By on May 12, 2011


I’m normally pretty curmudgeonly about the inherent inferiority of old cars. A 5-year-old Camry will outperform just about every classic Detroit muscle car or Italian sports machine in nearly every category from comfort to acceleration. The windows fog up, you just push a button: problem solved. The asphalt gets rough, you don’t notice it: problem solved. Road trips in 60s cars in the pre-cell-phone era could turn particularly hellish; I’m trying to conjure up a sense of romance from my mid-80s memories of limping a Fairlane with a failing distributor down some godforsaken California Central Valley highway, in search of a junkyard with a Windsor-equipped donor car… and I just can’t do it. Yeah, the good old days were really pretty terrible. However, all that sensible real-world nonsense gets thrown right out the window when I go for a nighttime drive in rural America in a rattly-ass old car and a good song comes on the radio. Quick, get me a ’71 Plymouth Cricket and a stretch of two-lane!


Last time I was in South Carolina, I caught a ride from Kershaw to Camden with Tunachuckers team captain Mike, in his 1967 Volvo Amazon wagon. Here comes Warren Zevon‘s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” on the radio.

Sure, the Amazon rides like a Kävlinge grain harvester (only without the harvester’s fuel economy) but this sort of experience is one of the best things about being an American with car keys.

Even my 19-year-old Civic, EFI and all, manages to pull it off… when the highway is a two-lane stretched across the eastern edge of the Great Plains, that is, and the song on the AM is by George Jones. Not even a 21st-century GPS unit can ruin this moment.

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51 Comments on “What It’s All About: Old Car, Two Lane Blacktop, AM Radio...”


  • avatar
    rtfact32

    Murilee, thank you for the continued good work that you do in encapsulating all that is good in the car world. There is something about the siren song of the open road in an old car that appeals to me on a very elemental level. This conjures up September 1st, 1993 for me – the day I got my license, and shortly thereafter, picked up my first car: a white, 1986 Ford Pony Escort (with a four on the floor and a four under the hood), riding back to band practice with the windows down. Even as a 16 year old kid I could fully grasp what it meant…and I’ve never looked back.

    Thank you.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I got my drivers license in 1975, I’ve driven a lot of 60′s cars and yeah, it was some good times, cars were simple, easy to fix and cheap. Also, at that age you don’t mind that the 72 Camaro Z 28 with the air shocks in the back; rides like Harley hardtail, handles like a fat drunk, and drinks gas. It was freedom baby and that was a very groovy thing man!! Kept a blanket and pillow in the trunk since the back seat was designed by planned parenthood, not even my flexible 16 year old spine could manage a romp inside that car.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    This brings back some great memories. I made two cross country trips in the pre-cell phone (and pre-wife/kids/house) days. From Mass to Oregon (by way of LA) in a VW Quantum Syncro wagon and from OR to MA in an ’83 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ60 4-speed. Incredibly, both were 100% reliable, but I had a scare in the gas-swilling LC when I was running on fumes in southeastern Montana (also known as east bumblef**k) surrounded by nothingness. I had a better chance of finding a Mobil station on the moon.

    Desperate, I pull up to what looks like an abandoned warehouse off the side of US Rte 212 just to get my bearings. I peek inside, shout hello, and this old-timer walks out, I tell him my circumstance, and he throws two gallons of gas in the LC. He wouldn’t take any money and tells me I now have enough to get to a station over the state line in South Dakota. That dude saved my bacon.

    I never could figure out what he was doing there. There were no houses, I didn’t see a car…guardian angel?

  • avatar
    Syke

    Wonderful thoughts – which I’ll happily match on a midnight run behind the bars of a ’69 Triumph Bonneville cafe racer. So what if my ’95 Trident and ’98 Springer are better bikes. They don’t give the same feel.

    And to watch the look on the squids’ faces when I start it on the first kick (after going thru the starting ritual) is priceless.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I still get a kick out of seeing a friend’s face for the first time when I explain to him or her how to start my Q-jet equipped loaner; it’s clear they’ve only heard rumors of carbureted engines, and now they’ll need to drive one of the beasts. “Just pump the gas pedal twice, then hold it down and turn the key. Remember to let off the gas once the engine catches.”

