To all the cars I’ve known

OK, maybe it's odd to list all my cars under "friends and Family", but I do have a kinship with all the vehicles I have owned. I also couldn't find a place for this album on the website, so you will have to indulge me.

Chapter 1

1974 Ford Maverick

A Case of Strange Love or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

When I was nine years old my parents purchased a brand new 1974 Ford Maverick from a dealership in Miami, Florida. It was the coolest car in the whole world, or at least in my nine year old world. The car was ice blue with the biggest, brightest bumpers I had ever seen on a car. It was a 2 door, so I immediately assumed it was a sports car. At the time, any 2 door car was a sports cars to me. My joy was overflowing in 1980 when my parents decided the car was to be mine.  All Mine.

By then, at the ripe old age of six; the Maverick or "Mav" as we called it, had begun the show it's age. It had body cancer (rust) in the back, a huge dent in the middle of the door, an oil leak in the front, and sun damage on the top. It was a mess, and I loved it. The first step was to replace the driver's side door which had a dent the exact size of the front end of a Ford Cougar. During this procedure, I discovered that 30% of a Maverick's total weight is in the doors. If you were to remove the doors from this car, it would weight less than a motorcycle. Next I removed all the rust from the area behind the rear wheels until I could unpack my trunk through the holes in the side of the car. After several coats of fiber glass and Bondo, my car's weight was now 30% door, 30% Bondo, 20% Bumpers and 20% other stuff. Since the 1974 Maverick had the new improved "Federal Bumpers" (with optional bumper guards); this sports car was now a tank. In 1982, the car was rear ended by a Jeep CJ7 as I sat at a red light. The impact broke the Jeep's engine mounts and the its fan ate the radiator; the Maverick only had a bent bumper guard. When the tires wore out, I replaced the stock wheels with Keystone style mags from a Mustang and the "D" size tires with "G" and "H" tires from a Cadillac. The Caddy also donated a set of air shocks and battery. Did I forget to mention that I worked at an auto salvage yard at the time? When the car was complete, it had about 18 inches (or 1 adult possum) of ground clearance. In photo 1 you can see my wife's red Maverick with the blue Mav behind it. At this point the car had new wheels and tires, but not air shocks and it was already really tall. It was the worlds only all-terrain Maverick, and was illuminated by no fewer than eight forward pointing accessory lights. Inside the car, I had upgraded the radio and even added a cassette and equalizer. By now the "Ice Blue" paint looked dangerously  close to "Powder Blue", so the whole car was painted a nice shade of "Arctic Blue" which resembled the original color quite nicely. Along with the paint job came the obligatory racing stripes.   The only other photo I have shows the interior of the car along with the instrument package (i.e. radio and stuff) that I installed in the car.

Alas, in 1984 the Mav succumbed to the ravages of time and committed Hari Kari at the intersection of Bearss and Nebraska in Tampa, FL. At the time, I was following my friend Glenn to his house when all 50 quarts of transmission juice spilled out from beneath the car. Glenn thought the car had stalled as usual, so he left me there in a lake of transmission fluid. After pushing the car off the road and walking 2 miles, I got to his house and Glenn towed the car to where he would declare the verdict. The rear main seal on the transmission had given way; which equated to "He's dead Jim" in Star Trek terms. Looking back, I could have fixed the transmission, but the 200 cid engine was now up to a quart of oil per week. And the idea of dropping in a 302 big block V8 engine immediately prompted my parents into helping me afford a different car. Thus the Mav was towed off into the land of used cars, never to be seen again.

Chapter 2

1983 Ford Escort GT

Eine Kleine Escort

After the unfortunate demise of my first car, I began the search for my next automobile. The first candidate was a over priced white 1983 Toyota Celica Supra. It was the car of my dreams, but not the car of my means. Number two was a black 1982 VW Golf GTI with wicked wheels and a killer engine. This car was nice, but the interior was very tight.

The last, but not least choice was a 1983 Fort Escort GT in Prince-of-Darkness Black. It had a 1.6 liter EFI engine, a front  spoiler and a soft rubber fin in the back. All the chrome had been blacked out by the factory, and the windows had been tinted as dark as was legally possibly. The car was so black that I was convinced Darth Vader had been the original owner. On top, the car had an option that every teenage boy craved: A removable sunroof!. At 75 miles per hour with the windows rolled up, the car would clean itself by sucking all loose items out the sunroof. After installing a 200 watt Alpine Stereo system, any items that previously were not loose soon found themselves shaken out of the car. One day while "cleaning" the car, I grabbed a piece of paper just before it went out the roof. It was a import order that stated that my car had been imported from Germany one year before I bought it. Way Cool! This would explain why most of the safety warnings on the car were in German. With its distinctive keystone wheels and blacker-on-black paint scheme the car was always the center of attention. I was sure that this was the best car that Ford Motors had put out for 1983. (Remember, these were the Mustang II years). The car was to be my pride and joy until I made the mistake of putting new wheels on it. This started a tragic string of events that haunt me to this day. The wheels were black BBS style spokes with polished chrome rims. The tires, Cooper Cobra radials, were low profile, wide, aggressive but not exactly round. The car was not happy about these tires. Even after the  tires had been "shaved" by a performance shop to perfect roundness, the car still pulled to the left. One month after I installed the new tires, the timing belt snapped as I was driving down the highway. Mercifully the Escort GT had a "fly cut" engine, which meant that the pistons did not impact weld themselves to the valves when the belt broke. The engine just spun happily with no problems as I coasted off the highway. Five hundred dollars later, the car was good as new, again. But the lord of the dark underworld wanted his car back, and he would not be denied.

