By on January 21, 2009

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.

To be continued….

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26 Comments on “Chrysler 300 Convert...”

  • avatar
    Point Given

    All you need to add is some drug use and you’d be well on your way to Gonzo journalism.

    Entertaining story.

  • avatar

    Sounds like the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. You need a screen play out of this!

  • avatar

    Funny, I looked at a red example of this car a few years ago, with a 383 4bbl. At 25 yards, it looked somewhat promising. Up close, I started tabulating what was required to get it running reliably and looking respectable (the roof was shot). And then I ran. What’s up with ‘Bob’ anyway?

  • avatar

    Ah yes… I remember the day I learned that the left side wheel bolts on my 69 Dodge Polara convertible were reverse-threaded. What fun! Thx for the memories.

    I owned a few of these “fuselage” C-body Mopars over the years, including my very first car (a 72 Newport). That floaty feeling you describe is what I liked best about them, and the fact that the steering wheel felt like it was mounted in butter (you could easily steer with one finger). My biggest complaint was that they all had insufficient front leg room, which I always thought was pretty crazy on a car that was ~19 feet long.

  • avatar

    $4000 for that thing? Nuts.

  • avatar

    I was considering getting a 1974 Mercedes 280C and writing up an article about my adventures (you know, the car being at a dealer in southern Illinois and me being in northwestern Michigan, and it being in the dead of winter, etc etc) but I was really hoping to make it a boring story. You know, go down with a truck & trailer, have an uneventful purchase of a car I’ve only seen photos of (despite it being 35 years old and ill-suited to E10 polluted gasoline), bringing it home without incident and enjoying it for a few years (being one of 1170 built over 7 years – far more rare than Mercedes SL’s even were). Less than $4 grand, asking price, as well. I even have a buddy who is a Porsche and Mercedes mechanic, certified, also body man, and who has actually lived in West Germany.

    Thanks for reminding me what money pits and rolling nightmares collector cars can be!

    Now it’ll be another 18 months before I get the “bug” to get another collector car….

    (Not sure myself, if my “thanks” really was serious or sarcastic, to be honest….)

  • avatar

    Once when I was a teenager, I came across Mouse, the leader of the hotrod pack, with his grandmother’s car with a flat. Mouse was 110 pounds sopping wet but he could blueprint Chevy metal to jump and shout. And when someone was working on an engine, he would perch in a squat on the fender and point out what had to be done.
    110 pounds, but definitely the alpha wolf of the hot rods.
    So there was Mouse cussing because he couldn’t get the lugs loose. Now I knew the old knockoff hubs were threaded oppositely on my father’s Bugatti and the practice had continued on highend cars. So I said to Mouse, me the silly nerd in the Saab 95 station wagon, ‘try turning the lug nuts the other directions’…and they came up. Instant cred…and Mouse was swearing even louder.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1969 Chrysler 300 Coupe. LOVED that car.

  • avatar

    About 2 years ago I bought a 1964 1/2 Mustang on-line from a dealer in Dallas and drove it back to Omaha in January! A foolish, but fun journey.

    The heater put out a bit of heat in TX, but nothing of consequence up north. I made it home, cold to the bone, but without a problem. A fond memory, and I still have the Mustang – now with a working heater.

  • avatar

    Thanks Jonny. We hope you keep getting these driveaway jobs and entertaining us with the details.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of my 100 mile trip to bring home a 29 Ford Model A. Boilover. Roadside hose replacement. Wet ignition. Car trailer. Car home about 15 hours after we started. All with my fiancee. She married me anyway. We even got our picture in the weekly paper of the little town where we were stranded. Not page 1, though. That was a chicken coop fire. Really.

    I look forward to reading the rest of your saga. And remember, no matter how bad it gets, you still have a 440, a Torqueflite and torsion bars, so life will remain worth living.

  • avatar

    The first car I “fixed up” was a ’67 Chrysler 2-dr, 440 4-bbl from the factory. It was my dad’s when he died. In 1973 I got it back to running even though I was too young to have a driver’s license ( ahh… those trips to the parts stores on my bike!). Later, going to engineering school at Stanford and subsequent business trips to California (in contrast to the salt ruined pickings back home in Detroit)I picked up subjects for “restoration” that included a ’65 Barracuda Formula S, a ’66 Sport Fury and my current “project”, a ’67 “camper special” D-200.

    So, for those of us who drove ’em “back in the day”, who have wrenched ’em for years, and who still drive ’em, the current Challenger is just fine, thank you.

    PS When I went shopping for my Challenger last month I was looking not only for a motivated dealer but also for one optionned “just right”. I recalled those numerous Saturdays my then girlfriend, now wife, would accompany me to the wrecking yard. I’d be in the hulk stacked on top of the other two hulks (before premises liability attorneys ended that altogether)seeing if there were any useable bones I could pick. I’d always be thinking to myself “who thought this was a good color for one of these ?” or “why buy one with an A block, not a B block?. Was it that much more expensive?” or ” why did he not go for the cool upgrade package offered back then?”. I remembered answering newspaper ads and going to a barn only to see the beast and say to myself “if only he had ordered it with…”. So I picked the SRT, orange, with the manual (which does turn it into something much different from the automatic).

