Fifty Ways to Junk Your Flivver, episode 2

My first car was a 1961 Chevy Impala two-door. Seven years old and worn out, as cars were at that age in those days. It had a 283 c.i. V8 and the infamous PowerGlide automatic transmission. Two speeds, no waiting. Why on earth anyone might need more is a mystery, to say nothing of six, eight, even ten gears. Except for power and gas mileage, and maybe modern driveability. The word “Power” was misleading, if not criminal. Safety features? Zero. Nada. No lap belts, certainly no 3-point harness; no “crumple zone;” the dashboard was a solid steel face-crusher if you should happen to get past the the steering column plunging through your chest. Anti theft systems? Zero. Nada. In fact you didn’t even need a key to start the car– the ignition lock was broken, and besides, there was a big chrome handle to twist sticking out of the dash, no screwdriver required.

I didn’t really ruin this car, but I had my chances. In 1969 I pioneered the current fad of “drifting,” (you’re welcome!) when I drifted around a tight left-hand curve on a gravel road and took down a mailbox with my passenger door. (I never did like that mailbox anyway. I told my folks I swerved to avoid hitting a rabbit. Their advice: next time, hit the rabbit.) By the time the car stopped I was pressed up against the passenger door, grabbing frantically across the width of the bench seat for the steering wheel. Just out of reach. See “No lap belts” above. Crunched the door pretty good.

Funny story. My 75-year-old grandfather took it upon himself to help me find a replacement door. He recruited his 81-year-old neighbor to assist. The first thing they did was pull off the crushed door. Then they jumped in and drove off to check out local junk yards. No worries for Jedson’s safety, riding, as he was, on a slick bench seat in an unsafe-at-any-speed car with no door. They just tied a rope across the big gaping hole where the door used to be. They didn’t find a replacement that day. I did, later on, out in a part of the county we called “Hungry Holler.” I painted it with rattle cans and we were good to go again.

One of my few modifications was a “reverb” unit hanging under the dashboard. This device gave “concert hall sound” to the AM radio– assuming your idea of a concert hall is a massive gymnasium with tin walls and no acoustic design considerations whatsoever. I also added booster springs to lift the back end for the treasured “raked” effect, and to piss off my parents. (That second part was just an unintentional but unavoidable side effect.)

I borked the transmission one day trying to “bark” the tires. They did bark, but the Powerglide suffered the consequences. It was still drivable, despite belts that slipped badly. I did get it repaired before trading it to a guy for a 1966 Mustang fastback.

Now, that Mustang was the first car I truly borked. If it still lives (highly unlikely), I guarantee it is not a collectable, thanks to me. But I’ll save that for next time. It’s a painful memory, and not just for the Mustang.

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