  • avatar

    Golden Earring said it all…

    I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
    There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
    It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here
    And it’s half past four and I’m shifting gear

    The radio is playing some forgotten song
    Brenda Lee’s “Coming on Strong”
    The road has got me hypnotized
    And I’m speeding into a new sunrise

    My favorite road trip song. Me and my ’66 Plymouth, lots of late night runs from home to school on Sunday nights in the mid 70′s.

  • avatar

    Wait, where’s the ambient interior mood lighting, Sirius-XM satellite radio, pop-up DVD player and live running narration of your Facebook news feed?

    You’re killing everything that’s great (and, more importantly, profitable) about this industry with this kind of Luddite recalcitrance, young lady. I want you to think about all the poor social-media-integration and human-machine-interface engineers you’re putting out of work with this irresponsible glorification of a simpler, more honest era in automotive travel. Dangerous stuff.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I totally agree, and am now a bit sentimental. To me, there is nothing better than driving an old pickup across the western US. Our fleet has never been too old (since I’m only 28), but driving my first vehicle (90 F150 Custom) from Houston to Salt Lake was a great trip. There is something so cool about looking in the side mirror and seeing the truck bed’s movement be slightly different than yours on some of the old state highways. I miss that truck.

    Numerous road trips across the US, and back to TX a few times, in my 90 Integra were most enjoyable. Windows down, radio low in the background (yes, I prefer AM), and just enjoying the stars and wind. You feel like the only person out there, and it feels great. I miss that car.

    Now, the only trips by myself are really with a 2 month old sleeping in the backseat (like me, a car ride is soothing). I’ll usually take the Outback, but it’s nice to run through the gears on some of western Idaho’s backroads. Yeah, the stuff on AM isn’t as good these days and I usually turn to XM (Willies Place).

    I think the thing I most enjoy about my work, is getting out to do field work, mostly in the rural west and plains (where high-volage transmission lines or wind farms or solar farms tend to reside). Grab a rental and cruise along those rural roads. And then go have a cold Coors that evening.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Brings back memories of crossing Montana in a 396 powered Caprice (“reasonable and prudent” back then).

    Tools and spare parts and loose change and oil and antifreeze and water in the trunk? Check.

    Blue RTV? Check.

    And the amazement of my first new car – a ’96 Eagle Vision Tsi. ABS? Traction control?

    Air conditioning?

    A CD player?

    30 mpg?

    I still found myself on the same roads listening to AM radio at night.

    Now and then I fire up the GS just to experience the contrast, although the AM radio died a few years ago. But I don’t mind so much, the sound of the machine working seems to more than substitute.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I used to have a drive like that traveling between Chicago and Peoria every week. I’d leave Sunday night around 10, get to my place in Peoria around 12:30, sleep in and still be at work before most of my other traveling coworkers drove/flew in for the week. Repeat on Thursday night or Friday afternoon in the other direction and still somehow crowd 50-60 billable hours into that week.

    Most people took the 55/74 highway combination to get there but I’d turn west on 116 at Pontiac, a two lane highway running more or less directly to Peoria. No speed traps (though the radar detector would pick up oncoming officers zapping cars from a mile or so away), no real traffic except during the harvest, and pretty well maintained to boot. I drove through the night for two years through all sorts of weather. Central Illinois had just about everything from storms and blizzards and thick fog to clear nights with moonlight so bright you almost could drive without headlights.

    Speaking of headlights, my car had European code lenses, which I think really helped in the absolute darkness of the place. I almost never needed high beams and I’m convinced no one needs the fog lights that are on so many cars these days. They would really cut down your distance vision.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      I got lost last year while on my way to Rantoul and ended up on 116 going the other way. I was in my swapped Cressida and remember thinking how awesome it was that I had forgotten the GPS, gotten lost, and navigated with a paper map. Loud side pipe singing, solid engine mounts, Rascal Flats, and cozy interior.

    • 0 avatar
      mzs

      The roads out there are great. Did you ever see the cars driving to cruise nights in Pontiac, like to the DQ? You might have seen some great prostreet modifieds in that case. There still are a handful of speed shops out there.

