Autobiography: I'll Be Home for Christmas

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
autobiography i ll be home for christmas

Santa came early in 1972. My older brother had taken a civilian job on a military base in Greenland. Out of the blue, he gave me his 1963 Corvair. It was my very first set of wheels. Instead of bracing myself for the thousand mile-long hitchhike from Iowa to Baltimore in freezing weather, I was driving home for Christmas in comfort. But there was a catch: Santa had deputized me. I had a present to deliver, and deliver I would, come hell or high snow.

My brother was flying in from Baltimore for the Christmas holiday. To repay him for the gifted Corvair, I promised to give his long-suffering girlfriend a ride to our family home. I was really jazzed to see everyone; my sister was coming from Alaska. I envisioned a smooth journey and a joyous reunion.

Although I was already a walking automotive encyclopedia, my practical experience was limited to oil changes. My most ambitious wrenching to date: pulling the cylinder head off the lawn mower years earlier. And it never ran quite the same again. But like most first-time male car owners of my age, I was brimming with mechanical enthusiasm and imagining all kinds of improvements. But it was winter in Iowa and I had no garage. I was just thankful it ran.

Just a few days before the big trip, an ominous metallic clattering arose from the depths of the Corvair’s engine compartment. It would change its timbre when I depressed the clutch pedal. The problem clearly originated in the bell housing.

I weighed all the symptoms, scratched my [then] hirsute head and declared a diagnosis: a bad clutch throw-out bearing. I knew it wasn’t the sound they normally make when they die, but I was stumped for an alternative theory. And forget about getting a second opinion. Nineteen year olds are unassailable experts at everything– unless proven otherwise

I had heard about a co-op garage, where shade tree mechanics could rent semi-warm floor space by the day. I bought a new bearing and drove a couple of miles into the frozen countryside to discover a few hippies attending to their VW buses.

My tool inventory: a box of cheap wrenches and a scissors jack. Normally, the 250lb engine would be lowered on a cradle with the car on a lift. My improvised solution: unhook everything, take the rear wheels off, lower the body until the engine rested on a timber, wiggle and slide the engine back a bit, jack the body up, and then slide the engine out. The only help I got was from John Mayall; it blared on auto-repeat all day.

Miraculously, everything went back together, and it fired right up – with the clanging! I was totally devastated. I broke the bad news to “the present” and my family. I could still hitchhike out alone, but I wasn’t really up for it now. But they kept the faith.

I needed divine intervention. The next afternoon, I saw a Corvair outside a small machine shop; a sign. I entered its machine oil-scented environs and related my sad story to the white-haired owner. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me that the rivets in two-piece Corvair flywheels come loose and cause that sound. “I’ll fix it for $10 bucks.”

Back to John Mayall’s blues and the co-op garage. By the time I finally got the flywheel out, it was 1AM and ten degrees. I’ll never forget that three-mile walk back into town, under a starry sky, carrying that heavy flywheel. A wise(r) man bearing his heavy gift.

The next day was the twenty-second. I got the flywheel re-riveted and put it all together again-– a lot more quickly the second time ‘round. I fell exhausted into bed that night, anticipating the next day’s drive. But deep in my heavy, youthful slumber, I suddenly bolted awake (hooves on the roof?). It was 3AM. I looked out the window, and snow was coming down so thick, I could hardly see the street light. And there was already six inches on the ground.

Blizzards blew in from the west. I decided to go for it; I’d try and outrun the wintry blast. It was now or never. With its rear-engined traction, the newly-purring Corvair cut the only set of tracks through Iowa City that night.

I-80 was deserted; we were the only drivers foolhardy enough to be out there, or maybe they were covered by the swirling snow. Luckily, I’d practiced for this. I had the right car for the job. And I relished the challenge. I worked-up my speed to about forty, hoping the storm wasn’t moving faster than us. Once across the Mississippi, the snow started to thin. My brother’s present and I shared a relieved smile. We’d be home for Christmas.

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  • Paul Niedermeyer Paul Niedermeyer on Dec 26, 2007

    wludavid, No, but I wouldn't mind if I was. It's been more of a side-line so far, as time permits. I am contemplating self-publishing an expanded version of the Auto-Biography.

  • Johnf514 Johnf514 on Dec 28, 2007

    Excellent story, Paul! It's great to see your pen around these parts again. :)

  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.