I was reminiscing about all the cars (and three pickups) I’ve owned and ruined over the years. I didn’t ruin any of them intentionally. I’m a victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences. (That’s the same law that says if you raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour it will lift many low wage workers out of poverty, but the consequence is that now a donut at the local convenience store is going to cost $5 and nobody will buy a $5 donut so the store closes and the national economy eventually plunges into recession.)
We could talk about the ’66 Mustang that suffered low oil pressure and blew head gaskets after I rebuilt the engine. (I blame this on the torque wrench I bought that I thought made me a master mechanic, able to fix anything. Never buy a torque wrench. That’s a prescription for disaster.) Or the ’75 Trans Am that… well, I don’t want to talk about it.
The last brand new vehicle I’ve ever bought was a 1980 Dodge pickup. Heavy half ton, slant six, four speed overdrive manual. Dodge trucks of the day: they’d rattle from the day you bought them, but they’d run forever. This one got 16-18mpg all day every day—city, highway, uphill, downhill, even carrying a camper—very slowly, and usually in 3rd gear. Couldn’t pull a setting hen off her nest, though. Also a bit slow. The acceleration of an ocean liner. It had what we call “same day throttle response.”
After several years I’d decided I should and could rebuild the carburetor. So I bought a kit, and after several false starts I pulled off the carb and started loosening the screws that held it together. With the last screw it exploded like a grenade in my hands. No flames or anything, just springs and parts scattering all over like shrapnel, particularly across the gravel driveway. I spent an hour sifting gravel and stones until I found everything… almost.
The kit instructions were not helpful in putting together all the parts the kit didn’t include, but I did what I could, but lacked any semblance of confidence, so I consulted with a friend who was up on this sort of thing. My final problem came down a small check valve. This was apparently a steel ball that was supposed to sit in the bottom of a deep cylindrical hole. I ended up pulling a BB from the old Daisy BB gun I’d had since I was about 8 years old, dropping it in, and hoping for the best. The pickup started. It ran. I ran exactly as it always had—painfully slow, reasonably economical, but still weak as a kitten.
I drove it that way for several more years. One night its right side got crushed in when a pop-up camper blew up (propane leak and faulty heater) four feet away from it. I punched the dents out of the door so the window would roll up and down and drove it for a few more years. I think I owned it for more than ten years before selling it to a friend, with the BB still doing yeoman work in the carburetor. Remarkably he’s still a friend—I believe in full disclosure. He drove it for a few years and sold it to someone else. No idea after that. But I have every confidence it’s still plying the roads out there somewhere. Assuming it hasn’t rusted away to dust. Dodge trucks can be remarkably resilient. BBs, too.