By on December 12, 2013
Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I am sure the diagnosis came as a shock. It was cancer and the prognosis was not good. The man must have looked at what he had made of his life, weighed the good and the bad against one another, and realized that his 13 year old son was his crowning achievement. He was a good kid, honest, innocent and open to the experiences of the world, but not without that streak of mischievousness that all boys his age had. He would, in time, become a fine man but there remained a long road to manhood. A road he would soon have to walk alone.

The man knew he would miss so many important moments in the boy’s life, the baseball games, high school, his first date, his graduation, college and career. He would never meet the boy’s wife or be there to see him hold his children. Still, there was one thing he could do, never mind the fact that there were years left to go before the boy could get his driver’s license, a rite of passage that had bound father and son together for decades. He could buy the boy his first car and then pass on in the knowledge that he had been able to help his son reach at least one of life’s great milestones.

I was always on the lookout for a cheap car. Of course I had a fairly late model Dodge Shadow at home and didn’t really need another, but the old Plymouth Scamp caught my attention the moment I saw it sitting alone and unloved beside the ramshackle trailer house. I knew all about old Plymouths and Dodges, my family had enjoyed a long relationship with a 1968 Dodge Dart so I knew the old cars were solid. My father had found it for sale under a coat of thick dust at the edge of a farmer’s field and brought it home for my oldest sister, Lee, when I was about 10 years old. It was as plain as they came, as simple as a stone axe and, with its venerable slant six engine and an automatic transmission, practically as indestructible.

After Lee had finished college and switched to a brand new Chevrolet Chevette, the Dart had gone to my other sister, Connie, who hated its Spartan simplicity. She chaffed at is lack of style and sluggish performance and eventually dumped it into a ditch beside the highway, tearing the front suspension out from underneath it. My father had it towed home and proceeded to fix it in the driveway with nothing hand tools and a big damned hammer in less than a day. Despite her hopes to be rid of the basic old car, Connie ended up using it for another three years before finally splurging on a little, white convertible and then, eventually, to a Nissan 200SX.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The old Plymouth piqued my interest and I kept my eye on it for a week or two. It sat, forlorn and unloved with the grass growing up around it and when I was satisfied that it never moved, I turned into the driveway to make my offer. I was met by a tired looking woman, a man who I took to be her husband and several kids ranging in age from a few years to mid-teens. The woman was eager to talk about the old car, it was supposed to be her son’s she told me, and from there the whole story spilled out. Her former husband had purchased the car for the boy prior to his death, had it put into good mechanical shape and then passed away. Despite the tragic back story the boy, she told me, had no real interest in the car. His father, it seems, had also left a motorcycle and the boy wanted that instead.

After a bit more conversation, we struck a deal and I took the car home. There were a couple of small mechanical issues to sort out, but once it was up to snuff the old car ran like a top. It was a fun weekend cruiser but eventually I headed back to sea and I ended up using the little Scamp as a pier car. When I was at sea, the car spent most of its time stashed under a viaduct near the Port of Tacoma waiting for me to roll in from a 35 day trip to Asia whereupon it would be put into immediate service carrying me on a full day’s worth of errands before being returned to its place just before we cast off for another run. It made my life a lot easier and I was glad I had it, but when I gave up the sea for life as a college man I let the car go.

I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the old car. It had a sort of honest, upright styling that seemed so old and outdated at the time and so enviably classic today. But looking back, I’m not sure now if I should have purchased it. There is something sacred about a man’s dying wishes and his desire to be there for his son after he is gone. It doesn’t matter if his widow and her new husband, or even the son himself thinks different, the man’s desire to help his son into manhood should have been honored. It’s sad to think that his final act of love was worth just $800. Sadder still that, in the end, I may be the only one who remembers it.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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29 Comments on “The Value Of A Father’s Love...”

  • avatar

    I am sure the dad heart would have broken looking down from above with his gift sitting there rotting , maybe you made him smile when you rescued it

  • avatar

    Can’t put a price on that one, I am sure he would approve. Be it, 800 or ten times that.

