My Czech buddy “Bob” asked me to go on up somewhere north of Fresno and grab a 1969 Chrysler 300 Convertible for him. Low pay and the distinct possibility of bloody knuckles? Yes! Yes despite the fact I really dislike the whole middle man thing. In fact, just like the 1981 Corvette, the seller of this Chrysler “needed” the money in cash because he’d heard about internet scams involving the Czech Republic. Never mind the fact that I– a good patriotic American– would be handing him a cashier’s check from BofA. Nope, must be dead presidents, and in the flesh so to speak. So, with forty $100 bills burning my pocket, I hopped a plane up to Oakland where Jalopnik’s Murilee Martin picked me up.
Why Murilee? First I needed a ride. Second, the boy knows cars. You know when people donate their cars to charity as tax write offs? He used to have a job fixin’ what got donated. We arrive at the seller’s home and ask if we can take the car for a spin before I hop in and drive it 300 miles back to Los Angeles. Bad idea. The seller immediately begins accusing us of trying to scam him and he nearly comes to fisticuffs with Murilee. I calm things down. That is until we try and start the car. See, it won’t start. This leads to more screamin’ and cussin’ and accusations of, “I’m been working on Mopars longer than you’ve been alive!” It was lovely.
Running a wire straight the battery to the coil fires the fairly healthy 440 right up. The problem then is obviously in the ignition and more specifically has something to do with the meth lab-special wiring job (in defense of the seller; he’d purchased the car just a few weeks earlier and hadn’t done a thing save replace the battery). A trip to the hardware store later and Murilee’s all set to rig a switch that’ll allow me to get started without the key when he notices that an electrical plug on the firewall is loose. Push it back, and the old Chrysler fires right up. Of course not only is the alternator too small (90 amps instead 120) but it doesn’t seem to necessarily be connected to the battery.
“I need to warn you,” the seller says. “The bias-ply on the left rear is starting to separate. So I’d stop in Fresno and buy a new tire.” No problem I tell myself. “Also, the fuel gauge is broken, but I’d guess you’ll get around six mpg.” Did he (or Murilee) know how big the tank was? Negative. Working on Mopars your whole life, huh?
Having no clue how much gas was in the tank I proceeded to “drive” straight the nearest station. Drive is in quotes because terms like “float” or “lumber” or “slothfully crawl while rocking” would be more accurate. Hey, at least the top (somehow, miraculously) worked. Of course it was 115 degrees in the middle of the day in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. Best to leave it up.
Twenty miles later and I’m ready to commit suicide. Any semblance of an HVAC system had eaten itself decades ago. As such, nothing but hot air blew into the cabin, and the haggard cloth top did little but add heat. Down goes the roof and good thing I brought a hat. Cooling air is now passing over my sun-roasted body. I’m worried about going much over 65 mph because of the ailing tire. This can’t be worth the money.
I find the tire shop and — JOY! — they’ve got the tire in stock. “Sir, there’s a problem,” the friendly tire guy says to me. “All five lugs are seized. And you’re leaking gas.” CRAP! We put a wreck bar into the end of tire iron and really wrenched. Nothing. Seized, totally seized. And gas was dripping from the tank. No cell phone reception, either. I eyeball the tire. It doesn’t look that bad. Just a little chunk missing. Must press on. Of course it was only later I learned that all pre-1970 Mopars (and Fords) are left hand threaded on the left side…
Figuring that the big 300 with the top down and the leak is (hopefully) getting three mpg, I stop after just 90 miles to fill up. But it won’t start. Dead battery. Turns out the alternator wasn’t connected to the “brand new battery.” Ha ha ha. Well, no biggie, as surely someone would mench up and give me a jump. An hour and fifteen minutes later when AAA finally shows I’m ready to light all of Bakersfield on fire. Despite the rapidly degenerating tire, sunburn, heatstroke, gas leak and mushrooming anger, I decided to press on. Not only press on, but I wouldn’t be switching the engine off until Los Angeles.