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Onward Moparnauts!

Some time back out on Vashon Island I discovered yet another of the seemingly endless uses for a common screwdriver. I was on this beautiful island in the middle of the Puget Sound escaping the rigors of the city and visiting old friend Chris Barnes, who was kind enough to let me drive one of his Mopars around while I was a tourist.

This wasn’t just any Mopar, this was his latest acquisition, and the flagship of the Chrysler Wagon Fleet. This was a station wagon so impressive in its estate that it was named after Town AND Country. With this green beauty came not only a stonking V-8 to get it moving, but loads of style. Genuine simulated wood trim and paneling. Acres of interior room resplendent with vacuformed green plastic and vinyl.  The wagon also featured a super cool spoiler on the back, not for any type of aerodynamic performance, but rather to deflect exhaust away from kids watching the miles disappear into blurry lines out the open rear window.

1972 was a good year for giant green station wagons. Chris handed me the keys and a screwdriver before I took the big wagon out on island tour. At the time I just thought he was being goofy, as usual. Screwdriver, bottle of ketchup, a stuffed Spuds McKenzie stolen from the 7-11 -- I would have expected any of it.

After parking the mighty beast and walking around on a stone beach on some tip of the island, I returned to the cockpit only to find nothing when I turned the ignition key. No buzz. No click. No radio. Walk is what I was thinking, and it was a long one. I suddenly realized then why Chris had handed me the screwdriver, for I had a crusty old Mopar as well. So crusty that it stayed in Oakland, never straying very far from home. The procedure was simple. Place trans in park. Set brake. Turn ignition to on. Open hood. Cross fingers, then cross screwdriver across the two leads on the starter solenoid. Vroom. Easy peasy.

I remember staring at the engine for a while as it idled. Here on an island were two old pals that had somehow managed to develop a shared enthusiasm for Mopars despite some years of drifting apart. More years went by and Chris moved well beyond the screwdriver, converting the very same wagon into a racecar called The Mighty Josephine.

The next time I saw that wagon the acreage of green interior, and much of the bracing the fine plastic was mounted to, had met with the Sawzall. '70s luxury had given way to transmission and tire toasting performance out on the dragstrip.

After witnessing the glory of The Mighty Josephine I replaced the engine in my old '67 Barracuda in order to give it a bit more range. It was the only ride I had after all, and it had to work. Chris, in the meantime, had built a giant shop in his backyard. Some time later I had the somewhat hare-brained idea to drive the Barracuda up to Vashon Island and replace the engine again, this time with a warmed over 360 instead of the otherwise fine running 318. This was my idea of a vacation.

Two and half weeks later we had a 360 in there alright, along with a custom built trans, new front end, and enough parts from the local NAPA, Manicini Racing, and Summit to rack up the old credit card for some time to come. Pleading with my boss back in Oakland bought me a few more days off from work on the first vacation I had taken in years, and pretty soon I was driving back through the giant redwoods breaking in the new-to-me engine.

Soon after that I was out at the track trying to squeeze some tenths off high 13-second ET's. A few weeks later some imbecile decided that red lights were merely optional, T-boned the Barracuda with me in it, and knocked me out cold in the process. I came to only to realize the guy had taken off. No insurance coverage for hit and run. No time to fix it. Game over.

Recently I found myself sitting in a '70 Duster in 120-degree desert heat about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. The all-black interior most likely edged the temperature up a few notches. I turned the ignition key. No buzz. No click. No radio. Walk is what I was thinking, and this time it was a really long one. Seems they invented these things called cell phones since my trip to Vashon Island, so I used one to call someone that may have a clue. Perhaps due to the heat, or old age, I was stumped.

After explaining the symptoms over the phone the word screwdriver came up in conversation. Almost as soon as the word crackled across the tiny speaker in my ear I suddenly remembered screwdriver handy usage number 14,372 –- Mopar auxiliary starter solenoid unit. I blame the information age for displacing this valuable bit of information with countless hundreds of useless others.

I watched the spark jump across the leads, and the 5.7L Hemi under the hood of the Duster came to life as if nothing was amiss. I stared at the engine for a while as it idled. Over 30 years of time divided the manufacture of the solenoid and the engine under the hood. After a time away from Mopars I do believe I’m back, and ready for more. This time I’ve got the screwdriver.