The Mopar Family
People who appreciate and maintain old cars naturally form networks, attracted to each other through common interests. Nowhere is this more true than in the Mopar hobby, so much so that we really form a big family. One thing I love about my Mopar brothers and sisters is that most of us dig each other's diverse visions without a bunch of prejudice. I don't want a Neon and I can't imagine trying to drag race a diesel Ram truck, but I've gotten 99% thumbs up for my crazy muscle wagons from those folks over the years. Even the skinny tire, chalk mark, matching number, restoration straight arrows appreciate those of us out on the fringes. The Barrett-Jackson auctions and eBay may have caused the monetary value of our beloved yard irons and parts stashes to spike into the crazy zone, but I continue to see the vast majority of the faithful in it for the fun and friendship.
I had to have the plumbing inspector over to my house recently. I'd been adding onto my house and the rough-in plumbing had to be inspected before I could button up the walls. I'm cheap so I did the work myself. I was a plumber's assistant ten years ago so I've got the basic skills. The guy pulled up in an official white Dodge Neon and got straight to business. Then as we went around the house to the crawl space entrance he looked up and said, "You have a lot of Chryslers here!" I told him that we build and drag race old Mopars for fun and profit. He replied that he has a '64 Dodge Polara with a 426 Max Wedge. I told him that we have a similar motor in a '64 Plymouth wagon that's run 10.62 @ 125 mph. Then we spent ten minutes under the house looking at pipes. When we came back out he said, "I'm going to have to break one of my rules and look in your shop. I've got lots of houses to look at today but I have to see it."
I showed him the shop and he told me the story of his '64 Dodge. He bought it off a used car lot in '67 because he like the way it looked. He had fun beating up just about everything on the street with it. He thought it was the fastest 383 he'd ever seen until he went to freshen it up and realized it was actually a 426 Max Wedge with a single quad intake. "I didn't know anything, I was a Chevy guy; I just liked the car!" When he joined the Marines and went to Viet Nam he left the car for his younger brother to drive to school and "have fun." What a brother!
When he came back he almost forgot about the old Dodge, assuming that it had been traded, sold, or wrecked. Then one day young brother said, "let's go pick up your car!" He'd put it away in storage for over ten years. Right back at you, bro! Now the car sits under cover waiting for its next stage in life.
When the inspector came back a couple of weeks later to sign off my pipes I showed him my three '64 Dodges, thinking maybe it would convince him to get his back on the street. He'd already spoken with his younger brother and they were getting a "to do" list together for their Dodge. I can't wait to help them. They're already like family! He told me about his father and his two uncles who'd all served in the Navy in WW II as pilots. One uncle flew a dive bomber, the other a Hellcat fighter, and dad graduated from flight school just as the war ended. He said those guys came back from the war with a feel for 1500-plus horsepower and a nose for aviation fuel. It was natural that they would become members of the first generation of the Mopar family.
Years ago, when I was a starving art student, the only thing I had of value besides my health was a '69 Dodge Super Bee. I bought it with money my grandmother gave me. Monetarily, it was worth a semester in school but I didn't care, I loved that thing and I drove it everywhere. I quit school before I sold it. The funny thing is, the experience of owning that car gave me more than any year in art college, considering I've since made a pleasant living from old Mopars. I hope that my grandmother knows this, wherever she is.
One morning, I was driving the 'Bee to get coffee with a friend who was already beyond coffee and into beer and two-for-one gas station hot dogs. We pulled into a parking spot across from the coffee shop and just as I was opening the door I looked up and saw a policeman approaching us on foot. He was less than twenty feet away and I could plainly see that he was not parking enforcement. "Dude!" I hissed at my friend, "there's a cop coming up to the car right NOW!" My friend stashed his beer as best he could and I tried to act natural but I was freaking out. The policeman's pace slowed as he approached the car and it was easy to see that he was totally checking us out. By the time he got up to us, I was dying.
"Nice Dodge! Where do you get the transmission work done?" he asked. It turned out that he and his son-in-law were building a Road Runner and needed a tranny done. I told him whatever he needed to know. He looked just like Rod Steiger's sheriff character from "In the Heat of the Night," but I probably could have parked the car on a fire hydrant and gotten out with a bottle of whiskey in my hand and he wouldn't have given me any hassle. Gotta love the Mopar family!
Now that I'm a father of two, I feel the obligation to pass along the spark. I was never exposed to the pain and pleasure of working on old Mopars when I was little and I want to make sure that my kids get the opportunity to love it or hate it at a young age. They both seem to be enjoying it. My son already has his own '64 Dodge (what else?) and my daughter gets a big kick out of helping us work on it. She's too little to do much but she makes an "uncle" out of any grease monkey that wants to pick her up and hold her over the engine compartment while we work. It's a family affair!
Along with flogging all manner of Mopars down the 1320 and on the roads of his top secret island hideaway, Chris Barnes is also the originator of Wagons of Steel Magazine. Check it out at: www.wagonsofsteel.com