Not four months after the timing belt incident, both radiator hoses blew in unison; and the car then overheated in about the time it took you to read this overly long sentence. Aluminum heads minus water plus heat equals bad things. The head gasket was burnt to a crisp and immediately began to leak. After my mechanic opened the valve cover to replace the gasket, he inspected the pistons and then quickly advised me to "Sell The Car". When I asked for more details he said "Sell The Car, Soon". Aluminum heads minus water plus heat equals burnt piston rings. Looking back, I probably could have fixed the car's engine. But, the car was a five year old Ford Escort with 90,000 miles and no resale value. It was a nice car, but it would never be a classic. So it was off the car dealer again.

Chapter 3

1988 Isuzu Pickup

The Burro Killer

 After the demise of my Escort GT, I began a quest to purchase a new car. A really new car, not just another used car that was new to me. My first discovery was that new cars were expensive, but new small trucks were still cheap. This was about a year before Yuppies discovered Sport Utility Vehicles, so small trucks were still considered TRUCKS.

Using my connections at the bank I worked for, I was able to purchase a 1988 Isuzu pickup for $6,700. It had no air conditioning , but if you rolled the windows down and opened the sunroof it provided plenty of air circulation. Even in the hot humid air of Key West, Florida the inside of the truck was always cool. The outside of the truck was black, therefore you could have cooked a full meal on the hood if the sun was out. Since it was a truck, I decided that it needed a front brush guard to protect against falling trees or wandering pedestrians. After the brush guard came the obligatory auxiliary lights, 2 lights on the brush guard, 2 under the bumper. My body shop friend referred to the brush guard as "the Burro Killer" or some really neat Spanish phrase that I have unfortunately forgotten. It seems in his native Venezuela it was quite common that burros or other animals would introduce themselves to oncoming vehicles with messy results. My "burro killer" was mainly for looks, though it did once protect my front end from the banzai attack of a suicidal crow. Why animals choose to head butt large vehicles is still a great mystery to me.

Every 4 months I would repaint the brush guard with black Rustoleum spray paint and it was as good as new. When the factory tires wore out, I replaced them with larger wider tires, and added better shocks which gave the truck higher ground clearance. This extra ground clearance meant that the truck would begin to lift its front wheels at speeds above 95 MPH. During this time I gained a lot of weight, which helped to offset the problem of front wheel lift. As long as I was fat, I could safely drive really fast in my truck. This proves that diets are not always a healthy thing. The 2.3 liter 4 cylinder engine provided plenty of power for cruising or hauling loads. Though in retrospect, I think a few times I hauled more weight than I should have, and possibly damaged the transmission. True to its 4 cylinder nature, my truck broke its timing belt while I was driving on the highway. Fortunately, the engine survived without incident or damage. Unfortunately, the transmission started chirping not long afterward. A visit to the transmission repair shop resulted in a $2,500 estimate. Estimate: (noun) A wild guess; or you leave it, we disassemble it, you pay what we want or else. It seems that other Isuzu pickup owners were also hauling large loads in their trucks, so transmissions were hare to find. At the time $2,500 to fix a $6,700 truck did not make sense, so off I went to sell the truck.  

Chapter 4

1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse - The Black Duck

After killing my truck in only 4 years and 88,000 miles, I decided that I needed another truck. My theory is "killing trucks is like eating peanuts; you can't just stop at one". When I returned to the Isuzu dealer to trade in my old truck I was given a lesson in sticker shock. It seems that small trucks had become very popular and my $6,700 truck would cost $12,000 to replace. I told the dealer that $12,000 would buy a nice sports cars, so why should I buy a truck? The salesman at Isuzu said $12,000 WOULD NOT buy a sports car, and he was right. Courtesy Mitsubishi had the brand new 1992 Eclipse on sale for $9,999. If you added A/C, tinted windows, floor mats and tax the car was $13,000 out the door. Now you must understand this is the base 1.8 liter front wheel drive model  Eclipse NOT the 2.0 liter DOHC 200+ horsepower turbo all-wheel drive Eclipse, but it IS a sports car. These cars all have wonderfully designed bodywork with the braking and handling ability of cars worth $40,000. Not only can these cars handle and brake but they are also unstoppable in the rain. During one bad storm in Tampa, I was able to float home in the "Black Duck" while Ford Broncos and Mustangs where stranded by high water. The combination of Front Wheel drive and the engine's high mounted air intake has saved me from many Florida flood waters. The only fault in the car's design lies in it's thin sheet metal and white base coat. It seems dents appear by magic on the side of the car, while white spots appear on the hood. I hope that Mitsubishi now uses gray or black undercoat for its black cars, because the white is a serious pain in the butt. While the sides of the car may be fragile, the front and rear are protected by thick steel shock mounted bumpers covered by Rubbermaid* quality plastic molding. After any bump to the front and rear of the car, the plastic always returns to normal as the bumpers snap back on their oil filled shocks. As long as the shocks don't leak, the car is no worse for wear after an accident. This is very important in Florida where 90% of our senior citizens cannot see over the dashboard of their oversized Cadillacs. While surfing the Internet one day, I came upon the holy grail of sites for owners of Mitsubishi Eclipses, Eagle Talons or Plymouth Lasers. At the Club DSM site , I learned how to modify my car to squeeze out all the performance my 1.8 liter engine can produce (which is about 100 horsepower on a good day) After many years of service, the Eclipse was traded for my Ford Ranger. I did however photograph many of the changes I made to the car. Here is the gallery along with comments:  

Comments are closed.