  • avatar

    Great read…although I was grossly mischaracterized here. I bought the pea green Dart from Lee Ann for $150.00 (money I earned working at Rome Pizza.) The car’s name was Murphy and it was a love-hate relationship from the beginning. No, Murphy wasn’t hip or cool- but he ran well. I came to appreciate the reliability. Sure I put it in the ditch and dad came to “help” me. He did fix the car but also cussed me out and informed me that I would never be anything but a “Welfare Whore”. (Look at me now, Dad! I’m The Moss Boss! Pfft) I drove the car another three years, as I commuted back and forth to Seattle to work at the Sears Credit Central. Eventually I did sell the car. About a month later I got a notice from King County naming me in a lawsuit in connection with an accident Murphy had been in. Apparently the guy who bought it didn’t change the title over and had gotten drunk and plowed into an off duty police officer, killing him. Murphy was also pronounced dead on the scene. Thankfully, I was able to provide the bill of sale and was off the hook. Oh and about that Scamp? I actually bought that from you, Thom! I loved that car. It was chocolate brown and had a black and white checked-looking seats. I guess it must of reminded me of Murphy? It was years later and I was married with children when I parked it in my spare parking space at the Panther Lake house. Of course I had another car- so I didn’t drive the Scamp as much as I should have. I did take it to The Thunderbird Drive-In several times with the kids. But eventually my ex-husband Steve got tired of looking at it and ran an ad and sold it off. It’s amazing how many memories a car can stir up. Like an old song that takes you back to a specific time in your life.

  • avatar

    Well, damn it seems to be dusty around here.
    Great article.

  • avatar

    I neededa car to go to work. I had taken a break from school, The car,a ’67 Amc Rambler REbel with about 8,000 mi on it after 5 yrs.
    It was in a probate sale from the local retirtement complex.
    So I bought it but because it wsa court sale my dad ran it under his name.
    Great car, and after a couple of months my dad took me to DMV and put it in my name. “Why?” I asked. He said, “something might happen to me and better for you to have yr car in yr name”
    Over the next few years he did thing s like that, putting me on accounts etc. so when he developed Alzheimers shortly later,I could see what he was doing. Thanks dad.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice read. A few thoughts on the “Slant Six” from one who drove one. It was pretty advanced for its day. First off, the “slant” reduced the vertical height of the engine and allowed more room on the “intake side” of the engine, where it was needed. Secondly, unlike most American 6s of the day, it was a cross flow engine, with the intake on the opposite side of the engine from the exhaust. Thirdly, rather that use the “log” style intake manifold (basically a pipe that runs parallell to the crankshaft with right-angle branches that attach to the cylinder head, chrysler used a “tree” intake manifold with equal length runners coming from the single-barrel downdraft carburetor. The result was a much better breathing engine than similar models from Ford and GM, about 15% more power from the same displacement and an engine that had some life at higher rpms, whereas the others were pretty much strangled.

    Because of the generally sad performance of Detroit-built 6s during the 50s and 60s, the hot rodders’ maxim of “6 in a row; just won’t go” gained currency. V-8s are inherently cross flow designs, and their intake manifolds were more nearly equal-length runners. So, they offered much better performance, even at the same displacement.

    The Slant Six and the overhead cam 6 developed for Pontiac in the late 1960s, were the only exceptions to this rule. The OHC 6, unlike the Slant Six, was not particularly reliable, however.

    • 0 avatar

      All of the pictures I see on Allpar and google images show the exhaust and intake on the same side of the head, just like every typical American made inline-six of the era.

      The distributor, oil filter, fuel pump and ignition coil were all mounted on the right side of the engine.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep- the distributor was squeezed between the engine and the right fender. It was neither easy nor difficult to reach it, but it was far away from the hot exhaust manifold, so that was kinda nice!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks DC Bruce. I remember my parents’ ’70 Valiant felt incredibly peppy for a six.

  • avatar

    The most valuable gifts from parent to child are rarely appreciated at the time of giving, and sometimes never recognized at all. Thanks, Mom.

  • avatar

    We had a 1971 Dodge Demon with the Slant 6. When I turned 16, I got to choose between it and my dad’s 1968 Olds Cutlass coupe. I chose the Cutlass because of the 350 Rocket engine and bucket seats. It was mine for two years, before I went off to college and sold it. But years after that I happened on the Demon again–I knew it was the same car between it’s faded blue paint, dents, which were like distinguishing marks that my family had put on it over the years, and a bumper sticker protesting the 55 MPH speed limit.

