Driving a Moquariaum

met a fella the other day who told me that his dad was a Chrysler/Plymouth dealership mechanic in the halcyon days of the 60’s. We talked about how cool the cars were back then and what an impact they had and still have on our culture. In the middle of fantasizing about what cars we would like to have driven off the showroom floor I asked him when his dad finally quit the job and why. He replied that his dad quit in 1974. I remarked it was a good year to quit as that really was the end of the good times for Chrysler. He agreed and said his dad had tired of fixing all the things nobody else could; things like leaky windshields and whistling doors––basic quality control issues that the factory was losing its grip on.

The more I thought about it I came to realize that all of my Mopars seemed to come stock with those issues. I have never owned a Mopar that could keep it’s interior completely dry in a hard rain. I thought about all the pains I had gone through to keep my cars dry. One of the funniest––and most painful––had to be when my friend Matt Poulos and I put a new windshield and gasket in ‘yaller the night before Spring Fling back in 2001. We thrashed and thrashed and did the best job we could do. I spent the rest of the night detailing the car to the hilt for the big show the next day. We hit the road early in the morning with the car looking and running great. Outside of Salinas, it began to pour rain. With confidence I hit the wipers and enjoyed watching the rain bead and fly. About five minutes into the downpour I noticed water on the console. In another minute or so there was a steady drip and then it was on my shoes too, the new carpet was soaked. We looked at each other and kinda slumped in defeat. Total bummer. What happened!? Lesson here is: don’t be conservative with the sealer between rubber and steel. Apply matey, apply!

Yaller also used to blow tail lamps regularly in the winter. One day I took a close look at the lenses, mid storm, and discovered they were full to the bulbs with water. No matter how carefully I made new gaskets they never seemed to work. In the end a 1/8 inch hole was drilled at the bottom of each lens to let the water drain. End of trouble. One more victory for bobo engineering.

Another car that’s been through the ringer and is still a wet one is my friend Patricia’s beloved “Whitey”, a ’65 Valiant Signet. We put a new windshield gasket in that car too, this time with lots of goo. After the first rain, the interior was soaked. I looked all over for the leak and finally found the culprit. Years of pine needles and leaves had turned to mulch in the upper reaches of the cowl and rotted holes around the fresh air vents. Being on a budget meant a budget fix and a big old tube of sikaflex was employed in the effort to stem the leak. We managed a decent repair but it was still an aquarium after a big rain. Poor whitey! Even her doorglass felts were completely rotted away. Patricia made ingenious ones out of astro turf. No more rattling windows but hardly a seal. Still, it was an improvement. Now Whitey is pretty much going the way of nono, which is to say she is rotting away while being a well maintained and beloved daily driver….45 years after leaving the factory. There are worse fates for workhorse budget “compacts” of the 60’s.

If you have a wet winter and a daily driver oldie…don’t let her get too moldy. If you can’t afford the true repairs and materials there are still a lot of chores you can do to ameliorate the trouble before your car becomes a tropical greenhouse. Carefully clean out the cowl and do it BEFORE the rain, when things are very dry. Remove the heater box and fresh air vents, get waaaay up in there, use your fingers, a good vacuum and compressed air and get all the crud out. Then make sure the cowl drains are completely free of any obstructions. Pull the door panels, front and rear, clear out any crap, find the drains and clear them. Make a new visqueen backing for the panels and fix it tightly to the doorskin before putting the panels back on.

If your windshield leaks on the glass to rubber seal you can gently peel back the rubber and hold it away with popsicle sticks to lay in a bead of black silicone. Lay it in thickly, clean up the excess neatly afterwards and no one will ever know. The rubber to metal seal is trickier––especially if you have good trim. Just get everything ridiculously clean and go at it with a nice, neat bead of RTV black, put your trim back on and hope for the best. A new set of wiper pivot seals are relatively cheap and will try your patience on the install but warm, dry feet are happy feet. Make sure all your side glass is adjusted to be as snug as possible and the doors are nice and square in their jambs. If you can afford it, spring for new window felts or whiskers. If you are too damn cheap, (or poor and cheap, like me) a bit of foam weather strip can help––just don’t expect miracles or more than one season out of it.

One day I hope to have a glorious Mopar that doesn’t leak, shines in the sun and runs perfectly like my old dented leaky ones do. Until then I’ve got my galoshes at the ready. Have a great holiday season and I’ll be back here with more hi-jinx in the New Year.