Paraphrasing the Drive-By Truckers; I grew up in the south back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The dinosaurs of were the boats you see in Murlee’s amazing contributions. But at the time, the “cool” ones fit into one of three narrow categories; Camaro, Firebird or Mustang. V8s and solid rear axles enabled them to spin the tires. Our $3.37 per hour minimum wage jobs did not enable us to replace them.
Fortunately the market had a solution; retreads. Bald tires with a new tread pattern effectively glued over the top. You don’t see them very often now, but at one time, they made up 20% of the tire market.
I was living in Atlanta with my roommate and grade school friend, Brent who had a Camaro. Keeping with tradition, under the requisite air shocks was a pair of retreads, or “recaps” from a small outfit in SC, near our parent’s homes.
On one of our commutes to our movie theater jobs, one of the tires began to “round.” When the inner band of the previously bald tire split, ruptured or leaked air under the retread, the tire became round from a forward profile, like a sport bike rear. If had taken that shape over its entirety, there wouldn’t be an issue, but the small bubbles resulted in an oblong tire. Now the solid-axled, leaf-springed, jacked-up Camaro was transformed into a solid-axled, leaf-springed jacked-up clown car.
When this happened, Brent immediately swapped on a retread spare, which promptly rounded. Apparently this was a bad batch of originals, because the other side also rounded.
A long distance phone call (remember those?) to the retread outfit confirmed they would happily replace them, free of charge. All we had to do was bring them in; 160 miles away. Coordinating two days off from our flunkie theater was no small feat and took more approvals than a Pakistan drone strike. I was invested in the process because most of the time I didn’t own a running car. This was one of those times.
In the early morning hours after a shift at Litchfield Cinemas Brent pointed the wobbly Camaro north on I-85. At city speeds the out of sync rear tires jostled the car comically; at freeway speeds it was seriously dangerous. Cursed with youthful arrogance and no other options, we pressed on at 45 MPH, adding an hour to our trip. In the unfamiliar right lane, our Canadian steed rocked me to sleep.
30 minutes later I woke up as the car was shaking like Steve Austin’s ill-fated test plane. We were passing a semi at over 60. The driver’s side retread had enough and let go in a classic fashion. Boom! The car fish tailed. Brent caught the rear, finished his pass and limped to the shoulder. The concept of roadside assistance was a decade away. Digital pagers were just making the scene. Another newfangled technology was scissor jacks. We didn’t have one, we had a bumper jack.
A bumper jack functions by lifting the car via the bumper. A small metal plate was slotted for a 1×1 square pole with notches every quarter of an inch. Over this fit a small ratcheting box that lifts the car. Murphy was kicking us while we were down. The week of wobbling tires took its toll on the lug studs, two snapped during loosening.
FYI, a jacked up 74 Camaro on air shocks will almost exhaust a three foot bumper jack to get the rear wheel airborne. No part of this contraption actually bolted in place, so the whole car swayed with each passing semi, roughly every seven seconds. Miraculously, we got the spare on, but the third stud stripped hallway down. Its 4 AM, we are an hour from anywhere, and the only thing holding on a rounded spare was 2 lug bolts and a stripped third.
There was no option. Off we hobbled; at idle, in the breakdown lane. We arrived after 9 AM. Brent replaced the studs and got three new retreads. The next morning we returned in time to start our shift. I am sure some of the more experienced members of the B&B have retread stories. Low-cost Asian tires of infinitely higher quality have made them almost obsolete, as roadside assistance, cellphones and scissor jacks have done the same for the rest of this story.
Last January in the middle of rural Kansas, I ingested a screw sideways into a rear tire. It was late and I had no cell reception. I swapped the space saver spare on and limped the remaining 300 miles to Omaha at 45 miles an hour, smiling the whole time, because I managed to keep all five studs intact and I had a real jack.
Of course, now I was in Omaha in the winter, trying to purchase a pair high performance specialty tires with snow on the ground…but that is a another story.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek and Jack wonder if English is actually his first language.