  • avatar

    “She chaffed at is lack of style”

    Our esteemed editor must be at the track.

  • avatar

    Thomas, I just want to thank you again, for another really well-done piece. You are truly gifted.

    (imag — honestly, is that what you took away from this entry? Too bad, if so.)

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not all I took. It was just a comment. I actually think paragraphs 3 & 4 could have been dropped altogether, because the compelling story is the one about the father and the kid who didn’t end up wanting the car. The tangent about sister’s cars left me wondering whether I clicked on the right post, which lead to me looking at misspelled words…

      • 0 avatar

        I get it. Still too bad, though. Forest-for-the-trees and all that. Peace…

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah I don’t get it. Who cares? If I cared, I might point out that “which lead to me looking at misspelled words…” should really be “which led me to looking at misspelled words”.

        You know the old saying about living in a glass house I assume.

        And yeah, I might have something incorrect in my little rant as well, which is why I usually don’t point out silly little mistakes!

      • 0 avatar

        Ah, well that there you see is your classic misdirection. The first two paragraphs suck you in, the next two make you go “WTF?” and the last few make you go, “Oh, OK…” I do that because I want people to understand that life is like a box of chocolates. Chocolates and I go way back, you see, they’re how I got fat. Could be that I get paid by the word or maybe it’s its that I am easily distracted. Oh look, it’s snowing.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I had one of those in the early 70’s I think it was a 72 green inside and out, with the 318 engine (only V8 I’ve ever owned) and I loved that car, only issues were a never-corrected hesitation when starting from cold and frame-less windows allowed wind and water to get in, otherwise a solid well-built car.

  • avatar
    Aleister Crowley

    The Dodge Dart with a 318 and disc brakes was a great car.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Unfortunately, the gifts we receive from parents – whether material or philosophical – are often mismatched with our maturity.

    It would be a rare young son to appreciate a car he can’t drive and didn’t choose (a grown son might feel differently) so I can’t fault him for spurning the Scamp.

    As I see it, the father unfairly burdened his child with this asset he was too young to manage or appreciate. The son may have suffered some unnecessary guilt later because he didn’t return the love by keeping it.

    In my case, I was tasked with selling my father’s 93 Century after he died in 2003. I’m sure I could have kept it, but at the age of 39 I didn’t need another old car. For me, his legacy wasn’t tied to the vehicle, but he didn’t try to make it that way, either. He taught me lessons about cars that were more valuable than the cars themselves.

  • avatar

    In 1973 my very much alive parents gave my new wife and I a wedding gift of a ’73 duster. Mechanically it was the same car, more or less, but much more stylish but less functional given the lack of 2 doors.

    I remember being told by the salesman that I should expect some problems initially and the dealership would take care of it– he said ‘it takes a year or so to put the car together properly’ (after the sale) and he was right. It had 3 in the tree and the gear shift lever hit the plastic dash board. Ventilation hoses repeatedly fell from under the dash on our feet. There were many trips to the dealer.

    But once properly assembled it was bullet proof. It’d start at 20 below although it was tough to move the gear shift lever until it warmed up. It never, ever failed us. Its Achilles Heel was road salt. After we’d had it 7 years there were large holes in the rear quarter panels.

    By then we’d moved to sunny California and a rusted out car was quite a novelty. We replaced it with an ’81 Prelude.

  • avatar

    I’msurprised you’re calling the Dart sluggish, unless by the time your family got hold of it, the engine was worn. My parents had a ’70 Valiant, slant six, and that car definitely was not sluggish.

    That particular model of Valiant was also a very good looking car, very clean styling. And it was amazingly reliable for the 16 years they had it. Nor were any other Valiants and Darts that I drove that were manufactured prior to the pollution controls (A volare they bought in ’76, on the other hand, was a slug that was often stalling out).

    As for your story, the car, apparently meaningless to the kid, could have just sat and rotted if you hadn’t come along. Given that, I thikn the Dad would have been quite satisfied with this paean to his gift.

    @stevejac: road salt in Boston was not a problem for my parents’ Valiant, even after 16 years.

  • avatar

    Nice , Thomas .


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