  • avatar
    rpm773

    Ahhh. August 20th, 1996, early evening. I was cruising through the PA mountains on I-70/76, going from Boston back to school in the midwest for my junior year. I was excited to see my friends I’d not seen all summer.

    It had been raining for much of the trip, but the sun was out and setting, it was cool and damp evening, and everything had that vibrant smell of late August

    I was driving an 81 Volvo 240, with about 150K on the clock and a brand new exhaust system, which sounded great. I had put in a seat from a later model that had swing-down armrest. I felt like I was king of the world.

    I had enough foresight at the time to realize that, while greater things were still to come, life was pretty damn good and that I should enjoy these moments. And I did.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    Wow.

    I found myself involuntarily singing along with both tunes, and I realised something: there’s something about hearing a song on the radio that causes me to enjoy it more.

    My first car (I still have her) is an ’89 244DL. She had about a light-second on the clock when I got her, and she served as my daily driver for nearly a year and a half until some maintenance came up and I bought a 745 Turbo as a winter beater. The 7 has more comfortable seats, more legroom, power windows, power locks that work, a power sunroof, a functional blower motor, and half as many little noises as the 2… and it’s just not the same. I’ve grown fond of the car, but something isn’t quite right – in my 244, there’s no question that you’re driving an updated classic, where the 7 is comparatively modern and… carlike.

    Getting back to my point, both cars have cassette decks, and the 244′s head unit has a line-in jack. I’ve spent most of my driving career with my mp3 player (or, lately, my new cell phone) connected to the stereo, but occasionally I get tired of my own music, or the battery dies, and I’m not in the mood for the half-dozen cassettes (Clapton, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac…) that I have with me.

    Finding a song I want to hear in my own portable music collection is easy. Having one come on the radio, perfectly suiting the moment… that’s something special.

    Which isn’t to discount the memories attached to songs that I’d chosen to play, either. The only time I’ve had a car on two wheels, overcooking a sharp back-road turn and hitting a patch of ice in my 244, had Colossal Youth playing as a surreal backdrop, while the only real accident I’ve had occurred to Big Black’s “Bad Penny” – surprisingly, I wasn’t speeding, wasn’t at fault, and remained totally calm.

    And the next thing that came up on shuffle after planting my 745 under the rear corner of a pickup? An oddly appropriate Zevon track.

    Chance over AM or FM still has quite a bit on an mp3 player’s shuffle feature, of course… but sometimes a song, no matter how it’s played, will simply click.

    Especially in an old, quirk-filled Swedish car.

  • avatar
    sco

    This sentiment (even down to the AM radio) is perfectly captured in a teriffic song (Windfall) by Son Volt:

    Now and then it keeps you running,it never seems to die
    The trail’s spent with fear not enough living on the outside

    Never seem to get far enough staying in between the lines
    Hold on to what you can waiting for the end not knowing when

    May the wind take your troubles away,
    May the wind take your troubles away
    Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel,
    May the wind take your troubles away

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think anything Tweedy or Farrar has done since then that compares favorably to Son Volt.

      BTW, a band that gets it in terms of cars is the Drive By Truckers, “it ain’t revved till the rods are thrown”. They even have some Panther love, in “Ain’t Never Gonna Change”, there’s the line “My brother got picked up in Parkers, got him a ride in a new Crown Vic, they said he was moving at the interstate level, but they couldn’t really make things stick”

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    I am stuck on nostalgia – experiencing that feeling every time I drive my 240, watching beemers drifting back in the rear view mirror.

    OK, I got stranded once, but that was when the water pump installed by a Volvo mechanic a year ago slipped the sheave off the shaft.

  • avatar
    nikita

    “some godforsaken California Central Valley highway” brings back so many memories. ’65 Impala, ’67 VW and ’71 Chevy Pickup were the vehicles I remember driving in the fog-bound winters and hellish-hot summers there.

  • avatar

    The rumble of my extremely large, and slow, 383 big block. The ride of the very large Dodge C-body as it wafts along the dark two-lane. The dashboard lights glow ominously and the crackle of the AM Radio tuned into an oldies station. All windows down and left arm hanging on the outside door panel occasionally waving my hand through the air like it was an air plane.

