Pist ‘N Broke

Of all the parts in an internal combustion engine, the toughest duty is undoubtedly assumed by the piston. Tasked with the job of transferring peak cylinder pressure into the connecting rods over and over again, you know pistons work hard and never get a rest.

I’ve owned many pistons in my time but never saw most of them in the flesh. That’s how it’s supposed to be. But in a couple of instances I got to see them real good and up close -- not a good thing. Here’s my story.

The first ugly piston story occurred way back in 1989. I was living in Massachusetts (at home under Dad’s roof) and was a few years out of college. The car was a super clean white 1964 Dodge Polara 500 two door hardtop that I’d built up with a retro Super Stock vibe. You know the drill, body-colored 15x7 steel wheels out back with matching 15x5.5 steelies up front. Coker 7.10-15 bias ply tires under the nose and M&H Racemaster P265-15 D.O.T. street slicks out back gave it a break from the too-modern radial tire thing while providing excellent traction during late night street race action against the local Chevy and 5.0 guys.

It rode on Mopar Performance catalog-sourced S/S leaf springs with an adjustable pinion snubber while the nose rested on stock V8 torsion bars I’d cranked up a few inches for an aggressive stance – and much needed road clearance for the deep sump oil pan.

Otherwise the car was pretty much stock looking on the outside. Ditto for the gut, a basic black vinyl affair with a fresh carpet and buckets pirated from a ’66 Coronet. I was particularly proud of the push-button Torqueflite transmission – all set up with a full-manual, reverse-pattern valve body.

Which takes us under the hood. Since these early B-bodies lacked the more complete VIN system adopted in 1966, I only knew it was born with a V8, probably a 318 poly mill judging from the 10-inch manual drum brakes and manual steering (things I was happy to see). Fortunately, when I bought it during a trip to San Diego, CA, (I was still living in Massachusetts at the time but was working for an automotive toy store called Munchkin Motors – we traveled to car shows all over the country selling model cars) a dual-quad 383 was under the hood.