I watched the Colorado papers for a while but it became evident that I needed to expand my search through e-Bay. I was really looking for a '60 – '62 Valiant 2-door, but, like the NFL, I would draft the best athlete. I bid on two cars before bidding on the one I bought. It posted at $2,900 with a reserve. I bid $3,000 (with a $3600 max) and immediately the reserve was met, so I had ten days to watch the darn thing, knowing that all the action would take place in the last few hours. That came and went, no one bid, and I had a car.
1973 Dodge Dart Swinger hardtop, 225 c.i. slant six, automatic, power steering, 47,000 actual miles (I did get the paper trail on that), and new paint, interior and vinyl roof. The neat part was that the engine had a Clifford intake, 2-barrel Holly and a Clifford header system, although that led into a stock-looking and sounding exhaust system. Man, buying a car unseen and un-driven is a scary thing. One hears stories....
So the e-mailing and phoning started, and due to schedules by all involved, I was to pick it up in St. Louis the coming weekend. With only 5 days notice, all the plane fares were outrageous (from Colorado Springs, CO). We don't have Southwest Airlines here in Colorado, but I was checking flights from Albuquerque to St. Louis and found a reasonable one. I checked the bus fares from the 'Springs to Albuquerque, that was $61. Just for fun I checked the bus rates from the 'Springs to ST. Louis, and it was only $82. Wow – vs $300 for the flight PLUS the bus ticket. The schedules worked out, so that was my choice. I won't take this space to write about that 19-hour bus trip, but look for my book out soon, "Nineteen Hours in Hell: The Rise and Fall of the American Bus System."
Finally I get to meet my car in person and start my adventure. It is as the pictures showed, no surprises, with the possible exception of something that the pictures didn't really show: The very nice paint job doesn't REALLY go all that well with the original color interior. Oh well, it all looks so '70's that it isn't too noticeable. Ready to go, with only the title, and a bill of sale written on the back of a map of St. Louis I had printed off from Yahoo. Don't need no darn plates!
I was warned about the brakes not being power-assisted and told the proper starting procedure, and I was off. Immediately I recalled one thing I didn't like about the early American power steering – it is WAY too light and has zero road-feel. A cough will put you in a ditch. A sneeze – you will do a bootleg turn in your own lane and be facing the terrified drivers that are approaching you head-on.
I stopped at the first gas station, and checked the oil (3/4 quart low), checked and corrected the tire pressures (from 23 to 32, random, to 32 all around) and filled up the tank. I rearranged the junk in the trunk – 4 mag wheels, the original manifolds with one- barrel carb, a grill, a valve cover and some smaller, dirty unidentified stuff. I added my tools to the mess, rolled down all the windows, got some Sinatra on the original AM radio, and hit the freeway.
My first friendly smiles and waves came from a distinguished older couple in a new Thunderbird as they glided by. Really big smiles - I built my own story about what the Dodge may have meant to them back when. I was keeping it at or below 60 MPH for the first 50 shake down miles, but before I got too far, the freeway traffic stopped. There had been a horrendous wreck a couple of miles ahead, so I got to do the stress test on the cooling system (mine and the car's). Two PM, August in the Midwest, 3 MPH on the blazing cement, and it didn't overheat. The gauge only crept up about an eighth-inch. Good show.
I finally exited I-44 onto U.S. 50 heading west. A word about Highway 50: It is one of the roads that goes all the way across the country, in this case from San Francisco to Ocean City, Maryland. I have traversed California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas on 50, and I would do Missouri this trip. It's a goal of mine to finish that road trip someday.
I stopped at an auto parts house (I was now going through all the small towns instead of around them) and bought a fan belt and power steering belt for the trip. I also bought an oil filler cap, since I noticed the one on the car probably had the original gasket on it, and had a little oil around the opening since I had added oil. I had been getting some blow-by smells in the car also. The Dart was running very well, the suspension seemed tight and it tracked down the road nice and straight. It did have new radial tires on it. Amazingly, no rattles!
On through the pretty countryside of rural Missouri, with a planned overnight stop around Kansas City, where I would pick up I-70 the following morning. I encounter a brief rain shower, and turn on the wipers. They make about 10 swipes and quit. Rats! A peek under the dash and I see the arms aren't connected to the wiper motor anymore. The fitting looks like it will be a MOPAR part, but I see a way to rig it up. I stopped at an auto parts house and bought some flat washers and c-clips. I put on a washer, the arm, another washer and the c-clip and it works just fine, albeit a little noisy with too much play in the movement. Some old dude (my age) comes up to me and tells me more than I wanted to ever know about his '65 Dodge and wishes me well. On through Kansas City, and I start looking for my favorite motel chain – "$22.95 single, free HBO". I find one just like that, and the room is $34.95. (Why is that?).
Crack of dawn, egg McMuffin in hand, onto the super slab for the boring part of the trip. I'm feeling good about doing 70-75 MPH, the big six isn't missing a beat. Ain't much on AM radio out there, huh? Around Salina, the fumes are overwhelming me, so I stop at an auto parts house (I'm cutting and pasting that phrase now) to do some engineering. I buy a PCV valve and install that. The old one wouldn't rattle when shaken. The breather cap had a hose that disappeared behind the engine. I pull the breather off and behold, the hose is about 6" long and doesn't connect into anything. It was just directing the blow-by to the firewall where it was sucked into the car. I'm sure with the special manifolds and carb the original crankcase ventilation system was corrupted, but that's ridiculous. Looking at the spare valve cover in the trunk, I see it has a K&N filter set-up with nice chrome plating, and looks new. I put that on, and the fume problem stops.
The Holley had a special filter on it also, but the parts house didn't have the 3" x 14" filter replacement. While looking at that, I noticed the base of the air cleaner was on the carb crooked, sucking unfiltered air into my combustion chambers. After fixing that, I was WD-40ing (is that a verb?) the linkage, and noticed the accelerator pump was leaking a few drops when the carb was opened quickly. I made the decision against rebuilding the carb there, just to remember - nice and easy when accelerating.
Now the car was running better; I suspect that the PCV valve had been plugged before. The valve cover had developed a leak by then, probably from the internal pressure, but nothing that couldn't wait. It's hot and boring driving, back into the vastness that is Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado, for an uneventful trip into Colorado Springs. Did you know that Mt. Sunflower, on the Kansas/Colorado border, is the highest point in Kansas? I did notice the drop in power that goes along with living at 6,300 ft. I will most likely have to re-jet the carb.
All in all, I like the car and look forward to fixing the little problems and learning about the Chrysler philosophy of building cars. I'll try and get the gas leak fixed before cruise night next Saturday. If $3K sounded a lot for this car, I have no doubt now that it's worth it. My wife just looked at it and said, "Guess I'll have to dig out my old bell-bottoms and love beads." I think that means she likes it.
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