    That’s me and my 1970 Dodge Polara. That is pure Valhalla my friends.

  • avatar
    turtletop

    Some call it nostalgia. I call it here and now… 1981 Volvo 245, 1982 Volvo 244, 1991 Ford Econoline. No AM radio, though… the iPod, my concession to modernity.

    What it’s all about. And what it is, baby.

  • avatar
    Joss

    71 Plymouth Cricket? Heck I don’t think pop’s rental Hillman Avenger had a radio or a passenger visor come to that. I just remember gleefully riding along with a Dinky/Matchbox as a visiting gift, the waft of nan’s fresh powder and the sweet burning zing of Foxes Glacier Mints.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    That’s my wagon; that’s me, eyes blinking at the precise moment Phil snapped that picture. Fun drive.

    Yes, it does ride like a grain harvester- I installed the IPD overload springs in the back, so its a little…stiff. As for the fuel economy, I’m averaging right around 25 mpg these days, respectable enough for a daily commuter car.

    Had an exhaust leak recently, fixed it with an aluminum can. The can gave out after a few weeks, so I made a “proper” repair last night. Took about an hour. To me, this is what’s great about old cars. Sure, they break, and break…well, often. But you can always fix ‘em, usually with nothing more than a few wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers.

    Send lawyers, guns, and money; the shit has hit the fan!

    • 0 avatar
      mzs

      That’s great the exhaust repair! I can’t remember if I thanked you yet for the advice of how to fix my leaky clutch slave cylinder, thanks if I forgot. Everything works great again. I know I am really clueless and I very much appreciate your advice.

      Anyway Mike writes the truth, with an old car you can fix it, with mostly simple tools. He’s one of the people that once I got fed-up enough with my ’03, was my inspiration to sell it and just get an old Amazon. Seriously it was scary for me at first because I know nothing, really the first valve adjustment I did took 4+ hours because it took me that long to get the hang of putting ht feelers in right. I’m a monkey. But at some point with an old car you get this mindset like, it will break, who cares, I’ll fix it. You actually sort of want things to break. It gives you a feeling like you’re a winner when parts cost $5-10 and things are rebuildable. And you get new tools to play with, fun!

      Anyway I took my wife’s cousin from NYC for a cruise out to rural IL and back last night, the AM radio was on, there is a station the town over with classic rock/oldies, it’s always fitting, though I don’t know the names of hardly any songs ever. He told me, “I can really see why driving like this is appealing.” Felt like a winner then too, kid’s a generation younger than me, hope I infected him so that he gets a suitable car if he ever leaves the city.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Because a swimming pool at the KOA in the Ozarks kept us from leaving in the morning, at nightfall we were still hours away from our destination in southern Kansas. By the time we reached the border, we were driving towards a brilliantly picturesque sunset that threw the longest purple shadows I had ever seen.

    At the last phone booth, Dad called his Aunt Maude telling her we would be arriving at her farm house after midnight. She would keep the porch light on. No one locked their doors. She was just concerned that we could find the house at night so far from town. There were no lights during the 11 mile stretch between the gas station and her front door. Although the station would be closed, Bobby usually left the Skelly sign on giving the june bugs something to kamikaze.

    By midnight, everyone was asleep in the car except for Dad and me. He worked the third shift, so he was wide awake. I didn’t wish to miss a thing. Dad was 27 years old then. The car windows were down and the air was dry and warm. I propped my folded arms across the front seat to watch him try to find something on the AM radio. The radio hissed and popped as Dad dialed the chrome knobs finding little country stations broadcasting under the starry sky.

    The glow off the dash created enough light for me to note the names of the sleepy tiny towns we drove through. About every ten miles there would be the fresh stench of a heaven-bound skunk, as the never-ending sounds of singing insects serenaded us from the ditches alongside the road. There would be a wall of cool air waiting for us over each bridge.

    There was nearly no traffic. A light from a distant farm, a flashing yellow light marking the middle of another sleeping crossroads, the strange yodeling sounds coming from the tinny radio and the warm transmission bump I stood on were the memories of that night.

