Monday, February 21, 2011

Turning a wrench – for the first time

Well, I was going to give everyone an update on the progress of getting the first book out. And I will, next week. But right now, I post this from the airport in Pittsburgh, PA. Old man winter has once again descended with his heavy hand and snow has closed the airport. So I scrambled to book another flight, and I got one....tomorrow 5:22 AM. Then I tried to get a hotel room. No such luck, everything miles around the airport is booked to bursting. Sooooo, I will test the new lounges in the Southwest Airlines departure area to see just how comfy they are. Whoever says business travel is glamorous has not done it....

So on to the story!

If I had the money, I would have turned my 1965 Mustang into some sort of ultimate road racer. Stuffed a huge 390 cu. in. side oiler V-8 under the hood…somehow. But the budget, the actual money I had saved, meant something else completely different. So for several weeks during the summer in between my junior and senior year of high school, I put in massive hours at the grocery store where among other things I was a sacker, cashier, dairy, produce and aisle stocker. Quick side note: the first time I restocked milk, nobody told me about rotating the newer stuff so I put the newest milk in front. I am willing to bet that we actually sold the older milk first as most everyone reaches in back for the newer stuff. Maybe I was ahead of my time, or just engaging in counterintuitive marketing…not sure which.

So taking a look at my car, I realized it needed a lot of stuff. Somebody had put a lot of rock salt in the trunk at some point in time and a bunch of it leaked out too (just like the Camaro I looked at) and both the rear quarter panels started to get Swiss-cheesy and then developed huge gaping holes. It looked real cool…literally. The passenger floorboard was getting thin and finally rusted away, giving the passenger glimpses of the rolling road if they looked at the right spots (this also caused the passenger to get wet during hard rain…hell, during any rain) and the passenger door would not shut unless it was closed with just the perfect amount of force (thank God it had seatbelts, which I made every passenger wear). Then there were cooling issues, rough idle, terrible gas mileage and on and on. Fact was; it was just getting to the point of being worn out.

I saved up $500. Real money back in 1977. So guess what I decided to spend it on? Did I decide to make it safer and fix the brakes, floor panels, squeaky shocks and passenger door latch? Nooooo, I decided to make it go faster. I had a friend help me put it up on jack stands and proceeded to take a wrench to it. Only problem, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I took off part after part, the carb and intake manifold, the heads, water pump and yes the radiator. I sent the heads and radiator to a shop my Uncle recommended. I traded the intake manifold for one that would fit a larger four barrel carburetor and with my Uncles help, also traded the puny two barrel stock carb for a Holly 750 cfm four barrel Double Pumper. Man this was the biggest carburetor I had ever seen.

I got the parts back and started putting it back together. Once I was done I had another problem; there was a whole box of parts left over. Screws, washers, bolts, nuts, fittings, it was dozens and dozens of them. “Holy shit, where did all these parts come from and where in the hell do they go? Oh well, let’s see if this thing starts.” I am sure I said and spent several days getting everything ready for the big moment. Spark plugs in? Check. Spark plug wires in and more important in on the right plug? Check…I think. Fuel line connected? Check. Battery connected? Oh yeah, it was ready to go.

It took a couple of tries, but it finally caught and settled into a very rough idle. I frantically checked to make sure all the wires were connected correctly and discovered one of the vacuum lines was loose. I connected the line and the idle smoothed out. IT LIVES! IT IS ALIVE! I jumped in to take it for a quick spin around the neighborhood. After a few blocks, I could not resist it any more. You see, that male urge; namely youth and testosterone reared their mutual ugly heads and I had to nail it to see if all the huge performance mods I had made (namely new intake and carburetor) would make this old hulk go faster. I stomped my foot to the floor….and….it died. Shit! After coasting to a stop, I started it again and it ran at idle and low revs but every time I pressed on the accelerator just a little bit, it simply chugged to a stop, with no fire in its belly.

I actually ran the car like this for several days and just got use to coasting to a stop (hopefully in a safe spot) and restarting the car. I asked one of my gearhead friends what he thought was going on. He peered under the hood and pointed to the carb asking what it was. Proudly, I told him it was a Holly 750 Double Pumper. He started laughing, then as he tried to keep his balance by resting his hand on the fender, his hand slipped off and he fell to the ground clutching his sides. What is so funny I asked? He told me that the carb I had installed was meant for a motor like a 396 or 454 Chevy motor. In my little 289, it was like running a fire engine hose through your garden sprinkler and wondering why every time you turned on the hose, the sprinkler ended up in the neighbor’s yard. The 750 was delivering way more fuel than the little Ford V-8 could ever handle. OH….

But he was there for me man…I was so lucky, he had a Chevy Chevelle SS 396 and if I would only trade him my Holly 750 Double Pumper, he would get me a suitable carb that the 289 could handle. I was out of options, so I agreed. I removed the monstrous Holly and put on a Rochester QuadraJet Four barrel carburetor my friend sourced for me. And miracle of miracles, it ran. Of course I had addressed none of the other issues that I should have, but boy it sure did seem to run faster. At least it made this huge sucking sound from under the hood. And I never did find out if any of those extra left over parts were important enough to keep the car running, it chugged its way all the way through graduation; when I left for Italy.

Funny thing, my dad sold my car and got $500 for it. He kept the money too….

Until next time.

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