    Us middle aged baby-boomers will be the last to participate in these rituals. I doubt there’ll be a Chrysler Corp around in six months. So probably a couple of decades hence, there’ll be no young kids looking at the relics and saying “what if…”

  • avatar

    No point mentioning the bats…you’ll see them soon enough.

    Your Czech friend seems to enjoy sending you on these wonderful adventures, and I always look forward to the next part.

  • avatar

    If you see sunlight glinting on the road ahead… slow down… Could be ‘dozers.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    “slothfully crawl while rocking”

    The best one yet. Jonny rocks while writing.

  • avatar

    Oh, the California Central Valley … it’s like the affected cousin the family keeps in the attic.

  • avatar

    Could that loose electrical plug on the firewall have been the ballast resistor? All us old Mopar guys know to keep a spare in the glovebox…

    Also, there is an “L” stamped at the end of each lug with left-handed thread. Didn’t stop me from forgetting a few times. Many people convert them now.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of driving back from San Jose with a ’67 Thunderbird that I’d bought (cheaper than this, though). Nicer seller, too. He even gave me his pretty new battery straight out of his truck to help it going – shame the alternator wasn’t charging it for shit and died dead on the freeway in Monterey – yes, I decided it would be “more fun” to take the coast road home. Insanity, given the cross-ply tires on the thing that probably had been on it for decades – when was the last time they sold cross-plys, anyway?

    At least the thing weighed enough to coast off at an offramp, and that there was a Midas just down the street that I could get quickly towed to that could replace the alternator. Though they didn’t remember that Fords of that era had separate voltage regulators, and didn’t check that – the thing was boiling the battery quite alarmingly when I got it home and noticed. Could have been a bad thing, too.

    After that, there was just the terror of taking the coast road’s hairpins over cliffside drops on those scary old tires, a huge amount of gas, and the pure thrill of seven liters of hefty V8 power.

    Oh, and several of the manifold bolts had snapped, so it was LOUD.

    Fun times.

  • avatar

    Those dozers stopped the Challenger, kixstart but
    the big 300?She might move em back an inch or two.

  • avatar

    What makes this thing worth $4000, is there a few kilos of coke in the trunk. A grand might make sense but 4 is insane. The Saab 900 turbo I bought on ebay and drove home 1200 miles was more reliable than that, with no battery in it when I went to pick it up and running on fumes. I only paid $300 for that Swede.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    mikey: A few inches at least…

  • avatar

    Ha ha, as soon as I read the part where the kid at the tire shop said the lug nuts were all seized, I knew he was turning the wrong way. There’s an “L” stamped in the end of the studs to remind you they’re left-hand thread.

    The plug in the firewall that was loose is known as the “bulkhead connector”. Note that the current from the alternator passes through that to the in-dash ammeter and back out to the battery. It’s a common point of failure on these cars. Until we see the second installment, that’s my guess as to why the battery went flat.

    To the commenters that said $4000 was too much for this car: I’d have to see better pics of the car, engine compartment and interior to say for sure, but once the little gremlins are fixed that car should fetch around $10k.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Mike66Chryslers: Bulkhead connector!!!!!

    For the life of me I could not remember the term.

    Thank you.

    And yeah, knowing these Czech guys, this rust-free thing will be car club complete by summer.

  • avatar

    What do you use, the 3 Stooges as a how to manual?

    Never seen a Ford with lefthand stud threads. Only Chrysler had that stupid idea. Usually if you turn them hard the wrong way they break off fairly easily.

    Better to invest in a car hauler trailer.

  • avatar

    If you never had one of the truly BIG boats, like a big block Mopar, a Deuce-and-a-quarter, an old Caddy or Lincoln, a big 98 or Merc -that’s Mercury- or something like that, you wouldn’t understand. I could tell you some stories ! But the future generations will probably feel the same way about the big trucks and SUVs.
    And the beat goes on.
    P.S.- and yeah, I remember a Georgia-to-Arizona-to-Georgia trip with a loose ballast resistor cable which caused my recently-purchased Mopar to stall a few dozen times before I discovered the cause.

  • avatar

    For big-boat Detroit convertibles, the ’69-’70 fuselage-styled Chryslers are the epitome. The massive size and ‘loop’ front bumpers make them the most menacing thing on the road. The full-size, drop-top iron from GM and Ford (even the Eldorado and 4-door Continental) just don’t have the caché of those land-yacht, high-end Mopars. If Elwood hadn’t gotten such a deal on that ’74 Mount Prospect PD Monaco, he and Jake would have been right at home in one of the last Chrysler convertibles.

    But $4k for a beater? Maybe for one in primo condition…

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