    Just my Dad and me.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      Vanilla Dude – wow, just wow.

      I remember the almost exact same scenario, save for a few details (Eastern Ontario, on our way to my Gran’s farm, gravel for virtually every road north of Cornwall), probably from around the same time of the mid-sixties.

      I recall getting dry mouth from the gravel roads, but no liquid was allowed in my Dad’s car for fear of a spill, and I was only allowed in the front seat when my Mom would get tired and lie down in the back seat – at that point my brother and I would vie for the honour of sitting up front with the old man (not really, he was probably about 30 or so then, but of course that’s ancient to an 8 year old!).

      No seat belts, so I was able to roll down the window and rest my forearms on the sill and dangle my head out of the window – once in a while getting stung by a small pebble or insect, and talking to my Dad about the Habs chances in the playoffs, or about the next car he was looking at. We never talked about “deep” or “meaningful” stuff, but I loved every moment of it, nonetheless.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        I also have wonderful memories of driving along the Lake, skirting across Rt. 3 on a perfect summer day with my future wife driving 100 (Canadian) to Welland. Eastern Ontario is very pretty when you slow down to discover it.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      “Let’s run home!”
      “Why, dad?”
      “Because one day, we won’t be able to.”

      Thanks for the memory.

  • avatar
    Banger

    Excellent stuff, Murilee.

    I’ll always remember the honeymoon journey my wife and I took in my Ranger. We drove through the night, Tennessee to Florida. My wife dozed for most of the first leg of the trip, leaving just me, a low hum of AM radio, and the occasional burst of CB activity as we hit towns and approached speed traps.

    We hit the Florida state line bound for Pensacola at nearly 3 a.m. The directions we had pulled from the internet to our motel room left us confused, at one point. Thankfully, I had an old Radio Shack CB radio installed in the truck at that time, and I called out on 19 to the Heartland Express driver who had been driving ahead of us for the last dozen miles or so of two-lane in the panhandle. He set us aright– our directions were trying to send us the wrong way at an upcoming intersection (way to go, Mapquest.) He basically said, “Follow me, I’m headed into Pensacola myself.”

    We hit a hilly section just before entering Pensacola proper, and the rig seemed to pull away from us quickly, its trailer marker lights disappearing into the darkness a couple of hills away. In less than five minutes, we were at our motel. Guardian angel, or just an old-fashioned Knight of the Road? I don’t know. But we made it, the longest road trip we’d ever taken together up to that point, and it was an exhilarating experience.

    We would spend almost as much time driving on the honeymoon as we did visiting places. After seeing Naval Air Station Pensacola and the super-cool Naval Air Museum there, we headed to St. Petersburg, somehow bumping the Ranger’s speed limiter to keep pace with the crazy 90+mph traffic between Tallahassee and Tampa without getting caught in the numerous speed traps along the way. The CB saved my bacon time and again, as I slowed down just in time to see an officer standing on the roadside with a tripod-mounted radar gun, followed by a shoulder full of cars being ticketed by a team of troopers less than a mile down the road.

    Our trip home was the longest leg of the journey. By the time we stopped in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, near the Tennessee-Georgia state line, for supper, we were beat, and the Ranger was due for another oil change, which was something I had just done a couple of weeks before setting out on the honeymoon. It brought my wife and I closer, and it brought me closer to my truck, if indeed you can consider yourself spiritually closer to a machine. That, to me, is the mark of a great experience on the road.

  • avatar

    Timely…

    Tomorrow morning I am setting out in Mr. Mad_Science’s 1967 Ford Country Sedan. I will leave Huntington Beach while it is still dark and take a meandering route to his new place in Fremont…

    I am bringing an iPod and speakers because I don’t know any good AM stations.

  • avatar
    ajla

    So I tied an onion to my belt.

    Which was the style at the time.

    /fires up Sega 32x.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    Driving down thru the scrub pine highways of Arkansas in my ’68 el Camino and ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ comes on the radio. I hadn’t heard that one in years and it just felt…like a good moment in time.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I’ve had the same experience, and would paralell this one with driving an old pickup on a gravel road in the summertime late in the afternoon windows down; with the AM on going as fast as you dare. Preferrably with you wife/significant other next to you-That’s living.

