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What treasures you find in old cars!

I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. I quite like it. Most old cars are filthy and that suits me fine ‘cause getting through the nitty and gritty is where the true nuggets lie. It’s like being an archaeologist, you dig and dig and whoa! There is a ball joint under there after all. Sometimes it’s not so mundane and it becomes a treasure hunt.

In my Satellite I uncovered a dozen or so live rounds of .30 caliber ammo sleeping away the years inside my lower quarters. There they were, just waiting for the right impact. Under the backseat is usually pocket change and the occasional big score, but the best is vintage coinage because it makes ya wonder just how long ago someone fumbled for change, the errant coin vanished, and that somebody mumbled, “oh, shit.” Just the other day on I-5 a bit of newspaper suddenly whizzed about the interior of the Satellite and came to rest in my lap. The phone numbers in the ads had letters in the prefix. I’ve seen a lot of this: bank statements, birthday cards, a mummified banana peel, a love letter, who knows what lurks within the old car? 

When you get a project car part of the fun can be going through the disassembly process and noting all the goofy repairs the car has suffered. Hacked spaghetti harnesses being the most frustrating and also the ones to cause the most disbelief. No wonder the radio cut out and the horn went off whenever they hit the brakes! My favorite repairs, or should I say,“improvements,” are the weird little things done out of necessity. To illustrate my point I will tell you the story of the most incredible 1964 Polara 500 I have ever seen.

I received a phone call that told of the unbelievable, a $500 ’64 Polara 500 hardtop. The ’64 Polara is the meanest looking Dodge ever built, especially when done right. If you require an example then go straight to the Landy files. Anyway, I went to Craigslist and looked at the photo. There it was, out in the woods and of course it looked great, too great for 500 bucks and no takers. Sure, it was in the sticks, but are there really any sticks too far away in Sonoma county California? I decided to let it go.

Three days later I was still curious so I called the number. “Sure, the car is here. Runs real good too. Do you want to come up and drive it?” It all sounded like the perfect adventure so Patricia and I drove on up. We wound through the hills and into the dry, hilly woods. On a one-lane road we pulled over to the gate and blew the horn as instructed. A short time later a very old and sincere man came out from the house and hollered for us to c’mon up. So we did, with me practically running. The house looked ‘homemade” and was nestled in a low hill with gardens behind it fading into the tree line. A rooster ran up to check me out, then strutted off satisfied. I looked down the hill at what once was a small outdoor shop area.

Between a bizarre looking Dodge delivery truck (running flat six, and converted into a camper circa 196?) and an early sixties Mack dumper was the Polara, and from 150 feet she didn’t look bad. I went down with the owner to have a look while he told me about how well it ran and what a good “work car” it is. As we came up on it my jaw dropped. This was something very special indeed.

It was brush painted in a leafy green over white and over all trim and emblems. She sagged to the drivers’ rear. Rust had eaten the leading edge of the hood and the lower door, lower front fender, and rear upper wheel lips. The quarters were SOLID. The grille was perfect and all the tail lenses intact. I kept circling the car. Wherever there was rust there was a strange bubbly growth that turned out to be exterior putty for houses. I noticed that someone had placed a wiper arm on the top kinda hanging over the windshield. In the cowl, in the hole where the wiper previously lived was a small light bulb perfectly screwed into the offending hole and caulked in. The wiper was attached through a hole drilled in the roof and was operated manually by the driver via the crank arm stub. All the wiring was replaced to fit new controls, switches, dials, and gauges. The original harness was barely there and the bulkhead connector was gone. The seat was slowly becoming part of the natural environment and played host to a pair of decaying briefs, newspaper and stray bits. There was no back seat that I could see.

Inevitably the hood was raised and there in all of its greasy glory was a poly 318. It looked as if it had not run in years. The owner told me all about how it had been rebuilt and “some kinda chrome rings” had been used. I couldn’t believe it, but sure enough he produced keys and on the second try the mill fired and ran flawlessly with nary a shake or puff of smoke. While it ran the owner pointed out a sheet metal screw sticking out of the timing cover and told me, “the only trouble I ever had was when I thought I had a boil over and I looked in here and saw water comin’ out of this tiny hole. I looked around and I had a sheet metal screw handy so I drove it in.”  It didn’t leak a drop.

I have to say I was tempted. Just the thought of driving down 101 through Marin in this crazy machine and then into the city had me in inner laughing fits. Damn car woulda’ made it to Texas probably with a whirlwind of trash blowing around the interior ala “Pig Pen” of Charlie Brown fame. That car needed one last epic drive, but I was not the man to do it. Despite my inner longing, I passed. Patricia and I hung around for another hour or more with our host and his wife while he reminisced of his travels as a merchant seaman. He even fired up a Y block ’56 Ford F150 that ran like a top and looked like it was made out of lichen.

Just being willing to take a chance and get my hands dirty made comin’ out to see the $500 Polara 500 one of the best days I’ll ever have. 

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