram of Valiant. Hey, it makes sense to me. BIG plans for this little car, stay tuned! It has its own bucket list and will live some adventures as anyone given one more go-round would.
Sarge is a 1974 Plymouth Road Runner named in honor of the military in his ownership history and as a tip o'the hat to the General, who turned lots of guys my age into Mopar freaks. When you lust after a '69 Charger more than Daisy Duke, you know you're hooked. Sarge had been run hard, put away wet, and left to rot. It was literally a parts car I saw in the back of a picture from Brian in Oklahoma who I was working a trade with. He had pulled it out of a carport in north Texas where it had sat for decades, getting picked apart and kids' names scratched into the fading paint.
My cousin had a '73 when I was a kid that I thought was really cool, and my stepdad had briefly owned a '70 in dark green. So even in its (cough) less than pristine condition, a green Runner was my dream car. I traded a '72 Pinto someone had stuffed a V8 into for this. Don't ever do that. Oh I'm not talking about the trade... by all means trade any Pinto in any condition for ANY Road Runner. That's easy. I'm talking stuffing a V8 into a really light imbalanced tiny car that doesn't handle well stock and has the structural integrity of Saran Wrap. Don't glorify it - that thing was insanely fast and a death trap, I'm lucky I crossed it off my list before it crossed me off of its.
The goal was a '70s street machine, like I remember these cars from my childhood in the late '70s. They were ratty, rusty, jacked up and decaled. I loved them. Sarge is the machine I'd have been driving in 1980 if I'd have been 21 rather than 11. He was a mess to start with so don't even go all purist on me even though it's one of 700-and-something as equipped new, a manual trans car. Bench seat no less. Rare, yes. A basket case? Definitely. So he was resurrected to be what he is now - very authentic, all '70s speed parts from the M/T valve covers to the repro Wide Oval & Pro Trac N50 (on 10" slot mags) tires, side pipes, foot gas pedal to Don Garlits tach on the dash. He runs an E58-code 360 4-barrel, B&M Quick Silver ratchet shifted 727, and a shackled-up 9-1/4" rear. He's got goodies - cop suspension pieces & a firm feel steering box.
Lots more work was done in & under him than it looks - he wears his tattered original fatigues (paint) with pride. The side pipes are functional. He sits tall and rides hard. What's it like having an authentic '70s street machine? It's the best thing I've ever done for myself. It sounds like you're inside the engine... it's hot, oily, squirrely, and an absolute blast to drive. I look out over that bulging hood, across at the little bird face and the words Road Runner on the dash, and I'm strapped to it with a smile on my face so wide it almost makes the top of my head fall off.
Sarge was built to drive hard and regularly leaves black stripes at stop signs in honor of all the car guys of this era who went off to battle, machines and lives waiting, and never made it back. We're here now, so we take care of that for you. And for Mr. Brian who, unfortunately, died before I could drive up and give him a ride.
Coming soon - "American Beauty" 1960 Pontiac Catalina and Moondancer the StepVan housetruck!
My life only feels complete when there is a rolling home parked nearby.
Possibly the last piece of the puzzle, something I became obsessed over because I’d never had. I was getting warm & fuzzy thinking about something from the 1950s, maybe a ‘54 Chevy… was looking around… and it occurred to me I was really lusting after something from the LATE ‘50s - a rolling sculpture in steel, something big to take some great American road trips in. ‘58 or ‘59. And then it happened; a post about a 1960 Pontiac for sale. She was the one.