  • avatar

    Driving overnight to NYC from Detroit in a ’68 Plymouth Valiant. We called it Slithis, after a horror movie about a snake. It had a 170 Slant Six and took the small-print tires and batteries (you know, the price is low in the ad, till you read the small print and find out that the price is some oddball size) so it was cheap to run. We didn’t have enough money for anything more than a cheap cassette player (no reverse, just FF and flip it over) and some speakers on the back deck, but we had to have sounds for the trip.

    Is there a better feeling than driving into New York City, timed just right so that there’s a sea of rush hour headlights in the mirror and open road up ahead, with Little Feat playing through that cheap car stereo?

    Roll right through the night, indeed.

    Sometimes, the AM radio just doesn’t cut it. On that same trip, every time we turned on the radio and were able to tune something in out of the radio silence in middle of the night middle of Pennsylvania, it was invariably Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, not a bad tune but at the time it was more prevalent on the airwaves than Little Drummer Boy in December.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I think I was learning to drive when Baker St came out, and you’re right, that frickin song was everywhere. I crank it up when I hear it now, but in 1970-whenever it got played to death.

  • avatar
    alan996

    Keeper of Dead Brands here:

    I know this was long ago but best road trip ever: April 1962, five newly minted Marines just out of radio school in San Diego (another dead brand I hold: you want Morse code I’ll give you Morse code). Airfare expensive and the take home pay for an E-3 is less than $70.00 a month. 1950 Ford 2 door with a rear seat, $125.00 in Escondido, load it up and go, five 19 yearolds with sea bags. Outside of Bakersfield we discover the oil problem, can’t stop now, went through 16 gallons of oil for the whole trip. (Retread oil in six packs)

    I40 was just being built so much of the drive through New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas was on the old Rt 66 road bed around the active construction sites. Interesting.

    One used tire outside Flagstaff. Two used tires somewhere in New Mexico at 2:00 AM. First man out in Oklahoma, 2nd man out in St Louis, 3rd man out in Kankakee, IL, I’m out in Chicago and the last intrepid voyager got it home to Jackson, Mi, where it was sold for $100.

    But the radio worked and we were young……

    If Junebug reads this could I use your gif?

    Al from Chicago (Keeper of Dead Brands)

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Not really in old iron but in a diesel F250, loading up about 4:00 pm somewhere around Wadena, MN after grouse hunting all day and driving straight to to south Arkansas. I had my two English Setters with me and no one else. There was a World Series game to keep me company until midnight or so and after that only whatever cd I could listen to for a while. The dogs slept all night except when I would stop for fuel and lead them around to use the bathroom and give them water. I thought Iowa and Missouri would never end but the worst of the drive was the last 300 or so miles in Arkansas. I got home about 1:00 pm the next day and slept for about 2-3 hours before I got bored and got up.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Great topic!

    All of my first roadworthy cars were 1960s-70s American iron, and I spent a lot of miles travelling solo across lonely, dark roads in eastern WA in them. AM was the only way to go out there at night! I enjoyed listening to stations that were 750 miles away.

    With new cars, we’ve completely lost our sense of adventure and self-reliance. If it quits, there’s no need to even bother to open the hood, pray that you have cell service (also worth asking for some charge left in your smartphone’s battery) and call AAA.

    I remember the time I was cruising the ’71 Ford wagon from Seattle to Pullman, somewhere past the middle of nowhere on Highway 26, at night, when I realized that I could no longer see the road because the headlights were too dim. I pulled over and (this is key) left the engine running, dug out my multimeter and checked the battery voltage – just a shade over 9V – YIKES (it’s worth mentioning here that no modern car would even run with the battery voltage this low)! Banged on the mechanical voltage regulator, lights got bright again, fixed!

    A few miles later, same deal, pull over, lather, rinse, repeat. After a few cycles of this, the banging no longer worked and I was too far from anywhere to make it on battery alone, so I extracted the field wire (the one which needs power so the alternator can charge) from the regulator connector, and connected it to the HVAC blower motor lead with a jumper wire and some electrical tape underneath the hood. Thankfully, this stripper-model wagon had full manual HVAC controls with a separate blower fan control switch on the dash.

    I drove the rest of the way to Pullman, now as a human voltage regulator / driver, with my multimeter plugged in under the dash to monitor the system voltage (still listening to the AM radio of course).

    I could write a book about my 1969 Cadillac ambulance road trip adventures, those will have to wait for another time!

  • avatar
    texan01

    You know, I spent a good $30 installing a factory AM/FM Cassette in my ’77 Chevelle to replace the working stock AM radio. This post is making me wish I hadn’t done that.

    The first time I got it out on the road after buying it. It had no heat, but freezing cold A/C, AM out of the mono speaker, no reverse or 3rd gear and no speedometer, the only working gauge was the gas gauge.

    I had to go out of town and the fuel pump on the Explorer had died that morning, so I look over at the Chevelle, check it out to make sure all the fluids were up and I had a spare gallon of water, and some oil and trans fluid, tires were full of air, and the spare checked, along with making sure the jack and tools were in the trunk. I set out on this little odyssey.

    It goes to Granbury with nary a complaint other than the lack of 3rd gear which I was hesitant to drive faster than 60mph in 2nd. I knew I could do 80 in 2nd from a nearly identical car I owned 10 years prior. I was just afraid of spinning the all-original 305 into a firey mess. Also having to drive with the window down to keep from freezing my self out, thanks to the inability to temper the 34 degree air coming from the 4 seasons A/C. I actually had the windows fogged up on the outside.

    I hit Granbury, and the car dies at the first stop light. I hit the starter and it does the low voltage protest of slowly grinding to start it up, Fires on the 3rd revolution of the starter. Next light, same thing. No more lights, and I’m at my friends house. We then take his truck out to our mutual friends house for 4th of July.

    Come back, and hop in the car, after it’s rested for a day, take it back to Dallas. No complaints again from it. My confidence has grown tremendously with this car. Fill it up and gasp at the not-unexpected 9mpg.

    I pull into the garage, and shut it down. the last song I heard on its radio that day, was Sleepwalk by Santo and Johnny.

  • avatar

    Cars and tunes have always been Siamese twins for memories. Here was my choices for Top 4 road tunes of all time. http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/star-car-tunes/663-we-pick-the-top-40-driving-songs-of-all-time-the-final-four.html

  • avatar

    Sorry about the grammar malfunction in my last post. I should have written Here “were” not “was”. It may seem difficult to believe that I was an English major in university.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    1983, 4 guys in ’79 Trans Am (T-tops!) from Missouri to Florida for spring break. Starter gave up after a couple hundred miles, we had to push start it at every stop. Firebird backseats are barely adequate for 2 midgets, much less two grown men on a 24-hour road trip. Of course, first day on the beach I got burned to a crisp and had to stay out of the sun for rest of the week. Good times.

    • 0 avatar

      I mentioned the Drive By Truckers above. They have a song with the lyric:

      I used to go out in a Mustang
      A 302 Mach One in Green
      Me and your mama made you in the back
      And I sold it to buy her a ring

      Great lyric but I doubt that anyone was actually conceived in the back seat of a Mustang. Not enough room. Even one person in the back of any of the pony cars is a stretch.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Oshawa Ont. to Vancouver BC in a 62 Pontiac Strato Chief. A jug of used oil and a 6 quart basket of spark plugs. The rear seat passenger had to gap and clean the plugs. If we picked up a hiker,it was the old a$$, grass, or gas game.

    Whatever we could pull in on the AM radio was the station of choice.If we got a rock station,then it was time to roll one..

    2:00 AM halfway across Sask, CCR’s “Fortunate Son” playing and a cute little hitchhiker, she covered the ass, and grass,criteria.

    It was 40 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    It was the end of winter quarter in 1992 when I did my most memoral road trip from Corvallis Oregon, to Bakersfield, California. I was a freshman at Oregon State, and I had been contacted by a girl about riding with me to Bakersfield. On the appointed date, I picked up a girl from one of the women’s dorms, and after some short introductions, us in my faithful ’74 Opel Manta set out on the trip.

    Somewhere around the california/oregon border it started snowing. Soon I was pulled over and chaining up the old Opel. My passenger slept through this entire afair, and didn’t wake up again until I pulled over 100 miles later to take the chains off.

    Some where around Redding, we pulled off the road to get some gas, and the car just died at the end of the off ramp. After some investigating, I found that the car was not getting any spark. It turned out that the metal piece on the distributor that my Mallory ignition system was using for a pickup had rubbed up against the pick up, and broke. When the RPMs went down as we got off the road, the metal strip dropped down into the distibutor, and cut off the spark. It took me about an hour to figure this out, and then another hour sitting in the back room of an auto parts place cutting apart tin cans and using an old soldering iron to make another pick-up. Soon my igintion system was cobbled back together, and we were back on the road.

    Somewhere around Sacramento, my lack of sleep began to catch up with me. I pulled over and asked my companion to drive. It was at this point that she informed me that she could not drive a stick. So, with a little help of me on the stick, and her on the clutch, I managed to get her back on to I5, and in 4th gear. I slept for a few hours before I had to help her get it out of gear on an offramp near Fresno.

    We made it to Bakersfield in about 12 hours. Not bad for an old Opel.

  • avatar
    The Wedding DJ

    September 1983…had been in the Army for four years and it was time to come home and be a civilian again. If you moved yourself, the Army paid for the trailer and gave you a bonus on top of it, so I got a Jartran trailer (remember Jartran? Didn’t last long) and hooked it to the back of my white 1970 Plymouth Fury II 4-door and drove from El Paso to Detroit, a 2000-mile trip. The 318 was pretty worn with 114,000 miles, and the rule was “fill it up with oil and check the gas.” Oh, the AM radio was augmented with a Kmart FM converter, and I had installed a pair of Sparkomatic 6×9′s in the back. If you tuned the radio slightly off frequency from the converter (1400 KHz), it didn’t sound half bad.

    If you’ve never driven on I-10 or I-20 in west Texas, everything you’ve heard is true. There’s NOTHING for at least 200 miles, and I hit that stretch at about 9:00 pm on my first night. The song on the radio, coming from some adult contemporary FM station, was the Diana Ross version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Right then, the oil light came on. Yes, at 75 mph. Thank God I had a case (12 quarts) of SAE 30 oil with me. It took 4 quarts to get it back on the road – little did I know it was just the beginning. That case of oil only got me across Texas into Arkansas.

    When I finally got home three days later, I had used 33 (yes, thirty-three) quarts of oil. That’s a quart of straight-30 every 60 miles. The front of the trailer was black from all the oil emanating from the exhaust, and it took quite a bit of work at the self-service car wash to get it ready to turn in.

    But hey, the Fury’s body was rust-free, and it DID make the trip.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I remember firing up my 1983 (UK) Ford Escort after nearly a year idle underneath a tarp near my parents house (this was nearly 10 years ago). A little bit of tinkering and a new battery and she was underway. I couldn’t afford a full CD player so I had one of those god awful CD to tape adapters plugged in – it was crackly but it worked. On my 350 mile first trip out in nearly a year the headlights decided to pack up – fixed with duct tape – the thermostat fan switch gave up the ghost – leading to a nice bubbly radiator in the middle of a motorway traffic jam, which was fixed by letting it cool down and then ignoring the rules and zipping down the shoulder to the next exit.
    About 250 miles into my trip I finally reached the Lake District during the evening. I put on my ‘Muse – Origin of Symmetry’ CD (to those crusties out there – they are what I would describe as Operatic-Rock) and hit the nighttime winding mountain roads. The night was clear, the stars were bright and there wasn’t a soul upon the roads but me. The track ‘Bliss’ starts up as I hit a particularly fast stretch of road. I know this car, I know this music, I know this road… all of it flowing together into a single moment.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I love taking long highway drives, especially on northern summer evenings, when sunset and the following twilight lasts for hours. I put a lot of highway miles on my ’87 Grand Am in only a few years during my university/internship days. A basic car but comfortable, reliable, and well-maintained, with a fantastic stereo system. I wish I could have appreciated everything I had at the time, especially my beautiful girl. But it just wasn’t in my nature.


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